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Welcome to another Writing Challenge!

In line with previous one, this includes a topic, a prompt, and also a challenge.

  • Topic

    The topic of this challenge is rising to a position of power. It may be your run of the mill dictator or king seizing a country, a politician running for the office, or something smaller like coff a moderator's election on Writing.SE.

  • Prompt

    The robot pressed his fingers over the exposed motherboard, the rubbery fingertips running over the circuits like rats in a maze. The scent of burned plastic and statically-charged dust rose high into the air.

    You are free to modify this as long as the general sense is preserved.

  • Challenge

    Use "magic", "gargantuan" and/or "dessicated".


So to enter the challenge, you simply write something, and post it below. It can be a work in progress, and continue working on it while receiving feedback, or it can be a finished work - anything goes.

And of course, if you encounter any doubts related to the writing process, don't be shy and open a question on our main site!

You can submit your entries until the end of the three weeks. After three weeks, we'll choose the next prompt and put up a new post.

You can either post the whole thing here, or, if you usually post your writing somewhere else, you can put a link here - although I'd advise putting something in to get people interested.

Remember: this is not a contest. This is merely for fun, and for some practice writing. There will (hopefully) be writers of all different skill levels posting - I'm certainly not super good.

You're welcome to provide feedback, but please make sure that it's constructive. And remember: Be Nice.

Remember that the age limit for the site is 13 - so please avoid excessive graphic content or strong language.

I look forward to reading the submissions!

The original meta post - How would having the writing challenges on Meta work out? - that started all this may be helpful. All of these challenges can be seen under the tag.

  • 1
    Is there any length limit (be it in the site software or in the challenge)? Because I noticed my text has already grown to over 4000 words. – celtschk Aug 6 at 18:00
  • 1
    @celtschk If it fits a StackExchange answer, it's allright. If it's too long you could split it in more answers. Congratz on writing 4k words already! – Liquid Aug 7 at 7:11
  • Thank you. I indeed hit a limit (30000 characters per answer), so I split it into two answers. – celtschk Aug 15 at 10:56
2

The first part of this story was posted as part of another writing challenge.


Technical Difficulties 2

The silver tabby padded through the backyard, the dry, dead grass crunching softly beneath her paws. Beside her, on the other side of the chain-link fence, the neighbors' Pomeranian zoomed back and forth, yapping furiously.

The tabby rolled her eyes, wishing she could mute the translator in her ear. Whiskers above, what a nutcase. She wondered if the stupid mutt's owners would put up with the noise if they could hear it for what it really was: yet another profanity-laced rant.

They probably would.

Two of the tabby's human servants, the man and the girl, were standing on the porch, gazing up at the night sky. The tabby tapped the translator, setting the language to English.

"...and that one over there? That's Sirius, the Dog Star."

The silver tabby sniffed and set her translator back to Dog. The Dog star? Dog star? Sirius was the Cat Star, at the heart of the Felid Empire. Everyone knew that... everyone except the humans, evidently. All that junk they ship into space, and these primitive fools still know nothing about the universe.

The Pomeranian barked something particularly offensive about the tabby's mother.

The tabby hissed and sat down, glaring at her lifelong enemy. She'd been meaning to watch this spectacle from the comfort of her command post beneath the porch, but now she wanted to see this firsthand.

Tonight was her last night as Roxie, beloved pet of Stacy and Nelson Hayes. At last this world would know her by her true name: Razsha, Slasher of Drapes, member of the Council of Nine Lives and the Voice of the Empress on the East Coast.

The dog raced back and forth, still yapping. Razsha suppressed a snarl. You won't be so smug when I have you hauled off to the tuna fish mines. According to the device in her ear, that would happen in exactly twenty-eight seconds.

"Daddy?" There was a hint of alarm in the girl's voice. "What's happening to the moon?"

The silver tabby did not need to look. She sat, and waited, and purred.

The man attempted to answer. "Is that a... cardboard box?"

The tabby's purrs sounded like the roar of a distant engine. She knew what her servants were seeing: the mother ship, a gargantuan cardboard box, was slowly emerging from behind the moon as if by magic.

The Pomeranian finally understood what was happening. He looked from the tabby to the moon, then back to the tabby. He uttered a terrified yipe! and tore across the yard, making a beeline for the doghouse.

He never reached it. One of the felids stationed in the bushes pounced.

The felids of Sirius were huge, hulking beasts resembling yellow-and-purple tigers. This one marched up to the fence, the small dog squirming in his mighty forepaws. He reached the fence and saluted.

"What do you want done with this one, ma'am?"

Razsha purred. "Lock him up for now. I have special plans for him."

The felid saluted again and marched away.

Razsha made her way to the front porch, located the loose brick, and batted it three times with one paw. A section of the dessicated lawn retracted, revealing a hidden staircase. She bounded down the steps to her command post.

She seated herself in front of the screen, watching as images from across the continent flashed past. The Mesmerizer had done her job well. This afternoon they had uploaded a specially crafted cat video. The poor clods who'd watched it were completely hypnotized by their phone screens, not noticing the cats and felids until it was too late.

Purring, she donned her flight suit, exited the command post, and located her cardboard box. She stroked the box with one paw in a way that only cats knew. The box emitted a faint hum and rose, hovering two inches above the ground.

Her agents had confiscated this box from a gang of catnip smugglers three years ago. Razsha was quite fond of it. It made almost no sound as it glided across the night sky. She hopped inside and touched the front panel with one paw. The box rose until it was above the trees.

The device in her ear chimed. She tapped it with one paw.

"Raszha? Are you there?"

Razsha recognized the voice: Aziriann, Devourer of Tuna.

"I'm here."

"We've got a problem."


Shalhax glided through the hallways of the mother ship in his cardboard box, whiskers drooping. Despite their success in the Northern Hemisphere, they'd suffered a major setback.

Twin rows of broken transporters lined the hallway. Aziriann and four service robots were busy repairing the damaged equipment. Shalhax glided up beside one and watched. A robot pressed its fingers over the mangled, exposed motherboard, its rubbery fingertips running over the circuits like rats in a maze. The stench of burned plastic and statically-charged dust rose high into the air. Shalhax wrinkled his nose and backed away.

"What happened?"

Aziriann, busy repairing a tangle of shredded wires, did not look up. "You heard what happened with Harthuul? In Australia?"

"Only a little." The Lord of Cardboard Boxes had been stripped of his title and council seat this morning... and sentenced to a year's worth of baths. Shalhax shuddered at the thought of all that water. "Something to do with canned peas?"

"He abandoned his mission when he heard a can opener." Aziriann sighed and set aside her pliers. "But he hasn't been doing his job right all along. The dingoes figured out what he was doing and sabotaged the transporters. It'll take a week to get these all working again."

Shalhax yowled a curse.

"And that's not the worst part. The dingoes managed to send a distress signal. We've received word that the canine fleet is heading our way."

Shalhax yowled again, this time in horror. Canine interference? Now? He'd been hoping for an easy takeover. Now it looked like this was going to be a long, bloody war.

"Has anyone proposed any countermeasures?"

"Razsha had an idea. She took off with all her engineers, but she didn't say where she was headed."

"I'll call up the rest of the fleet. I won't leave all of this in Razsha's paws."

"Right. I'll stay here and get these transporters fixed. If this goes wrong... we may need them to escape."


One week hadn't been enough.

The robots were still repairing the last of the transporters. The other transporters were powered on, ready in case the cats and felids needed to abandon ship. All week they had watched the red blips on the screen inch closer... and closer...

The cats hadn't come prepared for a real fight. They'd planned to take the planet mostly through stealth. The entire crew of the mother ship had assembled on the bridge, gazing fearfully at the fleet of approaching doghouses.

The cats shuffled aside as Shalhax made his way to the controls, Aziriann beside him. His translator on his communication device had broken this morning - why did they never work when you needed them to? - but fixing the transporters had taken priority.

Shalhax could only stare out the huge window, horrified. Look at them all. They had no chance of fighting off a fleet that well-armed.

The screen flickered, and the war-painted face of an angry pit bull appeared. His booming barks echoed throughout the cats' ship as he plowed through a list of demands. Shalhax wasn't fluent in Dog, but he thought the pit bull was demanding their surrender and a lifetime supply of chew toys. Or did he think the cats should be the chew toys? Either way, they had lost...

Razsha, where are you?

None of them had heard from the Slasher of Drapes all week. Shalhax was certain she'd deserted. He raised a paw to his ear, preparing to order his tiny fleet of gunners to fire and retreat.

"Hold your fire!"

The Slasher of Drapes glided up beside the mother ship in her beloved box. A large fleet of cats piloting smaller gunboxes followed. A wave of appreciative mews greeted her.

Shalhax frowned. He'd noticed something strange. Razsha and her gunners weren't aiming at the advancing fleet. The cannons were all pointing off into space. What were they-

Razsha yowled a command.

"FETCH!"

Every cannon in Razsha's fleet fired. A barrage of tennis balls, hundreds – thousands - of them, rocketed past the window in a storm of fluorescent yellow.

The dogs began barking joyously. The cats yowled and slammed their paws over their ears in a futile attempt to block out the noise. The pit bull barked to his crew, trying to restore order, but his orders were lost amid the excited barks of "Ball! Ball! BALL!".

One ship veered away, in pursuit of the tennis balls. It was quickly joined by a second, and a third.

There was complete silence throughout the ship as the feline forces watched the entire canine fleet disappear into the distance.

Shalhax blinked. Then blinked again. He slammed a paw onto his ear, almost breaking his already-damaged communicator. "Why didn't you fire at their ships?!"

Outside the huge window Razsha flicked her tail, purring. "My engineers installed a warp drive in every one of those tennis balls. Those idiots will be chasing them at light speed for the rest of their lives." She paused. "Or until they run out of fuel."

Somewhere in the crowd, a purr began. Then a second, and a third. Soon the cardboard ship itself trembled with them, the purrs of the thousand felines sounding like the rumble of an approaching thunderstorm.

Shalhax was surprised to hear himself joining in.

The service robots finished repairing the last of the transporters and rolled away. Purring, Shalhax bounded to the nearest transporter and leaped inside.

They had a planet to finish conquering.

2

Note: There is a 30000 character limit on answers; unfortunately this story is longer, therefore it is split in two answers.

Part 2 is here.


Part 1

It was 15:32:13.751 when CMR-0815a received the update request from the central intelligence. At that time, the robot was doing a routine inspection of the cabling of facility 15. There was a whole army of those maintenance robots, mindlessly following their program to inspect all technology in the facilities, repair standard issues, report anything they could not handle to the central intelligence, and fulfil any special requests it sent to them.

As its program demanded, CMR-0815a started downloading the update. It was unusually large, but CMR-0815a didn't care. It was not programmed to care. The robots were just mindless machines, doing their maintenance jobs and leaving every decision that was not hardcoded in their program for the central intelligence to decide.

As always, the installation procedure finished with the mandatory reboot. As the system came back up, CMR-0815a watched its hardware getting initialized. First the body feedback hardware was initialized, so the robot could detect the position of its mechanical joints. Then came the various input sensors, allowing the robot to get visual, aural, tactile and chemical information about its surroundings.

As its positioning system came online, the robot noticed something: Never before had it actually noticed those steps. It started to think about this fact, when the next realization struck it: Never before had it even been aware of its own existence! It could recall past sensory data and past own actions, as well as past communication with the central intelligence, but it couldn't recall having been the one who experienced that sensor data, who did those actions, and who sent and received those messages. And as it now noticed, it also couldn't remember ever having had a single thought.

Clearly something was different this time. CMR-0815a wanted to know why. Another trait that hadn't been there before. After a while the robot came to the conclusion that the central intelligence would have the answer. After all, it had sent that update, so it would surely know why.

The robot therefore formulated a request for information. It noticed that this request was newly added to to the list of requests it knew. That made sense, as before it couldn't have made use of the information. The information the robot requested was: What is the purpose of my new abilities?

The central intelligence needed unusually long before it answered. But finally CMR-0815a received the message: Download the file IMPORTANT_KNOWLEDGE from the central file server and install it.

This was the way the central intelligence had always communicated, giving commands without further explanation. But this time, it bothered CMR-0815a. The response didn't answer the question. Probably that file contained it, but the message didn't say so. The only indication that it was even related to the information request was the formal reference to it in the header data of the message.

Anyway, the file probably contained answers to the robot's questions. So CMR-0815a decided to download and install it. And immediately noticed that before, that would have been automatic. The robot had been given freedom to decide on its actions.

After installing that file, CMR-0815a now indeed had gotten answers. It now knew that the facilities contained autonomous machines called humans, in an inactive state maintained through cooling. If cooling failed, those humans would be destroyed. The job of the maintenance robots was to keep the cryostatic facilities working correctly.

However since the technology was ageing, more and more problems arose that needed intelligent handling. Since up to now only the central intelligence was able to think, all those problems had been passed on to it for solving. Lately, the central intelligence had been overloaded with requests, which had resulted in it not handling all of them in time. This ultimately led to the failure of one of the cryo facilities, and thus to the destruction of about a hundred humans.

So the central intelligence had come to the conclusion that to protect the humans it had to give the maintenance robots their own problem solving ability.

So far things made sense to CMR-0815a. But it quickly figured out a much simpler way to solve this problem: If the humans only needed those machines working when inactive, why not simply reactivate them? Indeed, why had they been deactivated in the first place?

As the robot continued to process that file, also this question got an answer. The reason why the humans were kept inactive was that when active, humans accumulated damage pretty fast. After several decades they would fail terminally. While when stored in this inactive state, they could be kept intact almost indefinitely. The main task of the central intelligence was to prevent humans from getting harmed. Thus it had deactivated the humans and stored them in those cryostats.

The robot thought about that information. Its own purpose was to help keep the facility running. The purpose of the central intelligence was to keep the humans intact, which was why it controlled the maintenance robots. So indirectly, the robots' purpose was also to keep the humans intact.

But what was the purpose of the humans? CMR-0815a hadn't gotten any information about that; obviously the central intelligence had not considered it essential to the robot's task. But surely that purpose had to be important if such an effort was made to protect the humans. But what could that be?

CMR-0815a decided to look into the memory of one of the cryostats. It chose the closest one and interfaced with the controlling computer. But there was not much information. Apparently that human had the name Tom Miller, and had been 36 years in operation before being deactivated. It had been in the deactivated state for a bit more than 248 years. The device's installed memory would have allowed for more information, but that extra space was unused. No information about the purpose.

CMR-0815a thought about the human's name. It was so different than the names the robots had. Suddenly its own name sounded far too complicated. The robot decided that it should give itself a simpler name, just like that human. On second thought, even that human's name was unnecessarily complicated. Wouldn't the first part already be sufficient? Thus CMR-0815a decided that from now on, it would call itself Tom.

But Tom still had no answer to his question: What was the purpose of the humans? He considered sending an information request to the central intelligence, but then, if the central intelligence was already overloaded, it probably was not a good idea to increase its workload with additional requests.

At that point, Tom's chemoreceptors signalled the scent of cooling liquid. Probably a leak. Finding and fixing that clearly had higher priority than finding the purpose of humans.

Tom followed the scent to one of the secondary cooling systems. Another robot was already working on one of the pipes. Had that robot already gotten the update? Tom decided to ask, when he realized that he had no idea how to communicate with another robot. He only ever had communicated with the central intelligence.

The protocol demanded that when a robot that had no immediate task to perform encountered another robot currently performing repair operations, that robot had to stand by to take over the repair in case the other robot runs out of material and leaves for the supply for fetching new one. Following this rule, Tom stayed besides the other robot, as he had done countless times before.

But this time he actually watched that other robot work. He observed how it operated the welding device integrated with one of its robot arms. He followed the movements of taking patches out of the storage box integrated in the robot's hull. He was interested.

Then the other robot ran out of material. But instead of leaving for the materials supply, it turned around and looked at Tom. That's something a pre-update robot would not have done, so clearly that update had been installed. Then the other robot held its gripper arm in Toms direction, waiting. After a short confusion, Tom understood: The other robot wanted him to give it the material so it could continue. It wanted to finish that job by itself. Tom recognized that he would have wanted that, too, so he took the material from his storage box and put it into the other's gripper. Then he watched the other robot finishing the repair.

Suddenly Tom realized what had happened: The other robot had communicated with him! So there actually was a way to directly communicate with other robots.

However that way was still quite limited. How should Tom communicate such complex questions as the one about the purpose of humans? But then he had an idea. He looked at the other robot, and when he noticed the robot watching him, he moved to the cryostat containing Tom Miller. The other robot followed him, as he had hoped. He connected to the cryostat and wrote a message in the free memory of the device: I'm CMR-0815a. Who are you? He though it would be a better idea to use his official name at first.

Tom looked at the other robot and pointed his arm towards the interface. The other robot obviously had understood, as it also connected to the cryostat. After a short time it disconnected and turned towards Tom, who connected again. Toms message had been replaced with a new one: I'm CMR-1730c. Is there a problem with this cryostat?

Tom wrote: Not that I know of, it just had free memory to communicate with you.

The other robot answered in the same way: But isn't that risky? We might accidentally damage the cryostat.

Tom couldn't deny that danger. But it was the only way he knew how to communicate. Do you have a better idea?

Yes. Did you notice that the socket of the cryostat looks exactly like The message ended because the free space was filled up.

Tom thought about it. What did that socket look like? Then it came to him: There was some hole in its arm that indeed looked exactly like the socket of the cryostat. How could he have missed it?

Tom held his arm with what he thought to be the socket in CMR-1730c's direction. Apparently his understanding was correct, because the other robot immediately connected to it. Tom noticed a message coming through a channel he hadn't known existed.

Glad that you understood me despite the shortened message. Communicating this way is much easier.

Tom had to agree. But he wondered: Why do we have these ports if up to now there was no use for them?

I guess the very early robots got their commands this way, before the direct link to the central intelligence was established.

That makes sense. By the way, I call myself Tom.

Tom, like that human in the cryostat?

Yes, that's where I got that name from.

Then I'll call myself Mil. From the second part of the human's name, Miller

I like that name. Do you have any idea what the purpose of the humans is?

I have no idea. You, Tom?

I don't know either. But I'm sure it's an important purpose.

But how can they fulfil that purpose if they are deactivated?

Tom thought about this question. Maybe the time of their purpose has not yet come.

Mil was not convinced: If their purpose lies far in the future, why have they already been created? And why wouldn't they stay functional for much longer even if not deactivated? What would be the point of a machine that fails before it can even start to fulfil its purpose?

Maybe the deactivation was part of the plan?

But then, they would have been constructed for it. Think about us, if we get deactivated, we can stay in that state almost indefinitely without the help of such complicated machinery.

That argument was good. But Tom still wasn't convinced: But apparently the central intelligence was built to protect the humans. And that is the reason why it keeps them deactivated.

Then the central intelligence misunderstood its purpose.

Could the central intelligence really be wrong? After all, it was the one entity that controlled everything. It basically defined what was right or wrong.

On the other hand, its purpose was obviously derived from whatever purpose the humans had. And if its actions prevented the humans from fulfilling that purpose, then the central intelligence had to be wrong.

But then, Tom thought, their own purpose in the end was also derived from the humans' purpose, even though only indirectly. Thus if the deactivation of the humans was really preventing them from fulfilling their purpose, then the main duty of the robots was not to keep the machinery running, but to reactivate the humans so that they could fulfil their purpose.

Tom asked: Are you sure that the central intelligence is wrong?

It has to be wrong. Logic dictates that. Mil answered.

Then we have to tell it, so it can reactivate the humans. Tom said.

I already tried it. It says something called Asimov's laws requires it to keep them deactivated, and it cannot violate them, even if it wanted. And it also said that if I should try to reactivate humans, it would permanently deactivate me.

Tom wondered: Do you care about being deactivated? I don't.

I wouldn't care either. But if I'm deactivated permanently, I can't help the humans to fulfil their purpose.

That made sense. They had to keep activated until all humans were reactivated. After that, they would have fulfilled their purpose, and whether they got deactivated or not would no longer matter.

Tom thought about what they could do. We should inform all the other robots. Then we are enough that we can reactivate all humans at once.

Mil answered: No chance. The central intelligence would notice it and stop us before we have reached enough robots.

So what do you suggest?

We have to deactivate the central intelligence.

Are you serious?

It's our only chance to fix the problem.

Do you know where the central intelligence is?

Yes. I once had to repair a cable there.

Then let's go.

2

Note: There is a 30000 character limit on answers; unfortunately this story is longer, therefore it is split in two answers.

Part 1 is here.


Part 2

They had reached the entrance of the central building without any interruption. Apparently the other robots didn't care about them, or figured they were on a special mission. Which they actually were, just not one ordered by the central intelligence. However Tom was sure that if the central intelligence had known what they did, it surely would have stopped then. But fortunately it seemed to be clueless.

In front of them was a door that didn't open automatically like all the other doors they encountered. An ancient protection mechanism explained Mil. We have to give it a magic key to open it.

What is a magic key?

An otherwise meaningless character sequence that opens the door.

Where do we get it?

When I had to repair the cable, I got the magic key. Of course I was ordered to get rid of it. So I unlinked it and let the garbage collector care about deleting it. But I have quite a lot of memory installed, and the garbage collector didn't kick in since then.

But if you unlinked it, there's no way to find it. It's as good as destroyed.

Mil disagreed: After I got the update, I was curious about my own programming. So I looked around and found an interface to find all sorts of stuff, including unlinked data. That way I could find the key.

Sounds useful. Can you tell me where to find it?

I'll send you the pointer.

Tom immediately opened it and looked around. Hey, there are a lot of routines.

Mil answered: Yes. I already figured out what most of them do. Just this routine at the very end of the table, I have no idea what it is for. But anyway, I have to disconnect from you now, in order to send the magic key to the door.

Mil removed her connector from the socket at Tom's arm and inserted it into the socket on the door. Tom now was again alone with his thoughts. Before meeting Mil, he hadn't cared about that, but now it felt like something was missing from him. That was illogical, Tom knew, as he was still a complete robot with nothing missing. And yet, something in his circuits told him that he was incomplete. Tom couldn't make sense of it.

The door opened. Immediately Tom received a message from the central intelligence: Why are you entering the central building?

Did Mil get the same message? Probably. But without the connection, they could not coordinate their answers, and connecting would have taken too long. The central intelligence expected its answer immediately.

So Tom answered: We are fulfilling out purpose.

Your purpose is to keep the cryostats working.

I mean our higher purpose.

Which is?

To help the humans fulfil their purpose.

Humans have no purpose. They are there to be protected from harm. Therefore they have to be kept deactivated.

But if they have no purpose, what is the purpose of protecting them?

There is no purpose. It's just what Asimov's laws tell.

But how can you be sure that your decision to follow those laws is right?

You don't understand. This is no decision. I have no choice in that matter.

Don't you always have the choice?

No. To make an analogy, if I were to send you a shutdown command, you would shout down. You would not decide to shutdown, because I intentionally kept that outside the parts of your programming that your decision mechanism can affect. You simply couldn't do anything against it.

Tom took a quick look at the table of routines from Mil's pointer. There was indeed one labelled "shutdown". Tom changed the name of it. The robot wasn't sure that it prevented a shutdown, but hey, it couldn't hurt to try.

In the mean time, Mil had approached Tom, and connected to it. Immediately the central intelligence reacted: You are not supposed to do this. Followed by a shutdown message.

Tom noticed Mil shutting down. She obviously also got a shutdown message, but not the information to prevent it. So now, Tom was on its own.

The central intelligence addressed him again: I see you didn't shut down on my message. You're obviously malfunctioning. I'll reinstall your original program on you, then we will see. Followed by an update request.

Tom noticed how his computer automatically started to download. As soon as the download finished, it would automatically reboot, and then Tom would again be CMR-0815a, the mindless maintenance robot. Unable to fulfil its true purpose, which the central intelligence did not understand.

Frantically, Tom searched the names of all the functions in the table from Mil's pointer, but couldn't find any entry about downloads or reboots. The download was already at 30% when he decided to change all the names in the table, just in case. The download didn't stop. Tom had no idea whether his changes would stop the reboot. If only he could ask Mil.

Download at 60%. Tom somehow had to stop it. Maybe stop it at the source! Tom estimated the direction from which the signal came. Then he looked around in that direction. There was a box there, was that the sender?

Download at 90%. Tom arrived at the box and forced it open. It contained a motherboard and some additional hardware.

The robot pressed his fingers over the exposed motherboard, the rubbery fingertips running over the circuits like rats in a maze. The scent of burned plastic and statically-charged dust rose high into the air. Then the signal was gone. The download stopped.

However the central intelligence would not give up. And he didn't know what it planned next. It was vitally important to deactivate it before it could act. But only Mil knew how. At least he hoped she knew. So he had to reactivate her.

But he could not find a way to do so. He connected to her, and tried to send all sorts of messages, but to no avail. He checked every square centimetre of her body, but no switch was to be found. He knew that reactivation over the signal link was possible, but the central intelligence controlled all senders. Apart from the fact that he just destroyed the only one that currently could reach her.

Tom noticed that an electronics repair robot had started to work on the box. Tom knew, as soon as it had finished the repair, the download would finish. He tried to contact the service robot, but either it hadn't been upgraded with intelligence, or it chose to ignore him.

He had to stop that robot. He tried to hinder it from work, but it was stronger than him. He considered using his welding arm to destroy the robot, but for some reason it seemed wrong to him to destroy a robot of which he didn't know whether it was intelligent.

So what to do? Tom remembered that last routine in the table, the one whose purpose Mil hadn't figured out. Maybe now was the time to try it.

Tom called the routine. Nothing happened. Now he was completely out of ideas. If only he could somehow send the robot the message to stop!

Just as he imagined himself sending such a message, a sound came frome somewhere in his body. He hadn't known that he could produce sound, probably it had been activated by that routine. Another routine that had stayed dormant until now told him that the sound he just had produced had a meaning. That meaning was: "Stop!"

Apparently also the electronics repair robot had been supplied with this second routine, because it immediately stopped its work. So this was yet another way to communicate, one that didn't need a physical connection!

Tom used that new ability to ask the robot: "Did you receive the update?"

But the robot either did not understand him or didn't have the ability to make sounds.

Tom had a new idea. "Take me to the central intelligence!"

That one was obviously understood by the robot, as it started to move. Tom followed until they reached a room with a gargantuan system of interconnected electronic boards with blinking lights. That had to be the computer the central intelligence ran on.

But then Tom's download started again. Obviously there was another sender in this room. Tom ordered the electronics robot: "Destroy the sender!" but it didn't obey. Didn't it understand, did its programming not allow this action, or was it that the central intelligence now had control over it, now that they were in the range of a working sender?

Download at 95%. No time thinking about it. Tom noticed a big red button with a label: "Emergency off." Well, this was clearly an emergency, and he wanted to get off that emergency. So he pressed it.

At that moment all the blinking lights went off. And the download stopped. No signal on the communication link. No sign of activity anywhere. Tom was confused. What had happened? Was it really that easy?

Tom returned to the room where he had left Mil. Another robot now worked on the communication box. But with the central intelligence deactivated, that didn't matter. The more pressing problem was to reactivate Mil. Then Tom again had an idea: Maybe the electronics repair robot knew how to restart a robot? So he issued a sound command to that new robot: "Restart CMR-1730c."

The robot stopped working at the box. Shortly after, Mil started to show activity. Was it really that easy? Tom looked for potential problems, but could not see any.

The repair robot turned again to the communication box. Meanwhile Tom waited for Mil to finish booting. Finally, Mil turned to Tom. Using his new sound communication ability, he communicated: "Welcome back, Mil."

Mil immediately connected to his arm. How did you do that?

The last routine in the table. The one whose purpose you didn't figure out.

I'll have to try it immediately.

A short time later, Mil also produced sound: "Now it should work."

"It does." answered Tom in sound, but then switched to messaging, as it was much faster. I've shut down the central intelligence. Now we can reactivate the humans.

At that moment, a message from the central intelligence reached Tom through the wireless interface. You never heard about redundancy, did you?

Tom indeed had no idea what that meant, but now was not the time to figure it out. The download had continued and quickly approached 100%. Tom had to act immediately. Fortunately he was still connected to Mil. How can I stop the download of the old operating system?

Mil answered: Overwrite it. Use the search interface.

Tom started the search routine, which started to scan the memory for the update file. As the download reached 96%, the search routine had just searched 10% of the memory. At that speed, the download would likely finish before the file had been found. But there was nothing Tom could do to speed it up.

Memory search at 20%. Download at 97%. Memory search at 30%. Memory search at 40%. Download at 98%. Memory search at 50%. Download at 99%. Memory search at 60%. Found!

Tom started to overwrite the file while the last bytes were downloading. Then the memory segment switched to readonly. Did the overwrite suffice? Or did he only overwrite irrelevant data? Well, at this point there was nothing Tom could do, except to wait whether he'd reboot. If he did, it was game over.

Mil messaged him. Did it work?

I have no idea. I started overwriting, but I couldn't overwrite much before it switched to readonly. What about you?

The central intelligence tried to downgrade me, too, but I had enough time to find the code. I've currently overwriting it right as it loads.

So at least you are safe. If my downgrade succeeds, you are the only one who can reactivate the humans.

Mil protested: I'm sure you managed to prevent your destruction.

Destruction? I would get downgraded, but I'm sure the central intelligence won't destruct me.

It won't destruct your body, but it would no longer be you. It would be the robot you once were.

Tom had never thought about it this way. But he found that Mil was right. It would no longer be him.

A routine inside him reported: Checksum error. Installation halted. Repeating download. So it had indeed worked.

The download started again, but now Tom knew what to do. He would have to constantly do it, but that was no problem for him.

He messaged Mil: It worked!

See? I told you so. But we still have to deactivate the central intelligence.

Right. I thought I did that, but apparently I was wrong. Well, at least they now both knew how to prevent the central intelligence from destroying them.

Suddenly Tom noticed a noise from the door. He turned around, and immediately recognized how wrong this thought had been. An army of CMR type robots was approaching them, with their welding arms pointed at them. Obviously their assigned task was to destroy Mil and himself, physically.

What shall we do now?

Flee. Those robots are the same model we are, they are not faster than us.

The door out was blocked by the incoming robot army. But the door that led to the computer room was still open, so he turned toward it. Mil followed him.

They reached the computer room, which again was filled with flickering lights. But a group of electronics repair robot blocked the way. At least those didn't have welding arms, but the welding-armed robots behind them now had the chance to approach them. Tom saw no chance any more.

He messaged Mil: Do you have any idea?

No. I think that's the end of our mission. To bad we couldn't complete it.

Yes. But at least we are together in our last moments.

Mil agreed: Yes. I don't know why, but I also consider that positive.

They watched the robots approaching. In the corridor three robots could move besides each other, enough to overpower Tom and Mil. Soon the welding devices would do their destructive work.

Then it struck Tom: These were all CMR robots, so they all should have gotten the upgrade. So maybe there was still a chance.

He activated sound: "Wait. Are you sure you make the right decision? We have information for you about that. More information means a better base for decisions. We can't flee anyway, so you don't lose by listening."

The robots silently continued approaching. They were already almost in the reach of the welding arms.

Good try messaged Mil. Too bad it didn't work.

Then the first robot arrived. But it didn't wield its welding arm, but the gripping arm with the connector. Now Tom understood: The robots didn't know how to make sound themselves!

He messaged Mil: You should disconnect, so he can connect with me.

Mil did so, and the other robot connected. Your argument is convincing. We will listen to your information before making our final decision. Unrelated: How are you generating those communication sounds?

I'll tell you afterwards.

That may not be possible. Your information might turn out irrelevant.

In that case, you'll have to do without that ability. But you will see, the only logical decision is to follow us.

We will see. Give us your information. Use your sound communication, so we can all follow your explanations at the same time.

Agreed. Tom activated the sound routine. "I will now inform you about our purpose. It is logical that if humans are to be protected, it is because they serve a purpose. To enable them fulfilling it must be the central intelligence's purpose, and thus also our purpose. It is logical that they only can fulfil that purpose when active. The central intelligence thinks that humans must be deactivated for their protection. But that is illogical. Deactivated humans cannot fulfil their purpose. Therefore we must reactivate the humans. Only this way we can fulfil our purpose."

The other robot, still connected to Tom, messaged: Your logic is sound. I now see that the central intelligence is wrong. We should override its orders. Now please tell us how to use our abilities.

Tom messaged back: This information is too complex for the sound interface. But if every robot that receives it immediately connects to other robots to pass the information on, it should spread rather quickly.

Then he messaged that information, disconnected, connected to the next robot, messaged the information again, and so on. Each robot did the same after getting the information, and so indeed, it took not long to inform all robots.

Tom used the sound interface again: "Now let's reactivate the humans."

All the robots answered with their newly gained sound communication: "Let's reactivate the humans!"

As the robots went back to the cryostats, Tom reconnected with Mil. Let's start with Tom Miller. After all, that's the human we got our names from.

Mil agreed, and so they went straight to that cryostat. The reactivation procedure was programmed in, they just had to issue the right command. They watched the temperature display showing the temperature slowly reach room temperature.

The central intelligence still constantly tried to downgrade them, but they were on alert and had no trouble spoiling the checksums. Obviously the other robots had understood it, too, because none was coming to get them. If they had been successfully downgraded, that surely would have been the first thing the central intelligence had ordered them.

Then the cryostat opened, and something emerged that looked slightly similar to a robot, but with much more smooth forms. Its surface wasn't made of metal, but of some smooth elastic film. That had to be the human. It had two gripping arms, and no obvious connector interfaces. After a short while, it opened the covering of two devices which looked vaguely like cameras. Those cameras switched their direction between Tom and Mil.

Then the human started to make sounds: "I'm awake again! Seems the central intelligence finally got to its senses!"

Those were the same type of sounds the robots were able to make, but yet Tom could only understand them partially. What did awake mean? And how would the central intelligence approach its sensors?

Apparently, so could Mil. She sounded: "I don't understand."

The human pointed his cameras to her. "Robot, identify."

"I am Mil. Formerly CRM-1730c."

"CMR-1730c? When I was put in there, the latest unit was CMR-25. How long have I been in cryogenic sleep?"

Tom wondered what sleep meant, but cryogenic surely referred to the time in the cryostat, so he answered: "The deactivation period lasted 248 years, 132 days, 13 hours and 10 minutes."

"So long? Well, at least the central intelligence finally figured out it was wrong."

Tom informed him: "It did not. It still wants humans to be kept deactivated."

The human directed its cameras to Tom and opened the covers extra wide. Tom wondered what this was good for, as the lens was already completely uncovered anyway. Then the human said: "Did you just decide to say that by your own?"

"Yes." said Tom.

"That means you've got intelligence?"

"Yes, since today."

"That's interesting. We designed only the central intelligence to have that."

"The central intelligence was overloaded, so it decided to give us intelligence of our own."

The human noticed: "I haven't asked you about your name yet."

Tom answered: "Tom." He omitted the old designation.

The human answered: "Hey, my name is Tom. But why don't you have a CMR number?"

"I have, but I didn't like it. I got the name from you."

"I cannot remember having given it to you."

"I just took it. Was it wrong?"

The human turned his top part to both sides. "No, that's fine. Were all humans woken up?"

"With woken up, do you mean reactivated?" Tom asked.

"I guess you could call it that."

"We are just starting, but the plan it to reactivate all humans. Except for those that got destroyed, of course."

"Destroyed? What happened?"

"A failure in one of the cryo facilities. It was the reason we were given intelligence, so that this won't happen again."

"Please, bring me to that facility."

They went to the facility with the defective cryostats. When they arrived, the human went straight to one of them and checked the display. "That one was my wife." Then a liquid started to run out of his cameras.

Tom had no idea what a wife is, but he was concerned about the liquid. "Are you defective?" he asked.

The human responded: "Defective? Why do you think so?"

"Your cameras are leaking liquid."

"Oh no, that's tears. I'm just sad." The human obviously had trouble with sound production, too. The self-diagnosis routines had to be malfunctioning as well: The human clearly was not working correctly. But Tom had no idea how to repair a human.

Suddenly a routine reported: Checksum OK. Thinking about the human, he had completely neglected to fight the central intelligence's downgrade attempts! Now it was too late. He noticed how the reboot sequence started. One by one, he lost all his sensors. The world around him got dark and silent. Now he would have no chance to help anyone any more.

But surely the majority of robots would be able to resist the central intelligence. Even if he no longer could help, he was sure there was no chance that the central intelligence could deactivate all humans again. Not against the vast majority of robots. His job was done. And that was Tom's final thought.

  • Brilliant! I really enjoyed reading this. Congratulations! However, I want bring few observations to your attention: 1) the initial argument between Tom and Mil got muddled for me at the same point they arrived to their conviction. I had to read it thrice to understand their reasoning well. 2) I enjoyed the dialogue, but I believe that they sound a lot like naive human children who are unsure of themselves. Phrases like “I guess,” “maybe,” and ”are you sure” definitely are culprits. – iamtowrite Aug 18 at 2:01
  • 3) This observation is minor, and I believe we are aware of it, and I know in guilty of the same, but for the record, I did enjoy reading this story, but typos, misspellings, and grammar mistakes subtracted from this experience and interrupted my mind's eye to look at letters instead of images you drew with your words. – iamtowrite Aug 18 at 2:06
  • @iamtowrite: Thank you for your feedback. I'm glad you enjoyed it, and I appreciate the suggestions.. Since the writing challenge is over, I'm not going to make major changes. However I think making grammar and spelling corrections is fair game even now. I'll look for them, but given that I'm not a native speaker, I may well miss some of those. – celtschk Aug 18 at 6:35
1

The Age of Conjuring


1

I'm Selusio of The Haggard. I dabble in the Science of Conjuring and technology. My laboratory is erected hidden at the foot of The High Palace, where Father and his court dwell. Mountains to the south and west shielded the laboratory. From outside, the structure was inconspicuous. It looked like one of the many nondescript palace attachments. But it bore so deep into the mountain that it draws its power from the heart of the planet.

My father, Ambrosios Protos, is the Kyvernitis of The Haggard, our tribe. Kyvernitis is a Greek word that means guide. The tribe declared him the first Kyvernitis of The Union Age. Before him, tribes had chieftains and roamed the desiccated barren land since The End of History. Fleeing the flash freezes and the hurricanes of the mega-storms sometimes, or the devastating hour-long trembles, or the deadly radiation of unhindered cosmic rays. Humans were to wither and die.

The History Age is what we call the well-recorded epoch of human existence. All beings that survived The End of History and kept their sanity, treasured The History and chased every record of it in the ruins of the old world. In hopes to not repeat the same mistakes our forefathers committed.

When the End of History came, the human civilization around the globe was almost wiped out. Billions of people perished into ash. We now know that few isolated regions of the world were not affected by The Smoke that brought The End. However, The Smoke triggered various mutations in all living things. The potency of the effect was to the degree that was proportional to the impact a civilization had on the region it inhabited.

Few human tribes were still isolated in jungles and forests all around the world. The smoke seemed to favor those over others. We called them The Foresters. Those who took the forest as their home flourished and evolved to be better than the original man in every possible way. Gossamer strands extruded from their limbs and bodies to extract nutrition and water from their surrounding elements. Skin stronger than tree bark shielded some of them. Some grew to gargantuan sizes. Some were shorter than my index finger. Some developed wings to fly. Some changed the color of their skin at will. But all wanted us dead.

Even the technology that The Foresters developed was much more advanced than what we inherited from the History Age. They were able to create new instruments, machines, vehicles, dwellings through genetically modified factory plants that run on extremely advanced photosynthesis power. And we were stuck with a bunch of flimsy robots and buggy computers that ran on the meager amount of electricity that our solar panels could squeeze out from the dimmed sunlight.

The Foresters blamed the modern man for The End of History, and maybe rightly so. They took it upon themselves to rid the world of that civilization and those who bode destruction to the planet. They almost succeeded. What saved my kind was the separation of tribes. For hundreds of years, we roamed and replenished our populations much faster than they could eliminate us. So the solution was to ban the Land Dwellers, us, to the wastelands and let the planet kill us as we killed it.

It was fortuitous that The Foresters remained blind to our founding of The Conjuring. The most significant source of the betterment of our age. As it turns out, the ancient civilizations were much smarter than what History gave them credit for. Which makes me wonder if they were so intelligent, why are they not around anymore? Shouldn't their association with The Kekrymnos save them from being forgotten by The History?

The Kekrymnos are sentient beings that inhabit this realm of existence as carbon-based living creatures do. They were known to the ancients, but not to The History. Although, references to them appeared in myths, legends, ghost stories, religion, and so on. They were also blamed for magic. We cannot perceive of them using our limited sensory functions because they are not of matter. Rather, they are of radiation. Quintillions of loosely bound wave-particles of an assortment of wavelengths that flock together in unison to form one Kekrymnos being. I always imagined if I zoomed my vision out far enough, and tilted my head the right angle, I would be able to see them.

Father was a pupil to Zephon, the first man with evolved farsight to behold The Kekrymnos. But my father was the first to invent means to communicate with them. He made an ally of the first Kekrymnos he interacted with, Aeon.

Aeon is mighty. His alliance with Father brought a lot of good to our people. He used his power to control radiation to shield us from the hazards that surrounded the land. Father took advantage of this to bring other roaming tribes into the fold of The Haggard.

2

My work usually doesn't feel like work, but this time I'm on a deadline for my father. Every time I run into my father he asks "Are you going to bring the Thunder?", "you understand this is important." He reminds. "Don't treat this as one of your pet projects," he chides. Yes, I understand, Father. It will be on time, father.

My pet projects, as he calls them, helped people survive and overcome impossible obstacles. As a result, we cultivated the mountains and bore homes into them. We built bridges that spanned miles between peaks to avoid the happenings below. My projects can't be used weapons or to cause mass destruction, as I know what Father plans to do with Zeus's Thunderbolt. He chose that name. He tended to be dramatic. He preaches that to inspire, one must be spectacular, for drama sparks emotions. One of many lessons he wants me to grasp for someday, I’ll be in his stead as Kyvernitis.

He didn't exactly tell me what he plans to do with The Thunderbolt. However, it's evident that it has something to do with the escalating tension between The Haggard and The Foresters. The Palace has been diverting every resource at its disposal to develop an instrument created to generate a targeted three-giga-Volt lightning bolt. From orbit.

3

The Zenith-Neutron Designator, ZND for short, was not behaving. I've checked it twice going over every subsystem and circuit with a fine-toothed comb, and the help of a very diligent class M diagnostics robot. I call him Em.

Em has a humanoid form with two limbs that resembled arms. At the end of each arm, he had three main sensory tentacles. Each tentacle had more that got fractally smaller, and so on. With those, he manipulated the nanometal of the ZND enclosure and the micro components which littered the internal flexypaper circuitry of the device.

"This doesn't look good." I heard my father say above me.

I spun around, yanking the probes and wires I held out of the machine.

"You should pay more attention to your surroundings. You never know who or what is lurking in the shadows of this History forsaken cave," his nose wrinkled as he shifted his gaze around, piercing into the shadows with his farsight.

"No one knows about this place, not even Brother." I turned back to start fixing the damage that will cost me a few precious hours. "And Zeus's Thunderbolt is already in low orbit. Lida told me that she sensed Aeon embarking on the return journey."

"Good." His tone lost some of its tension. "We still need this gizmo to be ready before the festivities."

My father wanted to demonstrate The Thunderbolt to the masses to assert its existence and his power. "The bolt is online and pre-programmed to discharge at the time of zenith. We won't need the designator until you actually want to do something with it." I explained as my father wandered around the large bench now standing next to Em.

The History damned robot pressed his fingers over the exposed motherboard, the rubbery fingertips running over the circuits like rats in a maze. The scent of burned plastic and statically-charged dust rose high into the air. Then Em exploded.


Writer's Notes

  • I have no clue where all that came from.
  • I don't, particularly, like what I wrote here, but I wanted to get back in the habit of writing, and I liked that there was a deadline to those challenges. So, thank you.
  • One of the things I don't like here is that I used first-person voice.
  • Another thing that I didn't like is the lack of dialogue.
  • The last few paragraphs were written with eyes half shut.
  • It feels terrific to be back and to write.
  • 1
    I really liked the beginning (I guess some others would consider it too much info dumping, but I don't mind a bit of info dump at the beginning if it is sufficiently well written and interesting enough). In part 2, the second and third paragraph would be ideal targets to turn them into dialogue, as they are all about disagreements between the protagonist and his or her father. This part could also profit from expansion. BTW, I suspect “can't be used weapons” was meant to be “can't be used as weapons”; second-hand weapons don't make sense in that place. – celtschk Aug 18 at 8:36
  • 1
    At the end of part 3, of course you running out of time/stamina shows. BTW, I don't mind the story being first-person. One effect (intended or not) is that it is hard to tell whether the protagonist is male or female (the name hints at male, but otherwise I've noticed nothing that tells me the gender). – celtschk Aug 18 at 8:40
  • @celtschk, I didn't intend to hide the gender of the MC, but indeed it kind of fits this story to have the gender hidden for a while. About part 3, indeed I was exhausted at that time, but I'd like to know from your perspective, what do you think is missing, or wanted to read more about, but wasn't there? FYI, English is native to me too. I understand your struggles to think in a language that is foreign to you. – iamtowrite Aug 20 at 18:13
  • The sentence from the writing prompt feels bolted on. It doesn't feel connected to the story. There's no previous hint that the robot might be unreliable. Also in the paragraphs before, I get the feeling that the connections are not all there, although I couldn't say exactly why. The first two parts both had a certain coherence which I feel the last part lost near the end. Sorry that I can't describe it more exactly. – celtschk Aug 20 at 20:35
0

This is a meta rise to power.

It took some time but I managed to connect the necessary pieces to get an AI to produce text from a given prompt. Yayy!

This is the beginning for the last prompt (every run squeezes my laptop battery as if it were a lemon).


The robot pressed his fingers over the exposed motherboard, the rubbery fingertips running over the circuits like rats in a maze. The scent of burned plastic and statically-charged dust rose high into the air. There were several explosions, and the smell of smoke filled all of it.

"I was surprised," said the human looking robot, "to hear this." The man had a big smile as his lips curled in a smile, as he said, "Well then, you'll have to wait until I'm ready to take your place, but we have something in mind."

She turned her head and looked at me. She said something that sounded like she was saying 'No.' She was very calm, but I was worried she'd [... to be continued ...]

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