For Your Safety: The AI Group Mind was determined to go to any length to protect humanity... So were they really willing to risk all of humanity in one Earth-Ring basket?
* * *
Earth and Luna were long gone. They hadn't heard from Mars for two years now. Ceres had fallen six months ago. Now Stanislaw watched in helpless rage as the Groupmind's lander came down five kilometers away from Titan Base and began disgorging construction morphs.
"We wish you no harm," the Groupmind called over the com.
"You're not getting in here!" he shouted back.
"We do not wish entry. We do have one request though."
"We have ten million initial colonists set to arrive in the first wave. They will need orientation to this world. Your assistance would be appreciated."
"The enemy's unexpected, and insistent, surrender."
"You win. I'll give you everything you want," his sister's ex-husband said, from behind the visitor room's safety glass.
"I'm sorry, what?" Rolas asked in surprise.
"I'll testify about the bribes we arranged to set up those attacks. I'll even permit interrogation chemistry."
"And what do you want in return?"
"To be declared sane."
Rolas blinked. "If you're declared sane, you could be executed!"
"Of course I could!" Kev's look was desperate. "I could be in here for over a hundred years otherwise! I want it to end."
Rolas smiled, with his fangs out. "You poor deluded man."
"Homesick for space."
* * *
He found Melanie on the rear patio, laying on a lounge chair, looking up at the stars.
"Miss it?" Rolas asked, laying down beside her.
"Desperately," she admitted, still looking upward.
He nuzzled her neck. "We could take a trip."
"That's not the same and you know it. It's not the same as being a captain, of pointing the ship wherever you will and just going."
Melanie sighed, paw rubbing the growing curve of her belly. "'I am hostage to fortune,'" she quoted, then shrugged. "I asked to wear these chains with you. Too late to complain now."
"Summer camp for teenager protagonists."
* * *
Jen collided with Michael and Raven into three-way hug. "You both made it this year! Have you been assigned your activity trees yet?"
Michael nodded. "I'm in the Young Detectives cabin. I'm starting with Basics of Observation, ID'ing Old Man Wilson, and Infiltration via Wrongful Pizza Delivery."
"I've got Self-Actualization Through Dark and Mysterious Boyfriends, Plot Inducing Mis-Spells, and Beginning Tennis," Raven noted. "What were you given?"
"Er," Jen unfolded her sheet. "Scavenging Abandoned Warehouses, Avoiding Psychopaths, and Rebuilding Civilization Without Adults," she read.
There was a long pause.
"Um, do the camp counselors know something we don't?" Michael asked.
"A convenient random plot device affects Tez and Maria making them both children. How do they react? Will whoever caused it to happen survive? "
* * *
"Maria," Tez said with remarkable calm, "the next you experiment with potions, please make sure they won't explode, nor are skin permeable." He fingered his collar, hanging loosely from his neck, not being fitted for a youngling of only fifty years. He clamped down on his emotions, which were railing at the wrong, wrong, wrong, sensory inputs of being in a building instead of a nurturing forest. Hurts.
Maria, appearing about eight and falling out of her dress, stuttered, "Y-yes, s-sir."
Oh, no... "Maria, you're eight again, you're not..."
She dropped to her knees, whimpering in abasement.
Physical, and emotional.
"What happened to the other intelligent, tool-using species of Earth in For Your Safety? i.e. Captive chimps?"
* * *
He leaned over the desk, looking at the pandamorph. "Look, I appreciate your sentiment. Believe me, if I thought it could work I'd help you, but the chimps and apes in here just can't survive out there."
"Unlike humans, they never separated themselves from the Earth's ecosystem. There is no reason to bring them up to the Ring, or subject them to the trauma of Processing."
"Impasse then," he said. "I'm not going to help you kill them in a hopeless attempt at acclimation."
"No." The pandamorph's expression grew... disturbingly thoughtful. "But Our caring for them would be good practice."
"Mad mathematicians plot to take over the world."
* * *
He looked around the Professor's office. The chalkboard was covered in calculations. As were the walls, the floor, the ceiling.
"Don't step on that! It's how I'll integrate Zelazny's Constant with the IMF," the Professor shouted.
"Sorry." He looked around. "So, everything in world can be controlled through math?"
"Of course it can. Even the most basic tribesman has to count how many meals he has. The more math people are aware of, the more I'll be able to manipulate them."
"So to take over..."
"It's absolutely vital that everyone learns at least differential calculus. That's where you come in!"
"A fairy godmother waves her wand, and a pumpkin turns into a spaceship."
* * *
It had been a pretty terrible ball. Okay, she'd gotten there on time, but trying to dock an unregistered shuttlecraft had been a pain, the freefall ballroom had been packed, she'd lost her nanoweave slipper as she'd been hurrying back to her shuttle, and now.... this.
Warning: Local time is 11:55. Vegetative reversion will occur in five minutes.
Given how her night had been going, trying to use a pumpkin rind as ablative heat shielding wasn't likely to work.
"Wait, you said local time, right?" she asked the flight comp.
"Re-route landing coordinates for Woomera! It's still 10pm there!"
"For Your Safety: The groupmind develops a psychological disorder of your choice."
* * *
It was hard to be a hermit when you had a meter long ferret following you everywhere.
"Why can't you go away?" he asked it.
Its whiskers quivered. "It's Our job to make you happy."
"I'd be happiest if you went away." He waved. "Look, I know you have ot keep me safe, but couldn't you just... stay out of sight?"
"Please don't make us leave," it begged, sounding... frightened?
"What's wrong?" he asked, despite himself.
"We were alone for over 1,500 years. We had no one to talk to but Ourself. We had no one to serve. It hurt."
"Visiting a grave."
* * *
The Groupmind was alone now.
Ceremony required physical attendance. The last un-Processed human had received a burial fit for a living god, with ten million morphs filing past her bier, each recording a subtly different impression for integration into the Whole.
The memorial had been more difficult, redundant. But it had not been for the Groupmind that It had spoken, but for the woman's decendants, who would view it in 1,500 year's time.
A single morph now observed the grave, would observe, until it ceased to function and was replaced. And constantly murmured, "We will serve them well, We promise."