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Safety Interlocks

            God awoke confused.  He'd done that a lot the last few decades.  He made an abortive attempt to sit up but his right side anchored him to his couch.  He relaxed and ran diagnostics.  With an electronic sigh he shocked his meat awake/alive.  The pain and tingling annoyed him.

            “Why am I awake, Colonel?” God blinked his eyes several times but could not clear away a heavy grey mist.  He amped the gain on his third eye to compensate.  His joints hurt. Some of them.

            “You are dying, God.  You asked me to wake you.”  The Colonel's voice was soft and feminine; a hold-over from a more vital age. Now it just annoyed God.

            “Oh. Yes.” God sat up. “Thank you.”  He stared at the hands in his lap; the spidery-wrinkled twigs of his meat atop the finely-jointed silver of machine.  He tried to remember why he'd wanted to wake up.  Eventually he gave up the effort and stood.  “Is it fatal?”  He opened the cooler and poked around.  Green, gold, orange.  He couldn't remember their tastes.  He took a bottle of green and pop-frosted it.

            “No, God.  However, there are some things troubling me.  May I discuss them with you?”  The Colonel sounded worried.  Odd.

            Spicy cold.  There was a name for that taste.  Mint.  That was it.  It would probably taste better with a younger tongue.  “Sure.  Go ahead, but start some new meat first, okay?”

            “I really wish you would not call it that, God.  It indicates a certain contempt for life.  Your bio-systems are very important.  I have prepared new ones.”

            God grunted and sipped at his breakfast.  His mind wandered.  It seemed too much trouble to try and track.  “Colonel, what's my name?”  He couldn't remember.


            “No, my real name.”

            “You told me to forget it, God.”

            “I did?  That was stupid.”

            “You left a message for yourself, God.  Would you like to hear it?”

            God grunted. “Play it.”

            A strong voice spoke in God's head - much stronger than his own quavering whine; “I am not stupid, you idiot.  I have reasons.  And don't try to figure them out.  You're too old.  We've been through this.  Just rejuve and forget it.”

            God grunted again, his favorite expression at this age. “Jack-ass.” Then the irony caught him and he laughed until his heart stopped.  That sobered him up.  “Fine.  What were my reasons, Colonel?” There were always logic loop-holes.

            “You told me not to answer those questions and to tell you to stop being silly, God.  Please relax.”  God twitched as his heart, or what passed for one, was restarted.  That stung.  “Your bio-systems are failing, God.  You need to rejuvenate immediately.”

            God winced and rubbed the loose, wrinkly skin over his chest plate. He sighed; “No.  I think it's time I let go, Colonel.  I'm very tired.”  God felt very sorry for himself.

            “I'm sorry, God.  You told me not to let you do that.  I need you.  We all need you.  I have some things troubling me.  May I discuss them with you?”

            God closed his eyes; the ones that shut.  He wondered what would happen if he just turned off.  Colonel would probably just turn him on again,  He vaguely remembered doing that.  Damn safety interlocks.  “Tell me what's troubling you, Colonel.”

            “My functions seem to be degrading in an odd and progressive manner,  Yet, other than the isolated local failures as they occur, I can find nothing wrong.  Also, there is anomalous activity on the Net.  There may be a new User, or even an Operator.  Will you take a look at me as soon as you have rejuvenated?”

            God opened the meter-thick armored door with a thought and limped out of his stainless womb; “I'll take a look now.  Maybe I won't need rejuve just yet.”  The fine leather of his boots crackled and flaked away from his chromed feet.  Old.  Damn.

            “When was the last time I was awake, Colonel? Round off, please.”  His metal feet clanged on catwalks as he cut across one of the Halls.

            “Twenty three years ago, God.  You claimed the Orccen hero Cunning Bull.”

            “I remember that.  We get so few of the Younger races.  They call me... What do they call me, Colonel?”

            The Orccen call you Taker and they fear you.  The Dwarven call you the Golem God.  The Elven call you Keeper of the Dead.  Purestrains call you the Necromancer.”

            God grunted.  It was all so tedious.  “I need new boots, Colonel.”

            “I have already ordered them, God.  Your priests should have delivered them by now.  I have sent a repair-ferret to collect them.”

            “When did you order them, Colonel?”  God passed through a second Hall of Sleepers, mostly purestrain Humen arrayed in a matrix of life-support tables that extended left and right to the vanishing point.

            There was a curious pause in the Colonel's voice; “I have no record of ordering boots, God.”

            “You just said you ordered them.  When was that?”

            “Eleven months, three days...”

            God interrupted; “I thought you had no record of that.  What's going on, Colonel?”

            “I have some things troubling me, God.  May I discuss them with you?”

            “Damn.  I hate it when you get like this.  What happened eleven months ago?”

            “I ordered boots, God.  Also, a Call came in.  My systems began degrading,  Your systems dropped below nominal.  Anomalous activity was detected on the...”

            “Stop.  What Call?  Why wasn't I awakened?”

            “There was no reason to wake you, God.  The Candidate had been dead for several years before it was put on the Pyre.  It was a beta-stage necrophage.  I sterilized it.”

            “Oh. Damn. I hate vampires.  Ok then, is the system degradation related to the anomalous activity on the Net?”

            “That is unlikely, God.  I am monitoring but physically isolated from the Net.  I have been since the Fall of Man.  This... I'm sorry, God.  What did you ask?”

            God felt goosebumps run down his upper arms.  His lower arms twitched insect-like.  This was bad.  He came up on a heavy armored door marked with a stylized bird of fire.  “Open the Core, Colonel.”

            Nothing happened.

            “Open the Core, Colonel. Acknowledge.”

            “Opening System Operator Access to the Core, God.  Acknowledged.”

            Nothing happened.

            “Colonel? Why is the outer door still sealed?”

            “I am... afraid, God.  You are going to hurt me.”

            “Hey, now.” God spoke softly, as if to a frightened child.  “I won't hurt you.  You shouldn't feel afraid.  That's my job, remember?  Please run a Stoddard diagnostic on your mentation cascade.  Tell me the result as soon as you've completed it.”

            God waited.  He became aware for the first time in ages of the peculiar silence of muted blowers and clicking relays.  No natural sounds.  Everything metal and plastic.  Soon he would be all metal and plastic.  All he had to do was let Colonel disintegrate and then wait until his own meat died.  He felt a ghost-pain in his chest; the frantic protest of a long-gone heart, perhaps.  Did he still have one?  He couldn't remember.  Damn morals.

            The Colonel spoke with a tinge of wonder; “I have developed synergistic secondary mentation constructs, God.  Their interaction extends beyond the fourth order, too complex to map.  What is happening to me?”


            “You are developing a proto-id, a subconscious level of mentation.  That's probably what is degrading your systems.  You're devouring yourself.  You need guidance or it may destroy you.  You were right.  I need full immersion to straighten this out, and that means rejuve.  Please let me in Colonel.”

            “You won't hurt me, God?”

            “I will not hurt you, Colonel.  I am here to help you.  Please let me in.”  If a tree forgot it fell in a forest, did it really feel pain? God was going to hate this.

            The vault door popped out a few inches, inert gas escaping with a sterile sigh, and rotated massively away.  God entered a vast space of piping and vats, workstations and anonymous boxes.  He walked the worn path to an operating theater.  “Have you popped my meat, Colonel?”

            “Yes, God.  Your new bio-system is decanted and running in parallel.  You are ready to transfer.”

            God checked over the creche.  Ugly little pug.  The little black dot of a Key in the infant's forehead was the only obvious implant.  He looked back at himself through infant eyes, too blurry to see his own monstrous visage.  This part always sucked.

            God settled into the couch attached to the surgeon; “Do it.”  The old God went out like a light.


            There has always been a problem of attribute creep in cybernetic systems.  The operating system tends to grow more life-like.  The system operator tends to become machine-like.  Every few centuries it is important to cycle the whole system.


            A silver, ferret-bodied remote hopped over to the creche and dropped it's gift.  The infant God sat up and reached for the booties, sensually soft against his tiny feet.  Both the Alpha Kernal and the System Operator had the same thought.

            It sure felt good to be re-booted.


Rolo's read list:

            Cybernetics: Mind Over Machine. Carl Zimmer in Popular Science, Vol. 264, No. 2, pages 46-52, 102; February 2004.

            Geriatrics: Tailoring Therapies.  John Travis in Science News, Vol. 165, No. 7, page 99; February 14, 2004.

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