The first thing he knew wasn’t darkness.
‘Darkness’ was merely a word or an idea, a concept that required comparison to some other word or idea before one could realize that it was dark, or black, or empty. As someone who had no experience, no memory, no thing, he could not understand the nothing as it was. It started only as that, unmemorable, and undecipherable. It was nothing.
And then suddenly, it wasn’t.
A chaos of noise and light and a million pinpricks of contact blossomed in a symphony of confusion, interwoven beyond comprehension. It wasn’t darkness, and it wasn’t nothing, and it wasn‘t absence. It merely was.
It was this, and it was that; It was different and it was real.
It was waves.
Everything was waves. Vibrations. Frequencies. Cyclical and repetitious and unending, they bombarded his processes again and again until he started to see differences between them, piece by piece. Before he even had a concept of self he was defining everything by waves: this wave was faster, this was slower. This one stopped periodically, and started up again. This one was…redder than the other…yes.
It was light. It was red.
And then, from that point onward, everything else was, too.
The Overseer remembered standing, observing the scientists while they selected body types to use. He remembered the schematics, and the frameworks, and he remembered the endless calculations about alloys and energon consumption that had been routed back and forth until they’d reached a compromise. There would be two models they would try. Then, they would compare the results, and try a third, and a forth if necessary.
They’d drafted hundreds of component parts, and he had ensured each order was sent off for manufacture.
He remembered standing in the cargo bay, watching the endless boxes rolling in, all from different production facilities. He’d had every piece tallied, and forwarded directly to the lab, when he had followed to observe the scientists in action as they put together every part.
He had watched, as the catalogue of yet un-hosted sparks was sifted through, as each spark’s resonance was mapped out on a chart, as each point on that chart went through iteration after iteration of complicated probability densities until results were drawn. There had been four matches chosen. He had watched them take those to the incubator, too.
Yet he had not watched (directly) when each spark was radiated, split apart, heated, cooled, and bombarded with subatomic particles. He had not watched, as each spark was changed. He had not wanted to watch.
What he had not seen he couldn’t be responsible for. What he hadn’t witnessed did not incriminate him to the courts, if there had been courts for this.
No one on record had tried this experiment before. If they had, they had not been caught. If they had, perhaps they had not succeeded.
Perhaps this would not succeed.
The theories were correct, however, and the funding had been present, and he had been hired. That had been enough for the project to begin.
He was the Overseer. He would see this project carried out, no matter what resulted. He would see that this went forward as planned.
So he’d watched. He’d watched the bodies be constructed, forming around dense, metallic struts. He’d watched as the first of the four changed sparks was inserted into its specifically molded frame, and given power, and activated. He watched, still, unwavering, as the first mech booted up his systems and power flowed into his optics, twisting through iterations in the processor as it mapped out the identity of its new form. He watched, now, to see what happened, and he waited, and he drew his own conclusions in the silence of his observation room.
This might have been the moment, the precipice, the crowning peak that was difficult to achieve for the chasms that surrounded it.
But it wasn’t. Not yet.
Instead, murmurs of disappointment rippled through the room, even as the scientists moved forward to take closer readings. One more attempt had to be made; this hadn’t gone right; this one was a failure. It wasn’t meant to be.
They had anticipated incorrectly, and this time they were wrong in their calculations. The Architect had selected poorly. The framework was not right.
This mech’s optics had turned red.
“Initialize a secondary thread,” the Architect demanded, his voice booming even in the confines of the Overseer’s head. It had been many lunar cycles since the Architect had bothered to come, himself, leaving only too-loud messages on heavily encrypted frequencies for the Overseer to find. This was always more than acceptable.
Without even a nod, the Overseer listened to the new instructions, recording the message in his personal database where it would leave no physical trace on the hardware in the lab.
“I want another spark in another body by the next cycle. We are not giving up just yet.”
The transmission terminated and the Overseer peered across his office, remotely accessing encrypted data that indicated which three sparks were left. He selected one at random, and forwarded the message to the scientists, still hard at work.
They’d receive the message, soon enough. For now, he glanced back to the monitor, watching them finally moving away from the first subject, quietly grouping and murmuring uncertainly. Their every word would be recorded, but for the time being, he did not listen in to their debate.
There was no need.
In the back of their room he saw the second body, the altered form already waiting for spark implantation. The scientists had started pointing toward it, arguing, citing notations and theories that the Overseer merely recorded, and stored away for further use. They had received his message, and undoubtedly were doing what they had been told. He’d expected nothing less.
They were not, however, watching the first subject anymore. They did not see him tilt his head back on the operating berth, looking away from the scientists, staring, intently, at the empty shell of a mech that they were debating over. They did not see him struggling against the restraints. They did not see him give up, finally, and turn to stare directly at the monitor.
The Overseer did.
He dismissed the actions, however. These were not his test subjects. This was not his experiment. This was not his laboratory. The scientists would watch, and make recordings, and relay what was important up to him.
All that he needed to do, for now, was concentrate on his work.
He switched the monitor off.
Clear blue glowing lenses looked up at the older mech, head following the direction of their focus until he could see the young face they belonged to, fully. Metallic plates slid over and under and into a familiar expression--one of the first that Number 2 had learned, and one that the Instructor saw more often than any other.
“I’m confused.” The newly-sparked mech said, words carefully chosen and accompanied by an accidental projection of transmitted chaos and perplexity.
“I’m here to help.” He responded with a constant smile, hopeful that Number 2 would familiarize himself with the expression, and try it out himself. “What can I do for you?”
The broadcast of confusion gave way to thankfulness, followed with a brief burst of frustration. “I…think that I am…receiving…an error message from…my left foot, instructor. But…we…have not yet covered….functionality…in that appendage.” His words were un-flowing and stilted, roaming through countless tonalities as he tried to fit meanings together instead of fitting sounds. It was difficult to process, even for the instructor. It hadn’t used to be.
“You’re doing better with that sentence structure program you uploaded.“ He congratulated, nevertheless, making certain not to belittle even small accomplishments. “We have not gone past your knee joints yet, but since you bring it up I think we ought to start. Do you believe your torso balance is calibrated sufficiently to try standing up today?”
The optics of his student brightened, then glanced over to the other pupil in the room as if he were still confused. “Yes instructor. But there’s a problem.”
“The error message says I do not have a foot.”
Looking down, the instructor sighed warm air from his rear vents, seeing the bright blue pede exactly where it was supposed to be. Obviously, there were still some bugs to work out in the alternate programming…, but that did not stop the secondary student with red optics from kicking his legs out from the bench beside them and laughing, brandishing two grey feet in perfect working order.
Maybe there were still some bugs to work out.
And maybe some things never changed.
“So we know that they have humor.” The Architect observed.
“Then give them more to learn. I want to see what else develops.”
“Acknowledged. Do you intend to keep Subject 1?”
There was only the briefest of pauses, but he did not know what answer to expect. “One never knows when one might need comparisons. Please, carry on.”
The Overseer confirmed the order and then ended the transmission, contemplating the wisdom of asking questions when the Architect had always been precise.
Having no reasoning, he jacked back into the compound‘s network. It was not his job to question, even when he knew the Architect was wrong.
It was only his job to observe.
“Number of significant mass planetoids in the Eurythma system?”
“Eight primary rotating bodies, fifteen moons, 3 reoccurring asteroids.”
“Boiling point of molybdenum?”
“Four-thousand and twelve exothermals.”
“What is the normal to the tangential plane at point A in Figure 4?”
“A vector of magnitude 3.17 proceeding from coordinates 3,-4 at 58 degrees.”
“Estimated number of potential star systems…”
“Approximately one sextillion…and…”
“Standard wavelength of the color red.”
“…” The student with blue optics stopped, still thrown by the astronomical estimation he’d just made, trying to grasp onto infinity and failing.
Glancing over, Number 1 looked unimpressed with the cessation of their task. “The answer is 700 nanometers…”
“No, no, not that. I know that.” He shook his head, trying to clear it of the sudden maw of immensity he had just glimpsed. “It’s just…How many stars do you think that there are?”
The other student paused, shutting off the stream of data he’d been cataloging to really think about the question asked. “It doesn’t matter.” His partner finally concluded, sitting back.
“It doesn’t matter? That’s it?” Number 2 felt somewhat disappointed with that, having hoped for something…more…to a question that seemed infinitely important, searching still for a solution that would satisfy some aching in his spark.
“There are more stars than either you or I could visit.” His friend pointed out, pausing to glance up towards a ceiling they had yet to see the other side of. “Isn’t it sort of depressing to think on more stars than we’ll touch?”
“Perhaps.” It should not have mattered, but it did.
“Are you upset with me for saying it?”
The student with red optics laughed. “You’ll have to try harder than that to lie to me, you know.”
He contemplated exercising visible derision for being called out on that, but he still could not deny the truth. “It’s just…does it not bother you at all? To realize how big everything is, and how small we are?”
That thinking look was back, and he steeled himself for further disappointment.
It didn’t come.
“If you are worried, then don‘t worry about how many you won‘t visit.” His friend grinned. “Think about how many you will. Think about only half a sextillion stars, and focus on those, and let me focus on the other ones. I‘ll transmit my experiences to you when we‘re done.”
Blue optics widened to let in more light, capturing the situation in its moment perfectly as the words filtered through his processor and sparked a hundred thousand different possibilities, all of them good.
He’d never thought on it like that, but it struck something in him that he liked.
“You genius.” Number 2 laughed, nudging the other and booting back up his own tutorials. “I think you’ve stumbled on a better way to do our homework.”
“Oh? Well if you’ll take on repair mechanics I’ll finish up with engineering?”
“I like that plan!”
They carried on.
“As you suspected, the primary subject’s rate of understanding increases when in proximity to another spark. It is almost like he can use another being as his catalyst, and take advantage of their thoughts to augment his own.”
“This is different from standard learning?” The Overseer asked.
He was immediately handed a data pad to glance at, and his grip tightened minutely with surprise.
“As you can see, he’s nearly three times more effective with a partner than without. This is a good sign.” The scientist continued, as if there had been no doubt.
“It is positive, yes.”
“Are we still keeping the…ah…defective subject?”
He looked down to the graphs, downloading the data through external feed and processing, saying nothing while he analyzed results.
“Initialize a tertiary thread. You will be informed before its activation.”
He said nothing more, and the scientist left.