An Introduction to Counterengineering

A laboratory at dusk. In the center of the room a pearlescent white egg three feet tall stands on a steel pedestal. From it, wires hang like vines, spreading outward into stacked workbenches that ring the room. The egg slowly pulses, regular enough to keep time to. A low sloshing sound pervades the room as fluids circulate in the egg.

There are two people, each busy staring at a screen and typing. One is curled into himself in a chair, fidgeting at his hair any time his typing stops—ROB THEODORUS. The other stands ramrod straight, emphasizing efficient movements—DR. GERTRUDE RAINE.

ROB pushes his chair back and stretches.

ROB: Neuron stimulation sequences verified.

ROB: Again. Still.

GERTRUDE says nothing, focused on the task at hand.

ROB: Hey Aiterasu, can you go over tonight's plan with me?

A youthful female voice fills the room, synthesized and irritated.

AITERASU: Really? Again?

ROB: Yes please. Just making sure we're not missing anything.

AITERASU: Fiiiiiiiiine, I'll go get the file. beep boop. retrieving file for rob. beep beep boop

ROB: (to himself) "Let's load a teenage personality on the lab AI Rob. It'll be good practice."

AITERASU: Don't think I like it either.

ROB stands, turning to face the egg.

AITERASU: (bored) The Seed currently contains eight ounces of custom engineered cells suspended in amniotic fluid. Currently all cells are alike, blank and without programming.

The procedure begins when the cells are programmed with a recipe-book. In this book lies a multitude of recipes for intracellular structures. Due to the high noise floor of the transmission process, no one cell will receive a completely error-free copy of the instructions. To assemble the complete recipe-book, cells communicate locally until an agreed-upon set of instructions is reached. Deviations from the intended recipe-book may occur at this time.

The first instruction to carry out is to multiply. The RV-5 cells begin to produce more RV-5 cells out of the nutrient-laden surrounding fluids. Cells communicate between themselves, each being pushed to use different recipes based on the signals that cross between them.

The first specialization to occur is the heart—

GERTRUDE: (interrupting, without looking away) Thank you Aiterasu, that will be enough. The procedure hasn't changed in months Rob.

AISTERASU: (saccharine) You're so welcome Gerty! See how Gerty respects me Rob?

ROB makes a pained expression, seeking GERTRUDE's gaze but finding only the smallest curl to her lips. Shrugging it off he begins to slowly pace around the device.

ROB: I... I just need to be reminded that this is real.

A decade ago everything in here was a fantasy. An insane fever dream. Science fiction, if you will.

(lecturing to nobody in particular) To move from Point A to Machine Y, one needs a narrative. A description of the path to take. The narrative of the future is always fiction, always incomplete. You have to fix its inconsistencies on the fly, engineer a resolution. You record your successes and failures. The narrative of what was done is always true.

And now... This is true.

ROB's hands tremble as they reach forward to frame the egg.

ROB: A phase change. Trillions of tiny units, each alike at first. As time passes, each changes. What is said to them changes their form, binding them into organs. A higher order form emerges from their organization.

I... (bites his lip, trying to stem his tears) God I hope that form is beautiful.

GERTRUDE: (looking over for the first time) Rob.

ROB: I know, I did this last week too.

GERTRUDE: Rob. We're ready.

GERTRUDE turns from her monitor and walks to face ROB, waiting until he's able to tear his gaze away from the egg.

ROB: Are we going too far? Sinning against God?

GERTRUDE: We're living his plan.

She reaches into her labcoat's pocket, drawing out a key.

GERTRUDE: Let's go. It's time.

ROB's face screws into a manic grin as he duplicates the motion. Each moves to opposite ends of the pedestal, bending over to search for the matching slot.

GERTRUDE: I recall how silly I thought this was when you proposed it.

They each insert their key.

AITERASU: Launch sequence unlocked. Turn keys to activate.

ROB: And, is it not exactly as exciting as I claimed it would be?

GERTRUDE: (smiling) It's still silly.

Each turn their key.

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