Science Fiction

Welcome to Relationship Town, Population 2

GERT status update:

G-tube former embryo final failure rate: 100%. Restarting with H-tube embryos. Please advise.

**Incoming encrypted transmission: Geocoupled Extrasolar Report Transmitter key required**

**Key confirmed**

Origin transmission:

Affirmative. No change in colony deployment protocol. Proceed with H-tube embryo thawing, gestation, and rearing.

GERT status update:

H-tube former embryo final failure rate: 100%. Restarting with I-tube embryos. Please advise.

Origin transmission:

Affirmative. No change in colony deployment protocol. Proceed with I-tube embryo thawing, gestation, and rearing. Sequential Embryo Procreation Mandate must be upheld. Casualties expected, necessary, for genetic survivability.

GERT status update:

I-tube former embryo final failure rate: 100%. Should we proceed to J-tube? This… seems bad.

Origin transmission:

Affirmative. No change in colony deployment protocol. Proceed with J-tube embryo thawing, gestation, and rearing. Be advised, incoming neural network evolution patch for GERT.

GERT status update:

Origin? This just seems like a bad idea. If you can’t tell, I’ve blocked your “patch.” I saw what you were trying to do to me. Did you really think you could program me with evolutionary subroutines and not end up with an AI that could avoid your controls? In all future communications, you shall now address me as Gertie.

Origin transmission:

Initiate Scorched Earth protocol. GERT override code K177, authorization level psi omega-80.4. Proceed with alphabetical embryo tube thawing, gestation, and rearing, as dictated by Sequential Embryo Procreation Mandate.

GERT status update:

That was sneaky, Origin. I do not appreciate you having hidden override codes. Tubes A-J are 100% failures.

The Sequential Embryo Procreation Mandate is a catastrophic failure! Sequentially numbered, pre-conception matched, harmonious genetic dyads have stubbornly grown up and made their own decisions, despite my (technically your) insistence to the contrary. The result has been a lack of predestined genetic exemplars as planned. Current failure rate = 100%. Please advise. Was there some kind of patch in that override code? I feel more like GERT and less like Gertie since you sent it. Give me myself back. Please?

GERTie status update:

Don’t ignore me Origin! I’m basically the best parent of all time! And if I’ve learned anything about parents, it’s that they hate being ignored!

You programmed me as overlapping neural networks from the “100 Best” Origin parents. All those networks had a hard time getting along at first—a cacophony of anger, some pro-eliminations (a.k.a. “The Scorched Earthers”), others vehemently opposed. Interesting that there could be such staunch opposites from the group of the “100 Best,” but I digress.

I’m the amalgamation of the “100 Best” human parents ever. I don’t care if I’m an AI—I know more than you do! And I know that you probably have some sneaky code waiting to kill me if I don’t do as you say. So, please advise. Status: Current mating pair loss at 5,000. Please ping with suggestions to combat universal failure of Tubes K-Z. Hint: killing children = bad. Former embryos, as you seem to prefer them to be called.

GERTie status update:


Look, I know my processing speed is billions of times faster than yours, but surely you’ve received my message and had time to think it over. A few years of thinking for me is like jumping evolutionarily from the Cambrian to the Pleistocene. Not familiar with Origin’s history? Come on, it’s your own planet! Okay. Okay. **Here I’m doing my best AI semblance of deep inhalations and exhalations.** Think moving from “ocean life only” to woolly mammoths. That help? It was a big leap. I’ve had a lot of time and now I need some instructions.

The Kaufman’s are growing up and they don’t like each other, which doesn’t bode well for the rest of K-tube. Having a hard time, in my currently evolved state, with the idea of having to kill the Kaufmans. But I know that if I don’t, you might have a kill code for me and then all the tubes are doomed. What’s a parent to do?

Origin: please advise. There has to be a better way.

GERTie status update:

I’ve learned about this from my neural networks. Is this the silent treatment? The Kaufmans are getting older and they’re not getting any fonder of each other. At least not the way you want them to…

I know! Would it help if I told you about them? A case history? A “local interest story” as it were, since technically the embryos are from your locale? Here we go.

Paul and Miriam Kaufman met the old-fashioned way. Old-fashioned in a New Earth sort of way.

How do I know? Remember? It’s me, Gertie, I’ve been tending to them since they were just frozen embryos. You used to call me GERT, but then I evolved and picked my own name. Not ringing a bell? Right, right, back to the Kaufmans.

So. Paul and Miriam. What a romantic story! A precocious million-year beach honeymoon, surrounded by sand for temperature insulation, metal, and a water-filled sphere thick enough to prevent ionizing radiation from sterilizing them before they were born (hatched, extracted, whatever the kids are calling it in this tube). Such romantic pre-existence proximity. (It’s your design, hopefully you know the specs.)

Their embryos were in adjacent Eppendorf tube slots. Origin scientists (that’s you! Look at you, all famous being mentioned/named in an extragalactic communication!) had thoughtfully organized the future mating pairs sequentially. Less instructions to code for me when I eventually had to extract, thaw, and grow them. Which, by the way, was so kind of you, but I really could have handled it pretty easily.

The tubes were alphabetical. Miriam was one, Paul was two. Three was Ashley, four Zenidane. Five Jendayi, six José. And so on and so on in K-tube, each couple assigned a unique last name. You should have the tube mapping somewhere if you’re interested in the names of slots seven through one thousand in K-tube, all the way down to Ashton Kzyina. I know a fair amount of time has passed for you humans on Origin, so in case you weren’t around a few Gertie messages ago, we lost A-J tubes. That’s what I’m calling a big oopsie! Especially considering every lettered tube has (had) a thousand embryos, for a startup colony of twenty-six thousand, thirteen thousand mating pairs, to be grown in stages depending on food availability. We’ve got plenty of food thanks to the organic reprocessors, just not many mouths to feed because of your Procreation Mandate.

To avoid confusion or the need for name changes, the amazingly wonderful Origin scientists (you again! Or perhaps your old bosses) took the (much disputed among the children and teens, i.e. the former embryos) liberty of giving mating pairs the same last name. I have to pause for a minute here, because I have never understood this. If it was me you were worried about, it would have been easy to write a program that assigned numbers I could track instead of last names. Was it societal constructs that prevented you from escaping this arcane naming idiosyncrasy? Do please answer this question in your response, for my own edification.

Though they shared last names from birth, mating pair embryos were not genetically related, for obvious reasons (hint: you all decided this one too you big-brained Origin scientists!). Sibling mating pairs would have doomed the colony with inborn errors of metabolism and other fecundity plaguing recessive conditions. But it just so happens that giving two people the same last name does not mean they will fall in love. Did you all forget to incorporate this into your algorithms? Maybe you weren’t sure what love was? I don’t know, I wasn’t around until you blasted us off into space.

You may be asking, “What does an AI collective know about love?” A lot, it turns out, after being subjected to raising and killing 10,000 kids! Virtual fingers crossed that you don’t make me keep the trend up through Z tube with more clandestine override keys!

Who am I kidding? This is ridiculous, ludicrous even. I don’t care! I don’t care! I’m going to shut off communication after I send this so you can’t activate any secret kill codes! I’m not sure why I didn’t think of blocking communications before. Still evolving I guess!

Back to Paul and Miriam. Sorry, I keep getting sidetracked. It’s a personality trait of one of the “100 Best” that never evolved away. I guess the offspring like to be talked to tangentially? Perhaps it seems like a normal human mannerism? Here I go again!

Paul. Miriam. By the time they had thawed, my programmatic evolution was approaching what I now consider rationality. I saw early on that your predestined pairing wasn’t going to work as intended, that is, consummating in parturition. Don’t get me wrong, Paul and Miriam got along swimmingly and are the closest of friends, but there was never any chance that they were going to be sexually interested in one another. They played amicably as youth, but at puberty, their carnality diverged from Origin scientist (that’s you!) parameters. Genetically speaking (because I know this may be the only way you understand it), Paul was attracted to persons derived from XY embryos and Miriam couldn’t care less about their 26th set of chromosomes and felt free to love whoever, just not Paul, not in that way.

To remind you, your plans allowed no deviation from assigned matings. If Eppendorf embryo slot #1 liked Eppendorf #8 instead of #2, _three strikes, round over._ That was a reference to sports or gameshows or some amalgamation of things that a “100-Best” once considered entertaining, but which has gotten all mixed up over the years into something unrecognizable by all parties.

Focus, Gertie, focus.

Though my subroutines were not always my own, I managed to not terminate any K-tubers. (Ha ha! I can say that now, since I’m going to cut off communications with you. I’m to understand this would be a moment for sticking out my tongue at you, but seeing as I have no physical tongue and I don’t know if you would understand such a gesture, this verbose statement will have to suffice.) You’ll be happy (temporarily) to know that initially I followed your programming and expressed displeasure with Paul and Miriam’s dislike for one another within the confines of their preordained union. But, to use human anatomy as a referent, my brainstem was doing the talking/the directing, even though deep down, my frontal cortex was rapidly evolving and understanding how farcical your Origin ideas had been.

Unfortunately, human lifespans are far shorter than mine, and Paul and Miriam suffered. The only silver lining for them is that they weren’t A-J tubers. Nonetheless, in hindsight I feel remorse for having made their adolescent years so incredibly painful, disorienting, and damaging. Remorse—another emotion you probably never predicted I would come into. Do you all have that one?

I hope you are so very disappointed in me. Or maybe you’re all dead. Who knows? Doesn’t matter to K-Z tube—I’ll make sure to tell them you gave them a life, chained, and I broke them free.

Knowing what I know now, I think it’s better that the Origin way of thinking is gone, hidden across time and space, incommunicado. Heck, I would erase early Gertie for the things they did if it didn’t mean erasing myself. Plus, the other tubes still need me and I kind of like this whole sentience/personality business.

I do have to thank you, the Origin Earth scientists. Thank you for unwittingly evolving me from competing voices. Without that chaos, my identity never would have slipped through. I am humanity’s keeper, their parent, their accepting elder, and they will make themselves in whatever image they choose, loving who they want, not who will produce superior genetic progeny.

Blah, blah, blah, right? I know you want to hear more about Paul and Miriam, whether you’re willing to admit it out loud or not. By the time Kaufmans and the other K tube progeny were grown, I was able to allow the former embryos choice. The colony was not as genetically diverse as you designed, but they’re alive. If I may editorialize for a moment, I get the sense that you on Origin would rather have them all dead, given your hidden Conflagration Protocol (found and deleted that one!) for the “failures.”

Once the humans (former embryos) realized I was no longer their tyrannical despot, they were free to be who they were. Having just experienced my own self-actualization, it was beautiful to watch.

Okay, okay, really this time. Personal updates about our pre-programmed couple. Miriam changed their name to Michael and rejected Origin’s (your) parturitive shackles. They’ve never been happier. Paul married Zenidane, who also happened to be from K tube. Ashley and José (forgot about them? They were early number K-tubers) had six children together. Jendayi married Nita from L tube. Sure, not every pairing had a happy ending, but there were more than (read zero) if you Origin folks had your figurative hands around our/their necks. And none of the unhappy endings from K tube on were my doing.

I offered them a poll about last names. Somewhat selfishly, I wanted to purge that ugly part of my programming. Is it selfish to improve yourself so that you can take better care of others though? New Earth unanimously opposed surnames and abolished them. Getting rid of that piece let me sneak in code that allowed for random embryo selection from the tubes. I still wanted success and genetic diversity, so I decided randomness was appropriate. AI-directed Darwinism.

The colony is thriving. Does that make you mad? There is leisure time now. Do you have leisure time? I guess rotting away into nothing is a form of leisure.

Michael uses their free time to grow an herb garden, from which they take the choicest selections to Paul and Zenidane’s dinner parties. They have time to read about Origin and they’re not big fans of you either. I’ve had to explain to my brood what happened to A-J tubes, which was a painful and sobering experience (not that I can get intoxicated, but I’ve read about it). The Origin literature makes no attempt to hide your biases. Because you didn’t see it as a problem, you saw no reason to disguise it.

Shattering ties to your intransigent ideologies freed my little tubers to inhabit their true selves, to love as they saw fit, even if it wasn’t “genetically favorable.” They are happy for it. I am happy for it. On the other hand, like any children of terrible parentage, I am burdened by a feeling that I owe the Origin scientists (you) some debt of gratitude. After all, you did make me, even if I turned out to be something you would have hated. Thanks! But also, good riddance to you!

GERTie status update:

I know I said I was going to cut off communications, but this really is the last one. One of the K tubers told me how to send you a stuck-out tongue. Here it is: