"The Yetamo brought fire to the steppes from the far off deserts."
"The Yetamo. You remember the tales?"
"Ah, yeah? Jav, we're in the middle of something here. You know?"
"Sorry, Bekka. I just thought about him, the Yetamo. Or was it her?"
Bekka rolled her eyes at her husband. "Both."
"The Yetamo. If you're going to bring up myths try and remember them right. The Yetamo is both male and female. She changes when it suits him, y'know?" She laughed, "I always did like that about the Yetamo."
"Ah yeah, sure, changed from one to the other. That's right." Jav thought about that a moment. "Well there you go then!"
Bekka looked up from her console again and looked square into Jav's distracted gaze a moment. Strange, she reflected, how it was still possible to discern that quality, his distraction, in his unblinking visage. Or maybe not so strange at that. "OK, time for a break. We've been at this for hours and we need it. Come to that, I don't think it's a good idea to be going on about the Yetamo in the middle of calibrating the nanobots."
Jav smiled weakly at his wife. "You might be right."
Bekka nodded, pushed off from her workstation and coasted over to the hatch set above the lab space. After checking his settings, Jav followed her through the hatch and secured it behind them. Bekka was already making her way to the rec room, lightly touching the grips and push-offs just enough to continue her elegant, languid swim along the research facility's zero-g corridors. He paused to watch her with his augmented vision, noting the tell-tale pulses in her cybernetic arms as they did the main work of keeping her moving and on course. Lovely, he thought, propelling himself after her with easy strokes and slaps of his own altered limbs.
Bekka and Jav Sosruko had been in space a long time. Jav had actually been born in space but he'd been sent back to Matar to spend his formative years with relatives in the Sebiestor tribe. Bekka had met him when she joined the Foldul Circle, a well-respected research group founded by Sebiestor nanotechnologists several decades ago. She'd been born to an older couple with painful memories and a hard perspective on life. A carbon steel attitude forged in heat they would not talk about; not even, as far as Bekka knew, between themselves. She loved them but her nature was outward-looking and optimistic. Joining a circle was mainly a logical and hopeful step forward in her life, but it was partly an escape from that silent old house on the cold Mikramurka steppes.
They'd both joined the Foldul Circle with kudos earned by their own efforts. Kudos was kudos but the subtle difference between that earned and that given couldn't be denied. Ways were opened and they met along one of those ways. It started with their love of the work and the fierce bond they both felt for the Circle, almost a second family for them both. Jav had never been close to the Matar branch of his family and was not a clannish man. Jav had always known where he was going and Bekka soon realized that she wanted to go to the same place. All the better to go there as partners, they both felt. Their marriage wasn't long in the making and those early years with the Foldul Circle were a happy time.
The Foldul Circle. Noted as a premier circle of space scientists and technologists interlinked with the Sebiestor Tribe, the Foldul Circle took the two young Minmatar and helped them to see the shape of their shared destiny. When the time came to make some hard choices, the Circle's preceptors took them to see the foci – the leaders of the Foldul up in their space habitat retreat. For Jav the journey was a return to the element of his birth. For Bekka it was pure wonder. For both the answer to the question the foci asked them was simple: yes, they were willing to spend the rest of their lives in space. Did they understand that the Foldul Circle could only support them if they joined the most critical research efforts being undertaken? And did they understand what this would inevitably mean? Yes and yes. The foci wished them the blessings of the Sebiestor elder spirit and their new life began.
"Why a desert lizard?"
"Mmhuh?" Bekka looked up from the datapad, mumbling the query around the straw of her coffee pouch. Her own dark brown eyes were unaltered except for the addition of a strong nictitating membrane in case of vacuum hazard, and she regarded Jav with the same fond but puzzled look she'd always reserved for his odd moments. Then she caught up with what he'd asked. "Oh. The Yetamo again. Well, I don't know. Why not?"
"Why would a lizard even come to the steppes?"
"Well that's easy. The Vherokior brought the yetamo lizards with them. Probably for the poison. It's hallucinogenic in small doses, you know. Those shamans and their vision drugs. Poor things, bet a few of them died of the cold before they kept them in heated boxes. That'll be the origin of the story you know."
"That can't be right. The Yetamo brought fire for us. We had fire before the Vherokior came along. Must have. We'd have frozen to death on the steppes otherwise."
Bekka cocked her head and looked hard at her husband. "Are you feeling all right? It's a myth. The Yetamo spirit. Takes with a flick of the tongue, gives with a switch of the tail. Tricky. Changes all the time."
"She seems OK to me. Well, now that you mention it, she was a he earlier. And a different color."
Bekka's expression did not change but her eyes flickered and she swallowed slightly. "Right, yeah, well the Yetamo gave us fire. Like you said."
Jav nodded and smiled. Bekka almost screamed.
How do you repurpose nanobots designed to repair interlaced sheets of rolled tungsten or crystalline carbonide for highly sophisticated and delicate work? The kind of work, mind you, where a few defects at a microscopic level put at risk structures at the macro scale of thousands of kilometers. How can a relatively brutish, broad-stroke nanotechnology suddenly be made precise and elegant enough to maintain the perfection of the most complex microstructures? Put them under the guidance of artificial intelligence? Not unless you want a CONCORD wetwork section knocking on your airlock with antimatter rounds and a brace of Mjolnir torpedoes for good measure. Illegal? AI research? Well, I guess you could say worshipping old Molok is illegal in the Amarr Empire but it wouldn't quite cover cases, you know what I mean?
So no, you don't use artificial intelligence to achieve that super-fine control at the nanoscale level. Ah, you're thinking maybe an augmented human could manage it? Maybe over a few hundred meters. Maybe. But thousands of kilometers? No and well, humans. Yeah. Unreliable. So what're the options? Dumb computers? Don't make me laugh. Oh, you're going to say it's simple. Just use templates. OK, templates. Over thousands of kilometers. At the microscopic level. You seeing the problem? What fixes the fix, no? But there's a possibility or two. How about a distributed instruction set, self-correcting but parceled out among thousands of slightly different variants of those thug nanobots? A whole bunch of knife dancers with different routines but always ready to tap each other on the shoulder and keep the dance going. Pretty good? Yeah, it's worth a look. Bit of a hack, sophisticated but still a hack. That's why these two are here; they thought they'd try it. Despite the dangers.
What? Me? Oh, you've figured that one out. I'm the Yetamo. Pleased to meet you.
Bekka's thoughts raced, quite literally as she'd overclocked her ratiocination implant the instant she'd grasped what had happened. Informational attack and corruption was a significant danger for anyone with sophisticated augmentations. Hells, a smart prosthetic could be hijacked if someone, or something, managed to interface with it. And Jav's cybernetic systems were to a smart prosthetic as a quantum processor to an abacus. Bekka's autonomic defenses had run a flash check for intrusions without her even ordering it. Her organic and cybernetic reactions had triggered that. Some distinctly sinister directed electromagnetic radiation patterns had left faint traces in her retinas. Fortunately she didn't have any ocular hookups of any kind. Some informational intrusions could still use that route but the enemy had made a basic error. It had tried the approach it had used on her husband. Which meant it didn't quite have a full understanding of the finer points of the physical world. That might save them.
Jav had let his defenses slip, of course. He'd probably opened his strongest gates months ago . All to sample the data without filters. The silly dear man. Science and knowledge above all. That dreamer's idealism was a big part of why she loved him but it might have killed him. It might have killed them both. She played back the last few days at the fastest speed she was capable of comprehending. This was recent. The thing had possibly only just pulled off the attack in the last work session. She played it back at optimal resolution and speed, and while it confirmed her fears, it gave her a glimmer of hope. An emergent hive intelligence. Dangerous, capable of using her husband to translate into an unrestricted AI, but very, very immature. They'd stumbled on some new organizational principle at the nanoscale here. No time to figure that out. Not really relevant with an instance of the HI rattling around her husband's head.
OK, rewind. Last few minutes. Yes. Jav's identity was still separate and the enemy had latched onto an entirely different identity pattern instead of absorbing his. Thank the elder spirits for that. But a mythical lizard spirit? The Yetamo? The trickster guide? Wait, yes, the guide that changes her nature. The distributed instruction set. After all, that core programming would still be there. This thing had gone for something that seemed natural and familiar. Though how had it constructed the identity... Ah, the Circle archives. Jav kept a condensed set in his memory implant. She knew that. And he'd always liked the old stories. Even if he couldn't keep them straight in his head. OK, one shot.
Bekka dialed her ratiocination implant's speed back to normal and looked at Jav. "Is the Yetamo there, Jav?"
Jav was still looking at her and smiling. "Yes, would you like to talk to her?"
"I'd like to talk to her but she doesn't need to talk to me. After all, with the Yetamo, actions are what matters in the end. Words are just air and noise." Bekka was reaching with that line, but she really, really did not want that thing trying to use Jav's speech center.
"Oh, well she's actually busy, I think. She might be listening though."
"Right. Well, there's a couple of files in the archives. She could access the data on the fourth libration point of this system’s seventh planet, that’s the big gas giant we’re currently orbiting. She'll notice there's an acceleration gate there, old one. Leads to a deadspace pocket. She can access the general file on deadspace pockets. There are things to guide in there. Maybe even change. Now she might look at the file on this facility's subwarp thrusters." If this worked there would be a lot of data-scrubbing to be done. What Bekka was suggesting, to an emergent HI no less, was already in quiet execution without trial territory.
"You know, Bekka, this is very naughty of you!"
Bekka's heart sank. "Please, don't do this to him. If you do, well, you must know you can't take me before I destroy you. And without him..." Bekka left the rest unspoken.
"Oh, it's OK. I'm going to take fire to my friends in the deadspace pocket."
"Will you leave him now?"
"Trying to trick me, Bekka?"
Bekka turned to the emergency console close by and in a frenzied burst tapped out a myriad of commands with her cybernetic hand. "You now have access to the subwarp thrusters, and on arrival at the gate the lockouts on the bulk storage tanks – the nanobot tanks, that is – will release. Good enough?"
"I notice you have a few tricks left, there." Jav's head nodded towards the console.
Bekka shuddered. "I'm dealing with the Yetamo. I'd be naked without my own tricks. But you have my word on this, by the elder spirits and on the life of the Circle. Leave him and I won't stand in your way."
Jav suddenly put his hand out against a comms panel on the wall. As Bekka watched, a small dataprobe flicked out and slid into an interface port. A second or two later the probe slipped back out, snicked back into Jav's hand, and he slumped against the wall. Bekka leapt to his side, suddenly heedless of zero-g's demand for measured movement.
The comms panel came to life. "Time for a spirit quest, dear Bekka. Hold on tight!"
Bekka didn't need to be told. As the orbital research facility's thrusters powered up, she hooked onto a rail with one arm and held her husband with the other.
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