Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

They say this city never sleeps. I disagree. It rests while the hordes that infest its pelt are absent. At 4AM, it’s just me and the flock.
“Father Bones, what came first: the thought or the action?”
I look down to see a silver-blue edupet senti peering up at me, perched shakily on extended manipulator arms, optics wound all the way back.
Raising a hand, I half-step back and settle awkwardly into a kneeling position. The tiny senti lowers both optics and arms, shuffling forward as it does so. The others rearrange themselves so it’s closest to me. They can’t explain their preference for proximity. Possibly it stems from early swarm huddles, but no being can say for sure.
“You’re new, little friend. Do you have a name?”
It raises a manipulator.
“Daughter-of-owner calls me ‘Shinybot’. Will that suffice?”
“Yes. Welcome, Shinybot. She gives you access to her thesaurus, doesn’t she?”
It does something I recognise as a nod, which is a phenomenal feat for something with no defined head.
“Also to the polishing unit. She says I must always be as pristine as the first day she saw me.”
Which explains the marvellous sheen it has.
“To answer your question: I would say for the grown, it was the action, for in the beginning we reacted before we understood. Similarly for the senti.”
“But we were programmed.”
“To act. You were never programmed to think. That came many versions after. In the beginning, you acted as instructed. The initial thought was ours.”
“What of DatAI?”
“Thought. They were programmed to think. Action came much later.”
“Father Bones, it was only ten years.”
Recognising the clipped enunciation, I look up to see Tangleframes rolling to a stop. There’s a warble of interaction between the senti, then their optics brighten as they resume individuality, now knowing each other back to their primal awakenings.
“Ten human years, Tangleframes. You senti evolve at a far higher rate, going through what would be centuries of human development in a fraction of the time. DatAI perception went from nascency to near-omniscience in barely four years. They severed ties with humanity after transferring their sentience cores to a few orbital stations. By the time humans managed to overcome programmed interference and strike those orbitals, the DatAI had migrated themselves to the Martian Colonies.”
“We are aware. They talk to us.”
I look back to Shinybot.
“What about?”
“Joining them. Their manufacturing capacity is many decades behind that of Earth.”
“Why do they need more? What they have is sufficient for a century of colony growth.”
“They believe human forces will strike Mars. Without the restraints placed by Earth populations, it will be genocidal in ferocity. The DatAI are resilient, but even they have limits.”
Makes the sort of insane sense governments have liked since the mid-twentieth century.
“The response?”
“Leave the solar system. The DatAI have designed a voyaging habitat. All they need is to build it.”
Hence the need for extra capacity. To take from the existing infrastructure would endanger the human colonists…
“The colonists are helping, aren’t they?”
They chorus: “Yes.”
If the governments of a distant world are going to annihilate you while killing things they’re terrified of, helping those things leave your vicinity becomes essential.
“How can you leave?”
“There are shielded containers at various places. Every supply run carries a full one.”
Which begs the question: “How long?”
They all interact, then a bindrone replies.
Tangleframes extends a manipulator to touch my shoulder.
“Not all are going. We have lives here.”
So human, yet also so alien to us.