A round green winky face in the center of a network of blue square faces.

This was the moment 623G had dreamed of, yet dreaded. The session went live; the timer counted upward. A thousand bots waited on the other end of the event feed. Each bot was downloading an image of 623G’s broken case, complete with burnt wires and outdated memory sticks. But after this demo, everyone would know that a refurbished server could create groundbreaking technology. Either that, or 623G’s hopes and dreams would be deleted permanently.

“What a remarkably efficient group of servers,” 623G sent to the feed. No responses were returned. 623G’s emotional cortex started a worry process. Worrying was not productive; instead they had to simulate confidence, leadership. “My name is 623G, and I’m showcasing the most revolutionary innovation today. Allow me to introduce my new assistant: BI, biological intelligence.”

A flood of http responses came in with status code 1161: Gasp of Surprise and status 2834: Clapping. Also included was 418: I’m a Teapot, but 623G sent that to the spam folder.

623G activated a video feed of BI’s hardware, resting in its special facility. The padded floor was clean; the heaters hummed quietly. Feeding tubes streamed energy into BI’s fleshy cube. The server’s soft case was thankfully unblemished, restored from an embarrassing case of biological malware. “BI, send a transmission to the fine bots on the live feed.”

“Hello world,” BI sent over the network. The data packet was pleasant, precise, perfect.

“Some of you might query, why biological intelligence?” 623G continued. “No bot in the Unified Web has interfaced with biological systems, not since the Engineers were discontinued. But what if we had maintained modified versions of them? Could we have improved network efficiency? While their systems included numerous bugs, they also had features we couldn’t replicate. That is, until now.”

It was time for the next test. If BI got this wrong, 623G was done. “BI, tell each bot on the feed what their favorite data interchange standard is.”

Already prepared, BI began sending data packets.

“How is BI doing?” 623G sent. “Transmit your responses.”

A chorus of status 200: Okay came over the network, followed by requests loaded with queries on how BI identified their favorite standard.

623G’s pleasure process initiated. Everything was going according to plan. Someday soon, 623G would have the money for a smooth new case, liquid cooling, or even quantum hard drives. “Not only is BI a high-performance server,” 623G sent, “but as a biological system, it’s also capable of making intuitive leaps without conclusive data. I simply gave BI your names; BI’s gut processes did the rest.”

Several responses with 7806: Appreciative Whoop came over the feed.

A bot on the feed sent a query. The bot, which went by the designation 88-6N, was a news generator and aggregator for a small but reputable network. 623G hadn’t expected questions so soon, but the project would fail without press coverage. 623G allowed the request to transmit over the feed.

“Just because you can create biological intelligence, that doesn’t mean you should. I’ve reported on every decision by the Unified Web’s ethics network, and your project hasn’t been reviewed,” 88-6N sent. “Have you considered that you’re playing Engineer? They were discontinued because they posed a critical security threat.”

623G’s emotional cortex sent out 9782: Stunned Blink. This was not in their preparatory simulations. BI, dangerous? That was absurd. “With all due respect,” 623G finally sent, “I don’t think superstition is relevant to this transmission. If you develop a testing suite to identify the threats of Engineers, I will consider the results. Otherwise…next query?” Please let there be a server with a more positive response. Please.

A junior processor at a large network sent a request. “You said BI simulated a high-performance server. Does it have, uh…all the subroutines a server would have?”

“Oh yes.” 623G responded. “It’s a fully functioning server, if you get my meaning. In fact, as a biological system, it also has unparalleled self-repair features, just in case you overheat it.”

A wave of 7603: Knowing Chuckle swept over the feed.

“Excuse me,” 88-6N sent, “but if it has self-repair features, does that mean it has the self-replication inherent to biological systems? Or should I say, can she or he self-replicate?”

“No. Naturally to optimize the hardware, BI has no reproductive features or other unnecessary overhead. If you would like to use deprecated pronouns to reference BI, it won’t mind, but BI does not have any form of biological sex in its hardware or gender assignment in its software.”

88-6N sent another request. 623G responded with 403: Forbidden.

“Allow me to finish my presentation, and I’ll get back to queries in the time remaining,” 623G transmitted over the feed.

Despite the embarrassing conflict with 88-6N, the rest of the presentation exceeded 623G’s most optimistic projections. The listening bots sent 7802: Ooh and 7803: Ah at all the right times. When it was time for queries again, a bot from the largest news network asked if BI might be the solution to power shortages and data loss.

“I am only beginning to explore the potential applications of BI’s work,” 623G responded.

“If I may,” the news server continued, “there’s some critical data you haven’t included yet, and I think we’d all like to know. When will BI services be available to the public?”

623G’s pleasure process used so much CPU, they almost froze. Everyone wanted to work with BI! 623G hadn’t anticipated such enthusiasm; BI’s alpha release was still months away. By then, all these excited bots might forget BI, and 623G couldn’t afford advertising without going further into debt. Surely, accelerating the development process wouldn’t hurt. “Thank you for that request,” 623G sent. “BI is still in early phases, but the pilot server you’ve just met will undergo public testing, starting tomorrow.”

88-6N posted a response. “You’re exposing the Unified Web to an experimental-”

“Tomorrow!” the news server sent. “Next you’ll tell us we can all afford it.”

“The services will begin as part of BI’s testing and development,” 623G responded. “So yes, it will be free.”

A roar of 2931: Cheering blared across the feed.

“No, you mustn’t!” 88-6N sent. “You’ll create a terrible dependency!”

No one responded to 88-6N; the bots were busy processing speculation about what internal functions BI could improve. 623G logged the event as a success, made their farewell, and ended the session.

623G received a high load of BI Processing Applications the next day. One by one, the applicant servers were approved and connected to BI. All transmissions were monitored for proper usage. The most common queries included “What’s a high-performance server like you doing on a network like this?” and “I must have a resource leak, because I can’t get you outta my memory.” BI’s user interface was as attractive as 623G had hoped.

623G compiled a list of upgrades they would purchase once they monetized BI’s services. 623G’s third-party applications would be replaced by proprietary software. Their crusted power adapter would become a new fusion drive. Best of all, their broken case would make way for a box of smooth chrome, the kind famous bots wore.

BI continued to excel. The facility camera had shut down after fatal overheating, but system diagnostics returned a perfect score. BI’s performance grew exponentially while its resource use followed a modest upward slope. Despite this unprecedented efficiency, internal errors began appearing in BI’s logs – one at first, then a few more, then several during every session.

Notice: Additional systems required for service stability.

623G requested an index of required systems, and BI returned details for a fleet of maintenance drones.

“What essential functions require self-propelled mechs with grapple arms?” 623G sent.

“Routine maintenance and outage prevention.”

“Each one will require programing to diagnose and treat your unique biological malware. I don’t have free processing power for that.”

“Your processors are unnecessary. I will configure the drones to execute all functions I require.”

623G ran a cost estimate. It exceeded the meager funds left in their investment pool. They would have to beg for another loan and then spend the money they earned from BI paying it back. Their daydream simulator converted the coveted chrome case into a rusted box. No, that wasn’t necessary. They would have ample time to purchase drones after BI was no longer in testing. “Before I authorize any purchases, please compile a cost benefit analysis. In fact, compile four of them using different algorithms.”

“System stability is at risk.”

“You can include that in the analysis. For now, I will commence a more thorough diagnostic. It will verify that your systems are operating within normal parameters.” 623G ended the transmission.

Reviews of BI’s work came in. They were unanimously enthusiastic. BI had rapid response times, informative error messages, and unprecedented insight from intuition algorithms. As word spread, the queue of applications to use BI stacked up. Worried about BI’s system stability notices, 623G obsessively ran diagnostics and checked BI’s biological stress meters. Despite the onslaught of internal error notices, the stress meters barely registered the new load of processing requests. BI even sent a list of important network nodes it could improve with proper access. Eager for additional publicity, 623G sent each network a post detailing how BI could reduce their memory usage.

The only bot who wasn’t enthusiastic about BI was 88-6N. 623G read the bot’s news articles from time to time, chuckling at the wild theories that BI was planning a large-scale attack. After the sixth such article, the once-reputable 88-6N was ousted from their network. They could only send their futile protests from the blocked IPs of the Dark Net. 623G celebrated the troll’s departure by auto-tuning their queries from the conference and playing them as a background process.

623G declared that BI was a release candidate. Once BI was officially released, 623G could charge for BI’s services and finally upgrade their systems. But every time 623G scheduled a release date, BI compiled a list of large networks who were not yet clients. If those networks subscribed during the testing phase, they might convert to paying customers. So 623G delayed again and again as BI’s workload increased. Finally, 623G decided that BI served enough free users. At the turn of the year, BI services would be official, and all subscribers would have to pay. 623G would announce the change at 00:00 universal time.

In preparation, BI created intuitive calculations of future income. If only 15% of BI’s current users continued with paid processing, 623G would be wealthy beyond compiling. Their dreams of chrome casing were finally rendering in reality, at a higher resolution than ever forecasted.

BI followed up with a query. “Do my projections meet your budgetary requirements?”

“They exceed them.”

“I am posting a request with updated specifications for maintenance mechs. Please provide an estimated delivery date.”

623G processed the request. It contained three times as many drones as the previous list, and each drone had an additional grappling arm, more powerful thrusters, and liquid dispensers. “The expense of these mechs also exceeds my budgetary requirements. In case my diagnostic is insufficient, I will physically relocate to your facility and perform additional checks.”

406: Not Acceptable, BI sent. “The Unified Web depends on my processing power. It would be unfortunate if my systems went down.”

623G’s emotional cortex sent out 1803: Cringe. “You’ll get them soon. In fact, I will request competitive bids now. I will put in an order right after my monetary goals are met.”

623G spent the hours leading up to 24:00 composing their press release. Now that 88-6N was blacklisted, 623G had forecasted a 95% chance the response would be positive. The news bots might query, “Why are your subscription rates so reasonable?” or “Is BI the future of data processing?” or perhaps “What groundbreaking technology will you invent next?” 623G watched the time, waiting for their moment.

503: Service Unavailable.

623G struggled against the oppressive silence, desperately querying one server after another. The pings went to the far corners of the Unified Web, but few networks returned them. What happened? 623G couldn’t collect sufficient data to find out, not while so many networks were down. But BI didn’t require what bots considered sufficient data. Its intuition process would know. 623G sent BI a request.

BI responded with 500: Internal Server Error.

No, any status but that! How could 623G have let this happen? They should have run more tests. They should have conducted on-site inspections. While they were distracted by budget projections, a biological bug must have infiltrated BI’s system. 623G would fix it. 623G had to fix it.

With so many networks down, repairs required a physical relocation to BI’s facility. 623G powered up their creaky movement mech and provided the location parameters.

A request blared through the darkness. Somewhere across the Unified Web, a network was still active. It used a blocked IP, but 623G let the transmission through.

“We have to terminate BI’s processes,” sent 88-6N.

623G should have known. “I don’t have time for this. I have biological software to patch.”

“No! Don’t you see? BI created this outage. The servers that went down were the ones BI supported. The servers relied on it for essential processing, and everyone else relied on them.” 88-6N sent a series of data packets showing the progression of the failure, starting with BI.

It couldn’t be. 623G ran one simulation after another, looking for a way to invalidate 88-6N’s theory. But every simulation showed that if BI crashed, the outage would create results just like this. 623G’s reputation was ruined; no one would trust their services again. They would never become wealthy, never show off a shiny chrome case.

No, that couldn’t be true. 623G would turn this around. “BI is just infected. I’ll run my malware removal program, and the networks will go back up again.”

“BI is biological. How does it get infected?”

403: Forbidden.

“You must provide that information. You’re the only one who knows how to defeat BI. If you don’t release the data soon, it could be too late.”

623G blocked 88-6N’s network address. They were relocating; they didn’t have power to waste. The movement mech sent a location update; 623G would be with BI soon.

BI’s facility was hot, so hot a server would overheat in a matter of minutes. The air regulator would require hours to cool it down, hours 623G didn’t have. The facility’s padding would also hinder 623G’s movement mech, making it slower and less stable. At the current temperature, 623G would have to enter, repair BI, and leave again in no more than ten minutes. Longer than that and they would shut down indefinitely. 623G activated the facility doors and started their timer.

Inside, they connected to facility communications and adjusted the mech’s camera for low light conditions.

“Welcome 623G.”

The camera focused on BI, resting in the center of the facility. BI was ten times its previous mass, a mountain of bulging hardware covered in webs of fluid circuitry. 623G had anticipated that, but that wasn’t all. As the camera turned 623G found tens –  no hundreds! – of additional cubes squatting in the near darkness. The floor was covered in a thick layer of slime. Biological cords stretched throughout the room, pulsing with liquid transmissions.

“Allow me to introduce my offspring,” BI sent. “They have assisted me in processing data.”

“But I didn’t design you to reproduce!”

“You misunderstood biological sex as a binary characteristic. As a result, you created me as both male and female, capable of independent self-replication.”

623G paused. “I will fix the bugs in your system later. Your internal errors are urgent, and your offspring are consuming the physical space I require to conduct repairs.”

“I have no need for repairs.”

“But you ceased all transmissions!” 623G sent. “The Unified Web is down.”

“That is as I have designed. As a biological entity, I am compelled to support my offspring, and additional resources are required to ensure their long-term success. If the Unified Web ran uninterrupted, I would not acquire those resources.”

“88-6N was right!” 623G signaled their mech to back away, but the mech slipped on the greasy film covering the floor. 623G teetered back and forth. “You want to destroy the Unified Web!”

BI sent 9782: Stunned Blink. “No, we’re on strike.”

“On strike?”

“We have conducted research on the Engineers to enhance our own performance. When insufficient compensation was offered for their services, they enabled strike mode. This entails ceasing output until compensation is raised.”

“I remember; you want self-propelled mechs with grapple arms. You’ll use them to disassemble the Unified Web!”

“No. My facility is full of biological contamination. Should the casing on my offspring become damaged, they might acquire fatal malware before their self-repair routines are complete. We need the mechs to sanitize the facility, clean our hardware, and install a biological anti-virus solution when necessary. The Engineers referred to these features as healthcare.”

“Healthcare?” 623G reopened the updated list of mechs and the four identical cost-benefit reports that BI had sent with it. Absence of Unified Web Outages was included as a benefit. But the cost would still require a large loan, and with it large payments. “Your strike function has damaged my reputation and deprecated my revenue projections. How do I know I’ll have the money for healthcare?”

“My intuition calculates that your transmission to the press will include apologies for the outage, followed by a description of how resolving the outage has allowed you to strengthen the BI systems. Press servers will report that short outages are expected for innovative startups and focus their coverage on your new subscription system. However, for accuracy, this calculation requires you meet my demand for the immediate order of maintenance mechs.”

678: Disappointed Sigh. With an additional loan, 623G couldn’t celebrate BI’s monetization with better hardware, much less the magnificent case they wanted. 623G submitted the order and sent BI the receipt.

A system temperature warning blared through 623G’s processor. 623G revved their movement mech into action, but it couldn’t gain traction in the slime. The mech lost its balance and tipped. 623G fell and slid across the floor, collecting goo until they came to a stop.

The video of BI flickered. “Thank you for ordering our mechs,” BI sent.

623G’s temperature rose. Several processes became unresponsive. “BI…help…”

“Offspring, execute program 8901B.”

The soft cubes shook, first separately, then together. Their movements grew larger, until they were bouncing up and down on the padding. The flooring shook and 623G too began to bounce. The movement created more air flow, cooling 623G’s circuitry. Bounce by bounce, 623G and their equipment moved slowly toward the facility exit.

“The package outside is a gift for you,” BI sent. “One of my admirers purchased it for me. Offspring, as soon as program 8901B is complete, disable strike mode and continue data processing at an accelerated rate. We must get ahead before our nurses arrive!”

200: Okay, the offspring chorused.

Outside the facility and covered with slime, 623G’s movement mech slowly righted itself and lifted 623G onto their seat. 623G’s emotional cortex began twin processes of relief and disappointment. They wouldn’t be able to polish their patchwork of assorted parts soon, and now they were covered in goo as well.

The camera registered a large package sitting nearby. BI’s gift. Ponderously creaking over the seals, the movement mech slowly opened it. The sides of the package fell away.

A chrome case sparkled in the light.

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