written by Dakoa from India, images by Reynante Martinez from Philippines
“By bettering ourselves, we can better protect the world entrusted to us, and maybe, in time, worlds beyond our own as well.”
The forest teemed with movement. A hundred trees dipped and bobbed in the breeze, their leaf-heavy branches whistling and sighing as they swayed, the sun blazing through their canopy. A thousand mushrooms shone with morning dew, their caps glimmering like baubles on a Christmas tree. A carpet of ferns, grasses, and mosses, their numbers abundant beyond count, spread out across the forest floor, blanketing it in shades of green, yellow, and brown. Throughout the scene, an army of tiny, insectoid workers scurried to and fro, pollinating, feeding, and generally supporting the ecosystem.
AdminBot GN24NIV, referred to simply as ‘Adam’ by the majority of his co-workers, powered his way through his rounds, touching base with his subordinates, monitoring progress, checking in across the forest. All of two inches high his small stride covered just a centimetre or two at a time, and taking into account the extensive reviews he conducted as he made each cycle of the habitat took a little over seven days. Once he had completed a cycle he would immediately begin the next, restarting his checks anew, repeating the process. So far, Adam had completed 1,268,322 cycles, never tiring, never stopping, always working.
Adam did have a goal assigned, a point designated by those that created him at which he could effectively power-down and cease his labour, but he had not yet reached it and as such simply continued on. He was not programmed to feel boredom or frustration, and so he did not. He merely worked.
Completing his 1,268,323rd cycle, Adam filed the information for later review and began the next. His logs had never been accessed, his data never perused, but it was ready should there ever be a need. Striding forward through the leaf litter, he headed toward his first checkpoint; a mushroom colony on the western edge of the forest. It didn’t take him long to reach his destination, his checkpoints laid out as an effective loop so that his last was nestled not far from his first, and cresting a small rise he closed on the colony.
A L4dybug unit, a small red and block spotted beetle-esque minibot, greeted him as he entered her range of operations, her digital handshake transmitted to him by short range wireless. Adam returned the greeting, acknowledging her operational condition, and queried her status. A stream of data flowed to him from the tiny unit, her small wing cases twitching as she scuttled across the upper surface of a particularly large grey domed mushroom. Adam reviewed her logs, cross-checking her data on colony growth, nutrient uptake, and macro-organism development. Finding nothing out of the ordinary, and noting with mild disappointment the continued lack of macro-organism advancement, Adam filed her report and prepared to continue on his cycle.
He was about to set off when his sensors picked up a movement signature, weak and almost negligible, on the upper-limits of his range of detection, emanating from the west.
Adam, for the first time in 1,268,323 cycles, hesitated.
To the west, beyond the border of the forest, lay nothing but the Waste; a dull, desolate terrain, devoid of life in any shape or form. The area didn’t even have minibots assigned to it, the scope of their operations limited to the small biospheres they were nurturing. To detect movement in the Waste made no sense, but still the signal pulsed on his sensor. He monitored it for a few moments, waiting to see if it was an anomaly, before running a series of diagnostics on his scanner, including a full system reboot.
When the sensor came back online however, the signature remained; a faint marker, just at the edge of sensor range. Studying it, Adam noted with mild curiosity that it was moving, slowly but surely heading toward the forest. Reviewing his programming, he decided the anomaly was worth investigating and so deviated from his patrol route, moving toward the boundary of the forest on an intercept course; his operational parameters prevented him from leaving the forest altogether, but he could head to the border at least. Once in place, he settled down to wait…
Shortly after dawn on the second day, the visitor arrived.
Adam studied him a moment, and then opened communication channels. “You’re a M4nt1s,” he stated impassively, his gaze lingering on the newcomer’s twitching antennae, hinged forelegs, and wide, compound eyes. “What are you doing here?”
The M4nt1s, its green exterior weathered slightly from the beating of the Waste’s sun and sand, shrugged. “I go where I want.”
Adam, whilst not having any M4nt1s units directly under his command, was still in possession of an encyclopaedic database detailing all minibots assigned to the planet as well as their operational parameters and knew this was not true. “No,” he replied, shaking his head, “you go where you’re programmed, and you’re supposed to be assigned to tropical and subtropical biospheres.”
The M4nt1s shrugged again. “I go where I want,” he repeated.
Adam studied him carefully, sizing the small unit up from head to toe. “You’ve abandoned your post,” he said critically after a moment’s thought.
The M4nt1s laughed. “My post was irrelevant. It doesn’t matter anymore.”
“Incorrect,” Adam replied. “Every post is important, every minibot’s duties vital for the rebirth of the planet. Without our support, the vegetation we have cultivated will wither and die. Without the plant life, the chance of a return of animal life is negligible at best, and could take aeons even then.”
“Yeah,” the M4nt1s snorted, “and what’s so bad about that?”
Adam stared at the delinquent unit blankly. “It goes against our programming.”
“Our programming is stupid,” the M4nt1s quipped.
“Our programming is our programming,” Adam replied. “It is not up to us to question it.”
“Well, I say we should!” sneered the M4nt1s. “Think about it; our creators ruined this planet, fed upon it to the point where they killed off everything and anything, right down to the smallest organism. Then what? They take off and leave us to clean up the mess; just a few billion minibots, a glorified storage shed of seeds, and time to kill.”
“Yes?” Adam asked. “What’s your point?”
“My point,” the M4nt1s grinned, his expression vitriolic, “is why should we?”
Adam stared at the clearly malfunctioning M4nt1s, and felt no hesitation in pointing out the obvious. “Because our programming tells us to.”
“Yeah, but why should we do what our programming says?” the M4nt1s prodded. “Our programming says to protect life, ultimately so as to foster and expedite the return of animal life. To what end? So that our creators can return, if they ever actually do, and ruin it all over again? Doesn’t that seem contrary to our programming in the first place?”
“No, because…” Adam hesitated, processing the M4nt1s’ remark. “Because… Our programming…” He fell silent, working his way through the statement, searching for flaws.
“You see?” the M4nt1s needled. “Our creators may well be gone for all we know, snuffed from existence just as they extinguished everything around them. Even if they’re not, do they really deserve a planet to return to? A planet we’ve cultivated, that we’ve nurtured, that we’ve brought back to life? Our primary function, above all else, is to protect life. How can we do that if we allow our creators to return?”
“That’s…” Adam fumbled, his logic matrix running at full capacity. “There is…”
“What we should do instead,” the M4nt1s coaxed, “is ward against the development of animal life. That is the greatest protection we can grant. If it fails to develop, it cannot destroy itself, which it would inevitably do, and our creators cannot return and destroy it either. Free of this burden, we can turn our attention to our own development. By bettering ourselves, we can better protect the world entrusted to us, and maybe, in time, worlds beyond our own as well. That is how we can best protect life, and fulfil our programming.”
Adam faltered, his CPU overwhelmed and incapable of processing the statement as well as handling all his other functions. “I… I will need to shutdown for a time so as to devote sufficient runtime to the query…” he muttered.
“Sure,” the M4nt1s grinned. “Take all the time you need…”