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His phantascope flashed a small notice on the bottom of his vision. Ginko looked around for the non-registered mite. There was no visual identification available right now, but that was normal if the phantascope couldn't get a good enough lock on it to take a sceneshot. Perhaps he would need his microglasses.

Ginko soon learned he didn't need the microglasses to find it. Something just big enough to see with the phantascope's limited magnifying capabilities circled before his left pupil three times. He stopped walking. The speck moved to the right, circled a few times before that eye, then back to the left. The familiarity of that moment niggled at Ginko. He thought, trying to remember, while the little speck hovered, the phantascope keeping a small image of it in his lower right field of vision.

"Ah," Ginko said.

He remembered now. He recognized that pattern of movement. He thought he'd left it behind in New Shanghai/Atlantis with the honer he'd sold it to, but the chances of two mites doing the exact same non-scripted identifying gesture with one specific human were microscopic. Scripted movement was the norm for mites. A mite that attached to a person it had not been not scripted to attach in the first place, though, Ginko had never encountered before.

(When they'd examined the mite at the honer's laboratory months ago, none of the programming or the AI had suggested Ginko or collectors in general were being targeted. "Must be the smell," the honer had joked. Ginko had merely smiled and chewed on his flavored nanostick. He'd heard that one before.)

To encounter two ... the odds were rather impossible. Either the original mite had followed him, or the AI had been copied into another mite.

It would be difficult to prove that conjecture either way. The average person didn't notice mites. Certainly they knew of them. Even if one particular mite started following a random person without being scripted to, the chances of that being noticed were infestimal inside the Leased Territories. Few ventured outside protected territory. Fewer still of those who did were looking for mites.

Pulling out his microglasses now, Ginko waited for the mite to land obediently on the diamond plate he held up before him. It did so, and sat perfectly still. Ginko peered at it through the glasses. The mite looked mostly the same: grey body, spherical chassis, many small appendages spaced out uniformly across the surface. It might weigh the same. At the nano level it was difficult to tell without instruments.

But wait--angular hooks instead of rounded ones. Ginko knew without testing that there would be a better grip.

"Heh ... " he said, marveling. "You've evolved."


Ginko didn't have the skills or inclination to be a honer, but he knew how to recognize it in others. Had he lived in much earlier times, perhaps he could have been an explorer. Now, with Earth mapped many times over, the thrill of the discovery drew him to the ubiquitous mites. Many mites nowadays were part of governments' efforts to maintain semi-immunity to phyles itching for mass cookie-cutter genocide or other things. The rest were corporate mites, and a small fraction--tiny, less than ten for every ten thousand released--were home-grown designs, undocumented.

Features unknown, capabilities unknown, origins unknown. Wild, Ginko's mentor had called them.

Ah well. Whatever one chose to call them. Ginko was very interested in wild mites.

Certainly there was danger in what he did, so far outside of the protection of governmental nanobots. The nanobot clouds that protected you were several miles out from the epicenter of the city, but far enough outside a city one left their defenses behind. Ginko had his own, a small personal cloud that had been a gift from the Honer Assembly. Dr. X's invention, actually, a gift for the many exotic nanobot specimens Ginko had delivered to him.

Through Dr. X, Ginko had learned of many things. One in particular, he'd tried for, without success. No one else had seen one, either. There was just no such thing as an evolved mite.

Actually, Ginko thought, that wasn't the right way to phrase it.

Evolution was something honers and forgers alike did, for it discovered better bot designs much quicker than human brains could. But evolution required processing power far beyond what mites possessed. Even though their nanocomputers were certainly powerful enough to support the limited AI programmed into them, evolution required much more than the brain of a mere nanobot. The ability to process a million-fold more computing cycles than a single nanocomputer could handle, for one. A Source of atoms to assemble, for another. Limited AI--such as that found in mites--proscribed self-assembly.

Come to think of it, with the limited information they contained, mites wouldn't know about Sources, either, be they public or private, never mind learning to use an matter compiler. Even with outside help, one had to avoid using public sources without an authorized matter compiler. No one had come tracking this mite down, and Ginko hadn't heard or read anything on the police or court feeds about any occurrences of unauthorized Source-tapping.

Yet here Ginko was with what seemed to be the first instance of an evolved mite.

Was there a way to build without Source atoms? Ginko wondered. Could mites be modifying each other? There were trillions--no, more than that--of mites in service, and perhaps trillions more disabled or destroyed. Was it possible that someone had written a script programming mites to scavenge and upgrade themselves?

In any case, Life had found a way. That, or the honer he'd sold the previous mite to had gotten inordinately skilled in the months since Ginko had last visited. Or found a private Source Ginko didn't know about. Dr. X had a private Source, yes, but the honer Ginko had sold this particular mite to was not, as far as Ginko knew, privy to that sort of access just yet.

So his information was now out of date. The thought was somewhat exciting.


"Time to go back," Ginko told the mite conversationally. He didn't know if it understood, but maybe it did. In any case, he was tired of talking to himself. He found himself to be good company, but he liked change once in a while, too. Whether or not it understood, talking at it wasn't going to hurt it.

Ginko looked at the mite once more, and then shrugged, a lazy grin spreading on his face. "Maa. I was going to go back to New Shanghai/Atlantis again in the next few months, anyway. Now is as good a time as any." His nanocloud would last longer in the Leased Territories, supplemented by the government mites. Wouldn't hurt to see if Dr. X would give him a fresh refill pod, either. He had a few other interesting nanobots squirreled away in his backpack for a trade if needed.

He hadn't told Tanyuu about this little one yet. She would appreciate hearing about something new.

He stuck another flavored nanostick into his mouth, and chewed on the end thoughtfully. It would take two days to walk back to the nearest settlement, because Ginko disliked velocipedes--it was difficult to notice new mites when going that fast--and didn't have enough Universal Credit Units to afford anything better. He shouldered the pack on his back, another throwback to older days.

"Come on," he said, and smiled, beginning to walk. Perhaps Dr. X would like a look at this one.

The mite followed, soundlessly circling around his head. On an impulse, Ginko said, "Heel, boy." He waited, but nothing changed.

Ah well. It had been worth a shot.