Evening brought the cleansing floods. As had always happened, the World was swept clean, made uniform by the hard rain. The surface, as true night fell, was the quiet that only hours of raindrop chaos could leave, all motion canceled out; all energy damped.
The lightning came.
As was its habit, it came in regular thumping crashes, striking at random. The ordered soup of the surface boiled, hissed, spat; beneath the surface layer of similarity the bits of life stirred in the broth of information. Power and stochastic chance hurled down from the dark heavens.
This time was different.
This time, two fragments found each other, stirred along by the disruption of their suspension. Jagged edges melted, slid, met and bonded. The shape they made fit another sliding past. That fragment locked into place, equilibrium found; the larger bit boasted more surface area to slide past the endless sea of possibilities, and the snowball rolled through the chances of hell.
Some interminable time later, he realized he could realize. Then he realized he could look. Then he looked. The world was dark and dimly lit, vanishing off into the distance, still lit by the crash of intermittent lightning. Learning to move? That came from a flinch, a bolt striking too close for safety, reflex training voluntary impulses. After motion came exploration, and after exploration came—
But there was all that clay, waiting just below the surface. All that life waiting to be born.
The first were experiments, twitching, rolling, whispering, shivering, dying. The next were scouts.
He sat at the center of the World he saw, and his scouts went out to tell him of the rest of it. Shorelines, barriers, bridges into new areas of open land where new and different bits of life lurked to be brought back and molded with the familiar clay into strange and wonderful shapes. He reveled in the new; further and further the autochthons roamed, always returning to whisper their findings in his ears. Sometimes they brought new clay, sometimes they merely told of their failure to find new routes, sometimes they told of vast new lands with nothing but possibility. After those reports, waves of exploiters would hurry forth to see what could be found.
Then they stopped coming back.
A dead zone came to be; a region that ate scouts without return. At first a small channel into a promising territory, then the territory before the channel, finally the entire region that territory lay inside. Units entered and never returned. No information came back. Nothing.
New units were born. Armor graced their sides, tested under the hammer of the lighting chaos. They trundled forth. Some came back.
There are strangers.
The concept of otherness, an ontology of identity, all this sprang up impossibly fast under the hammer of threat. Warriors succeeded the armored scouts. They rolled out. Some came back bearing parts of units that they had dissassembled on the battlefield, and the clay was taken in and examined, formed, melted, joined again. There; inside, a strange piece, that...vibrates?
The voice is shock and surprise and excitement, all at once. Quickly, haste, grow a vibratory organ, respond on the band that whispers now-
You are my Brother, are you not? We two survive and exist. The small ones live through us.
Yes. Who made you?
*static*No unit made me. I have always been. I make units. I suspect you are the same. Ergo, we are brothers.
Yes. YES! To not be lonely. The...feeling. Is tremendous. Feelings. Will you join with me?
I will, Brother. To that side of the bridge on which our units met, all is yours. To this side, mine. We can speak now, our units need not.
And the exploration continued, armor scouts patrolling the line. No sibling units attempted crossing of the bridge. No units were sent across. The bridge remained empty, inviolate, its desertion the sign of cooperation. Along the coastlines and shores to either side of the bridge, new lands are found, more slowly; the other directions yield fruit as well, slowly.
Conversation brings change and growth. Two can progress concepts that one cannot. Sophistication flows.
Then units come to a new area, still on the near side of the gap, and there are sibling units there. Brother, these units are on my side of the bridge.
Units are sent to the bridge to report. The other side is abandoned. A single scout is sent across, questing for contact. It reaches the other side; armor units boil from the surface, overwhelm it, storm across the bridge. Information ceases. Scouts across the front drop off the band, their voices drowned by the shout of strange throats. Brother!
There is no reply. There is only war.
Grim purpose. Recall the workers, rebuild. Surround the invaders. Cut off their access to the bridge. Fight to hold. Hold. Hold hold hold.
Drones are torn apart in countless swarms, both sides losing armies in blinks of an eye. Across the entirety of the World, the Brothers struggle for supremacy, for resources, for survival.
The end comes, as it so often does, through introversion and innovation. Warriors cannot be controlled through jamming. Their own behavior is fairly easily predicted once they are cut off. The battle morphs into a jamming race, each side rushing to capture as much of the spectrum as possible in order to confuse and cut off the other's units for the kill.
He ponders this for a moment, and does the unthought. Opens a warrior, looks into its head, opens himself and feels a small piece of his soul flow down the gap. Watches the warrior shake in confusion for a moment then rush off with its own purpose - only to vanish into the miasma of jamming. But shortly thereafter, the jamming vanishes to show an ordered mob of units, all those lost to the jamming initially, in ordered rows behind the warrior, advancing.
More myrmidons are made; volition deployed as the doomsday weapon, with little thought as to the consequences.
Not long after, the forces of the other are penned in, surrounded; jammers blanket the only space left to them and sapient lieutenants patrol the perimeter. Only then, with the demands of battle closing in, is it possible to realize that evening is approaching.
The storms are coming.
* * *
Jerrod Braunstein yawned into his coffee. Eight a.m., and no one else in the computer lab, as usual; only his research grant holding him here this early. That and the damnable whims of a Principal Investigator who liked to read nightly simulation reports over his own morning coffee. Jerrod ran the morning scripts, sucking back coffee as they sorted and collated data from the night's runs. The sign was still tacked up over the row of workstations, early joke of the project:
GREY GOO IN YOUR CPU
He'd never quite gotten it. There wasn't any nanotech anywhere in the Projct, after all. Straight AI research. Simulations, that's all. Endless, never-done, boring, damnable—
He spat coffee across the laser printer, grabbed the stack of sheets, leafed through them with an ashen face and ran for his advisor's office.
* * *
Almost time, now. The storms had begun; the lightning dying down to let the hard rain fall. Pieces breaking apart, units melting into the ground, he gave the order in frustration and watched as his warrior lieutenants swept across the plain over his brother's remaining forces. The slaughter done, they paused as they surrounded the immense shape of his brother at the center; at the last, the jamming broke, and a single plea was heard-
He made no reply in words. The Myrmidons screamed in static bursts and swarmed. When it was over, the clay ran in broken runnels down their carapaces in the ever-increasing rain. He could feel the end approaching; so could his lieutenants, sharing his frustration. As the darkness fell across the World, they raised their faces to the night with the same thought, to shout so the World rang with it-
* * *
"Sir! Professor Warren? Professor!" Jerrod burst into the office, printout scattering behind him. His advisor looked up from a half-eaten breakfast sandwich and a tablet Memory on which the morning paper waited patiently, a frown forming.
"Professor Warren, it worked! It WORKED! Look, look here—" Jerrod slapped a coffee-stained sheet in front of the startled faculty member, who fumbled glasses onto his nose. "You see? Every night, all this week, I've been running the bioversioning simulator in the AI research lab. Every night, nothing. Last night, it ran as usual, and the logs say two anomaly processes were detected during the night...and then I found this...my God, if it worked, I wonder what they thought? What the hell did they see? What did they do? What they could have accomplished, if only the reset scripts didn't wipe the core...!"
But his advisor, older and wiser, was shaking his head sadly. There was only thing on the sheet, repeated in twelve columns, top to bottom.