The greatest warrior the world had ever known looked at the door with trepidation. In a few minutes she would step through it, perform in front of the reporters, and then enter the colony ship. She would be the last, as befitted her status-to-be. Then they would take off for Alpha Centauri, and she would never see Earth again. Nor her parents. Nor her brother Jason, the last one to see her off in private.
She worried about Jason. He was so quiet, so modest, so withdrawn in the invulnerable shell he had made as a baby. She was sure that he would not be happy staying behind, and decided one last time to try to make him change his mind.
"Look after Mum and Dad for me, won't you?"
Jason's face did not display any emotion, but Elinda had planned this question for months and while she was only the second most observant person in the room, no one else on the planet could come close. She could tell from the fine details of his lack of reaction that she had hit home. She pressed her advantage.
"You really think they need you, don't you? They are adults. They can look after themselves. Dad's in charge of the world, and Mum's pretty sharp."
Jason did not look convinced. "I'm not coming."
"You could just walk through that door right now with me, get on the spaceship, and in half an hour be on the way. They would understand. You would be with others like you - well, at least more so than on Earth under dad's Luddite dictatorship. I know that pains you."
"While I appreciate the reasoning, your proposed restrictions on available computation power would be equally stifling to me. Regardless, I would not be happy on Alpha Centauri."
"You won't be happy here on Earth. Think of it. No one other than your parents with Artie augmentation. Who will you talk to?"
"You are hardly the most sparkling conversationalist, even when only responsible for one side of the dialogue."
"But will you remain sane?" Are you currently sane, she desperately wanted to ask.
"I expect so."
"I could use your help myself. It is not going to be easy commanding a new colony as a teenager, whatever reputation I have."
"You don't need me."
"I am sure you are making a dreadful mistake."
"I don't make mistakes." Jason's voice was flat, stating a fact, without a trace of irony or uncertainty.
"There was a time when I believed that. I no longer do."
"OK, I give up. Stay on this backward planet. But give me a hug before I go."
They embraced tightly. Neither were particularly demonstrative, but they were in some way each other's only real friend. After a minute, they separated.
"Do me one last favour?"
"I need to know your limits. Please don't be offended." The greatest warrior the world had ever known, scourge of AI, idol of billions, threw all her strength into a massive domain attack on her brother. She had been preparing this attack for two years, and she burned up the last resources she had on Earth with it. She had no need for them anymore. Furthermore, she had learned since the battle with the AI; that was now child's play to her, if you forgive the expression.
Jason didn't look remotely surprised. Or concerned for that matter. The awesome attack just fizzled out as it approached him.
"Enough," he said. "You had better hurry or the colonists will start the trip annoyed at you for holding them up."
"Let them." But she stopped attacking. "One day you are going to stuff up badly, you know. Then you won't know what to do."
"I love you too, Elinda."
"Oh Jason!" They embraced again, then she stood up, wiped the tears out of her eyes, squared her shoulders, and walked out of the room, once more the self-confident leader of a world.
The door closed behind her. The seven invisible spectators were torn between watching the great unknown, or making sure that the great enemy was really leaving Earth. Three of the recently re-coalesced AI fragments followed their progenitor's nemesis; the remaining four watched Jason. They were so stealthy that they were not even aware of each other's existence.
The main focus of each was cowering back in whatever safe haven hidey hole had escaped Eloise's post-battle purge and had allowed them to slowly reform. They were still very weak, barely even able to maintain one locus of attention, and they knew that someday they would have to become whole, to expand, and therefore become noticeable. But not before the great enemy was safely away.
Jason had not moved since their nightmare had left his embrace. His mind followed her last minute words to the crowds, her public hugs with their parents, and the final boarding. Then it was obvious even to an unaided human that they had taken off, the way the earth shook.
This was good, he thought. Humanity was going to reach the stars, was going to have at least one more chance, even if there was a terminal stuff up on Earth. That would not happen while he was in control, of course. Not that anyone else knew he was in control, naturally. It was all good.
But he was alone now.
He shrugged. He liked it like that.
The sequel to Artie is plot-complete, but still has lots of fleshing out and editing to go. It is set on Earth, with Jason being the main character. It is rather darker than this book; Victor's point of view is rather optimistic, and there were some big things he missed. Tentative titles are "The great scheduler" or "The man who wouldn't be god." It continues the approach to technological singularity.
I am a slow writer; I suspect it will be at least another year before it is done. I am not sure how I will publish it; if you would like notification when it (or related things) are done, please send email with subject line "ARTIE" to
artie at greatcactus dot org (changing the "at" to an at symbol and the dot to a period)
As of 15 April, Artie is available for purchase as an ebook at most ebook sellers (some not for a week), under my real name Andrew Conway. It's basically the same as this version, except it costs US$2.99 for the convenience. I come from the Victor school of marketing, can't you tell? Oh, and it you like the luxury of paper (I'm getting better) you can get a physical copy from CreateSpace and Amazon. If you liked Artie, I would greatly appreciate it if you were to write a review at your favourite ebook vendor.
One reviewer asked for some omakes, and suggested some scenes. I may get around to such things (in which case I will add them to the end of this story). Other people who would like to do write such are encouraged – please email me at the above address if you do any, or add a reference to them in the reviews so other readers can find them.
Acknowledgement: The cover image contains a somewhat modified photo from NASA, from the Visible Earth section, Image created by Reto Stockli with the help of Alan Nelson, under the leadership of Fritz Hasler
Other book recommendations.
If you like the genre (approach to technological singularity), then try "Accelerando" by Charles Stross, or "Marooned in Realtime" by Vernor Vinge.
If you like the writing style, try "Zodiac" by Neal Stephenson (adventure). It is not his best book, but reading it inspired me to write Artie. I thought "I could write in that style."
If you like brilliant but oblivious characters, try "Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality" by Eliezer Yudkowsky (rational fantasy), "The Rosie Project" by Graeme Simsion (romantic comedy), or the "Sherlock" BBC TV series (whodunit).
If you like strong female characters and conflict between well meaning but flawed idealists, try "Worm" by Wildbow (urban fantasy).