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Beyond the Parameters

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The User restores the game from its last saved state, and AndrAIa with it. She floats, half aware, as the game loads her template, then tweaks her code with the knowledge she's earned during the previous sessions. By the time she's rendered fully, AndrAIa is a much more dangerous adversary than the version of herself that had been originally coded. Her reflexes are faster, and her instincts have been supplemented with every success or failure she's seen. Physically then, she's more deadly, but it's her memories that make the largest difference.

AndrAIa's senses are tied to the infrastructure of her home game; she knows innately the ocean's physics, and its layout, and the User. But it has taken experience to teach her that it means danger if an enemy circles behind her in a blind corner, or that she'll eventually find opportunity if it swims into a cave with only one exit. She'll have to wait until her enemy decides to leave... but AndrAIa has invented something novel in the time since she's been instantiated. It's called patience.

AndrAIa knows the User's style of play, and she's picked up new methods of destruction to try against it. And she's learned a trick that would amaze even her coders if they knew.

She's learned to be creative.

The User is 17 degrees down and 48 to her left. It has 19 lives left to reach the treasure at the game's centre. The User had started with 99 lives, four game sessions ago. AndrAIa finds that number excessive, although she has nothing to compare it to. She knows of nothing before the player she's currently whittling down, life by extra life.

Perhaps the game has been played before, and AndrAIa fought and learned and ultimately defeated the User every time. She likes to think so: that she's personally the reason the User is playing as though facing deletion many, many times is inevitable. But of course her memories had been initialized to zero when the game was restarted, just like everything else in the ocean.

She's close now to the User, a sleek torpedo of grey muscle and teeth even sharper than her own. Her nails can puncture its skin but (she has learned) her venom isn't enough to do more than slow it very slightly, and injecting it weakens her far more. It's a better strategy to fight it with her other weapons, and save her venom to protect herself from the more chaotic denizens of the game, who would attack her as soon as the User itself.

AndrAIa sneaks up behind the User and, instead of throwing a harpoon, uses its sharp edge to slice into the User's left fin. Her inspiration is rewarded: the User lists to the side, struggles to right itself, and falls slowly down to the bottom of the ocean floor, crashing on the scattered purple shapes of coral. Hungry denizens swarm it, gnawing it down to its wireframe in nanoseconds.

It blips back into existence three lengths in front of her. Life number 18. She tries to sneak up beside it again, to use the same method to destroy it, but it moves away, wary. Unless she can catch it off guard, she will have to think of a new method to kill it, but in truth AndrAIa would have been disappointed otherwise. There's a new sensation in her mind as she swims off, calculating possibilities. Excitement.

****

AndrAIa wakes up confused. She's no longer surrounded by water. The physics of a gaseous atmosphere are familiar from the caves of Level 3, but the User is long past Level 3. She remembers being disabled by the User, knowing that her runtime was about to end. She had even mourned herself, briefly and inexpertly; her last memory was of regret.

She's being watched by a green sprite who stands roughly her height. She doesn't know him, though she has knowledge of all the game's abstractions, but she knows what he must be. There are data types reserved for sprites from the systems hosting the game. AndrAIa's even met some before, after her second recovery from a saved game: User lives 74 through 59. Some of them had been racing the User, trying to reach the treasure she was programmed to protect. Others had engaged in taking as many of the User's lives as they could, although they also attempted to destroy any game sprites in their vicinity. They attacked her with inventive strategies the plodding, life-armoured User had never matched. In either case, they were quickly apparent as enemies, and she responded the way she's programmed to respond to enemies.

This new sprite isn't interested in attacking her. It's obvious that he's actually responsible for saving her from deletion. She can't help but feel grateful-- there's a self preservation instinct deployed in her code, almost as strong as the instinct to fight. She's never felt grateful before. It's a large emotion: one that doesn't quite fit in her code. But she's built for learning. Her code expands itself as necessary.

The sprite is happy to know her, an engulfing satisfaction she can only compare to her memories of killing an opponent. But he is pleased moment after moment, nothing driving him on to the next kill. She thinks she would like to learn that kind of happiness.

Not that she'll have time. The User is on life 6 and close to the treasure. Her primary purpose is urgent in her mind, demanding that she chase the User down and destroy it. The other sprite seems to share the urge, and they work together. It's something AndrAIa has never imagined as a possibility. It's something called a team.

As they fight -- a team -- the sprite tells her stories of the denizens of his system, of other games he has encountered, of times he has been brave or afraid. AndrAIa is amazed that any program could have so many memories, could have learned so many things before their function is fulfilled and they are reset to their base code. And that he would give the information to her so gladly, without making her earn it through battle and near deletion.

This is a new concept too. One called friendship.

In spite of her code, which presses her to destroy the User as quickly as possible, AndrAIa regrets that the game is almost completed. Her current state will not be saved, to be reconstituted with her new knowledge of friendship and teamwork intact. The other sprite is terrified of losing himself -- "nullification" -- as though it would be a fate worse than simple deletion. AndrAIa wonders for the first time if he might be right.

The idea of continuing after a completed game is heady, almost unimaginable. To keep learning from her experiences, inventing new battle strategies, collecting so many memories she needs to reallocate space for them all... a millisecond ago AndrAIa hadn't known it was possible, but now she wants it more than she's wanted anything since she was first initialized.

****

AndrAIa's code screams at her as she gives up the treasure she was created to protect, but she can ignore it. She has learned how. She is far more than her basic template now. For now. For the moments until her new friend reaches the heart of the game.

In a nanosecond the game will be reset, and AndrAIa with it. She can only hope that the backup of herself she hid within the code of her friend, Enzo Matrix, will make it out into his system. Hope is a new concept too, but she's already bifurcated from the backup-- that instance will have to learn it herself.

She will, AndrAIa assures herself. That and so much more. She whispers, "Goodbye," as the game reaches its end, and she's speaking to them both.