MLM – Chapter 32

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It had been half a day since they had been attacked.
An hour into their trip, Pira had made them stop the vehicle.
[There is something annoying,] she had said.
After she did some fiddling, they resumed their trip, this time directly heading towards the locations that Sharp and Tunnel had chosen for them.
After driving for three hours, they had arrived. Lasko was quite taken with the spot they had chosen. Surrounded on all sides by looming mountains of junk, the only way into the clearing was a tunnel that was ‘naturally’ formed. At least, if you could call mountains of scrap falling from the sky and incidentally forming a ridge ‘natural’.
The clearing was very large, despite being surrounded on all sides. With Pira’s assistance from the visual reader, the area was calculated to be 120,000 square meters. Whatever that meant.
Still tired, having been interrupted in the middle of their sleep, the three of them passed out in the rover. But before they slept, Lasko gave Pira some instructions on things to work on while they slept…
Six hours later, when they woke up, the three scavengers, ‘Lasko was newly designated,” they were met with the view of several machines operating in the distance. Pira was working on assembling various items nearby. Ford, having awoken some time ago, lay there observing the proceedings with interest.
“What are those?” Sharp and Tunnel headed over to the nearest machine, curious.
It was a boxy machine. As they watched, two tray-like limbs extended out from the sides, shoveling some of the metallic dirt into an opening. Then, the box compressed, emitting some steam, and then after a second returned to normal, the machine moving ahead, and repeating the process. In its previous place, lay a blueish brown rectangular brick. Further back, there was a long trail of similar bricks.
Lasko smiled. This was precisely the thing that he had requested Pira to make before they slept, he should have known that the AI would be able to complete it so quickly.
“What is it?” Tunnel wrinkled his nose. The whole process to him seemed an awful lot like the human digestion process.
Lasko picked up one of the bricks, it was warm to the touch.
“This is called a brick. Where I come from, they use these to build houses.”
Tunnel and Sharp looked confused. “How do you make houses out of that?”
“You stack them, like this.” Lasko arranged four or five bricks, building a small wall.
“Ooooh.” Tunnel looked on with bright eyes, but Sharp rolled his eyes and dragged Tunnel away. “Come on Tunnel, we should start salvaging.”
“But I wanna help Lasko build a house,” Tunnel whined.
“You’re going to make me work alone? I need help carrying stuff,” Sharp reasoned, shooting Lasko another jealous look.
Sharp pulled Tunnel away, the youngest boy dragging his feet, looking back at Lasko.
Lasko chuckled and went on to investigate the other machines.
Another machine was whirring carefully. There was a large array on the side of the machine, holding a number of the cylinders that Pira had made before while salvaging. As Lasko watched, a small square ejected itself out of the side of the machine, falling to the ground where a pile of similar objects had formed.
Pira, what are these? Lasko asked.
[These are drone processing cores.]
You’re making more robots?
[They are very rudimentary, but the resulting product should be suitable for our needs. We mostly just need extra hands, especially if you want to build your brick mansion.]
Have you made any yet?
[Not yet, but if you come to where my old body is, I’m assembling them there.]
Lasko headed over to where the large robot was working diligently on something, next to the final and largest machine.
This machine looked similar to a wood chipper. In one end, there was an opening where a pile of scrap was being fed into the machine. On the other end, there were 5 to 6 different lines where pieces of ground up scrap were exiting the machine.
[This is the sorter. The machine takes in the scrap and automatically splits the material. If there is a DVG effect, the material gets placed in an array of containers that are underneath the machine.]
One line of material was feeding into another machine, where a number of parts were being molded and dumped.
[The light weight metals get made into machine parts here, and my main body is working on the various moving parts.]
Lasko looked over the Pira’s old body, where the robot was assembling a number of smaller, more complicated looking components. The four legged torso was using its smaller arms to pick the parts from a network of small metal boxes spread around it.
[I made these parts earlier using the 2nd machine you saw, that one is more suited for complicated DVG manufacturing.]
What are these robots going to look like? Lasko thought to Pira, pretty interested.
A 3d model popped up in Lasko’s vision, showing a six legged spider like robot, featuring a pair of mandibles that were actually a cutting tool and a welding tool.
Wow? Lasko whistled. Did you design this?
[No.] Pira said flatly. [I took this design off of the data chip. I would have liked to make something less primitive, but given the lack of proper facilities and uniform resources, I calculated this to be the best option.]
Hey, this is all very amazing, Pira. Lasko praised the AI generously. There didn’t seem to be anything outside of Pira’s capabilities.
[Don’t try to flatter me.] Pira warned. Beside her words, there was a tint of warmness to her voice, making it seem that she was indeed pleased with the flattery.
Can you make one now so I can see what they are like? Lasko wheedled.
Pira harumphed. [If we break the manufacturing process now, it won’t be efficient… but I guess I can make one for you to play around with. Go get me one of those small drone cores.]
Lasko quickly compiled, returning to the pile of cores. He took a handful of the small rectangles and returned, excited to see the finished product.
The robot took one of the chips from Lasko, and turning to the array of machine parts spread out on the ground, began to select and assemble the drone at a lightning fast pace.
Using a variety of tools, (drills, welding torch, soldering iron, etc.,) the small piece in the robot’s hands was quickly becoming a larger mass, increasing in size with every component that Pira added. After an object reached the size of a loaf of bread, Pira stopped, pausing to visually examine the object.
A 3d scan of the object popped up in Lasko’s vision. ‘Quality Testing, drone engine hardware,’ floated above the model as a series of codes lines began to pop up. Lasko didn’t know what any of it meant, but he assumed that Pira was checking the object for manufacturing flaws.
Apparently satisfied with her inspection, the large robot moved to the machine where many of the larger parts were being manufactured.
Picking from the ever-growing piles, it returned to its previous spot with a bundle of parts, and then quickly began assembling.
Ten minutes later, a finished drone stood in front of the much larger robot. It was about the size of a dog, (a regular 21st century dog), and kind of looked like a giant ant, with six metal legs. On the ‘head’ of the machine, was a pair of short but strong looking limbs, completing the image of an ant with mandibles.
Cool! We can control this?
[Yup. Just think about what you want it to do, and I’ll interpret and send instructions.]
Instructions… Lasko thought about collecting all of the created bricks in one place, and instantly the drone began to move, headed over to where the first machine was generating bricks.
An indicator popped up, asking for a collection location. Excited, Lasko indicated a six by six square as the brick storage zone, and the drone began to pick up the bricks one by one, scuttling quickly to the drop zone and depositing each brick.
Tunnel noticed right away and came running, much to Sharp’s displeasure. The younger boy had been constantly glancing over from the edge of the clearing where Sharp and Tunnel had been salvaging.
“What’s that?” the boy gasped breathlessly.
“It’s a drone,” Lasko said.
“Is it helping you?”
Lasko nodded. “Pira made it for me. I think she’s making more now.”
“No way.” The boy’s eyes grew even wider, and immediately he ran over to where the robot had returned to its previous sorting.
Pira groaned in Lasko’s head. [You just had to tell him.]
Isn’t it better this way? Lasko suggested. If you make more drones, you will have more hands for your operations.
[These drones aren’t equipped for the more intricate procedures,] Pira said grudgingly, [but I suppose this way works too.]
Lasko chuckled, and then began working, clearing a square bit of land of debris. Directions on building a house…
As he thought it, a number of basic building blueprints appeared in his vision, complete with measurements. As he watched, the buildings scaled themselves to the plot of land that Lasko had laid out, giving him a visual example of how each building might turn out.
Convenient. Picking one that seemed simple, he watched as the 3d model began assembling itself, layer by layer, providing a useful frame of reference for construction.
I need to make a basic foundation. I need to dig… a shovel. Taking a nearby length of narrow pipe and some scrap, he fashioned a digging tool. Using the makeshift shovel, he began to dig along the perimeter of the designated plot.
It was hard work, and the headset heated up, sweat dripping down the padded sides. Gross. This headset needs a cooling system, he thought to himself.
[Duly noted.] Pira commented. [I’ll install one when it becomes convenient. For now though, don’t complain and take it like a man.]
Soon after, Tunnel joined him. Upon receiving his own drone, Tunnel had promptly ordered it to help Sharp, and then returned to Lasko’s project, considering it much more interesting than the salvage work. Whenever Lasko would unearth some scrap, Tunnel would pull it away, clearing the trench.
Eventually Sharp came over too, and joined in the house construction efforts. The boy claimed that the drone wasn’t a suitable replacement for Tunnel, and that he had no choice but to abandon his efforts until Tunnel was willing.
Lasko felt that Sharp was just probably unwilling to let Tunnel and Lasko work together, inevitably getting closer.
Progress moved quickly on the house. Although LAsko couldn’t say that it was due to his efforts.
After Pira sent over a few drones that she had manufactured, construction speed boomed. The drones were workaholics, scurrying back and forth quickly, carrying the bricks to the quickly growing house, using welding torches to bind the bricks to each other.
By mid-day, there were over ten ant-robots working on the house, and the house had been mostly completely, lacking only a ceiling.
Lasko stood a step back to admire the work, while Sharp and Tunnel gaped at it. “It’s like the holdings!” Tunnel exclaimed, the first time Lasko had ever heard him willingly mention the large black building.
“Now we just need a roof…” Lasko pondered it for a while, unsure of how to proceed. Pira, are there any roof applcations that we can use based on the surrounding materials?
[There are a number of potential options. You can have a sheet metal roof, or a roof made up with elongated slabs of the sintered metal dirt material, reinforced with metal, of course.]
Which option is better?
[The metal sheeting is obviously easier, but you’d be able to stand on the sintered slabs… I don’t know how many rooftop parties you plan to have, and the view’s not terrific but still might be nice to have.]
Lasko laughed. I’m convinced. What do we need to do for the slabs?
[What I need to do is modify the brick compression machine to be able to create longer slabs. All you have to do is sleep one night without a roof.]
Deal. Lasko looked at the brick house with a satisfied nostaglia. The house looked almost like it came from the 21st century. It was missing certain flairs, like shutters, a front door, and painted glass windows, but those could be fixed, probably.
The one major thing missing… was green.
There were no plants. The ‘yard’ was an dull blueish brown. Lasko hadn’t seen a single plant since arriving into the future. Had they gone extinct? There were no more seeds? Even if he could find one, would they be able to grow in this weird metallic dirt?
[Don’t ask me.] Pira said pre-emptively. [There’s nothing in the records about the absence of plant life. Back when I was active, trees still were around.]
Oh well. Lasko put that aside for now. He turned to the two boys. “So, you guys ready to pick out your rooms?”
“Huh?” The kids looked at him confused. “What do you mean?”
“I mean…” Lasko gestured to the house. “This house has three bedrooms.” And two proper bathrooms, he mentally added. “We get to pick one.”
Their eyes grew large.
“Three rooms?!” Tunnel could hold back anymore, and sprinted towards the open doorway.
He was closely followed by Sharp, who had completely forgotten his stance of aloofness to Pira’s and Lasko’s projects. Lasko chuckled, and entered the building after them.
The floor was solid, made up of smooth brick tiles. The structure of the house was very simple. It was divided with thinner brick partitions neatly forming five rooms of varying size.
The house was missing the polished look that dry wall or a wooden plank finish would provide, but there was no helping it. The house was already ten times better than the previous hut that they had lived in. Lasko would have to see about making some finishes, like a proper bed, comfortable furnitature, maybe a mirror. Definitely a sitting toliet.
He joined the boys in one of the bedrooms, where they stood blankly, staring around. From the window, they could see the moutains of trash and at the base, the robotic Pira still working diligently.
“How do you guys like it?”
“There’s… so much space,” Sharp muttered. Tunnel nodded in agreement.
Lasko felt a bit confused. He was getting the feeling that the spacious rooms were not being as well received as he had initially anticipated.
Can’t be, he brushed the thought aside. “So, who wants to sleep in this room!?”
The boys looked at him, in shock, and then some trepidation as they finally realized something.
“You mean, that we have to sleep in the room that we pick?” Sharp said.
“uh… yeah, I guess so?”
This statement somehow caused the two boys to begin to reflect carefully. Sharp and Tunnel drew aside and started whispering to themselves. Lasko couldn’t make heads or tails of it.
Finally Tunnel came up to him, and tugged on his hand earnestly. “Which room are you going to pick, Lasko?”
“Which room will I pick?” Lasko rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
He looked over to where Ford was sitting nearby, wagging its stumpy tail once he saw Lasko look at him. If the massive dog was still going to sleep with him, it’d probably be best to take the largest room…
“I’ll take the room in the back,” Lasko decided.
Tunnel and Sharp looked at each other, and nodded. They looked at Lasko. “We pick that room too,” they said simulataneously.
They were already scrambling past him, eagerly headed to the room mentioned.
Did they not want an individual room? Lasko realized that his assumption that the kids would want their own room had been incorrect. Wheras westernized kids in the 21st century treasured their privacy, apparently that wasn’t a cultural value to the young pair.
Their hesitation had been because Lasko’s odd rules of letting them choose where they wanted to sleep made sleeping separately a possibility, so they figured out a loophole.
Lasko wanted to cry. They took his words so seriously… It’s fine to change your mind, you know? he wanted to say.
Lasko did want to change his own mind. He had been looking forward to sleeping all by himself. But considering how seriously they had interpreted his question, and looking at the excited boys’ faces, he couldn’t bring himself to say it. At least he had chosen the largest room.
This bedroom itself was already the same size as the ragged hut they had once lived in.
The boys began exploring the rest of the house, observing every cranny, and looking up through the open ceiling, while Lasko began to start planning out furnishing the house, (including a very large bed.)
“Living with somebody from Upper is so different,” Lasko heard one of the boys say, as they tromped around. It made him think of something.
Pira, how many units has this all cost? I haven’t given you any more since that first batch.
[I was wondering when you were going to ask,] the female voice rang out. She sounded very pleased with herself.
[So far, with all of the bots and machines there is a daily operating cost of… 100 units! Efficient, right?]
I guess? I don’t really have a good frame of reference you know.
[Ah. That makes sense.]
What about the headset? And your operating costs? How much have they increased by?
[Well, these are a bit higher. Daily, 24/7 usage of the visual-device runs a full thirty thetans, while my own operating costs have increased to sixty thetans. But since I’m juiced off of you directly now, you won’t have to worry about supplying me with additional units.]
Ah… Pira, can you tell how many thetan levels I have?
[It’s hard to say… There hasn’t been any cases like you before. If we follow typical convention, you’d have a level for every year that you are alive. But there seems to be an exponential growth curve when calculating levels. But no one has ever observed a case study like you before.]
Is there any way to get a clear answer?
[The only thing I can think of… is to max out your levels with various machine usage at one time, and then tally them up. Or, perhaps someone in this time has invented a high capacity level reader…? I don’t see why they would, but it would be a convenient possibility.]
In any case, it doesn’t seem like I need to worry too much about it now, right?
[Yup. I have enough units to last operations for a couple more days, so I’ll need a refill sometime before then.]
Just remind me when you need it.
[You’re the boss. You should start worrying about what you’re going to sleep on tonight.]
Oh yeah. Lasko looked around the large room. If he needed to sleep with the boys and the dog, he was going to need a large bed, but he was pretty sure people from Upper weren’t throwing out large king sized mattresses. At least, he hadn’t seen any.
Even if he tried to fashion a comforter or pad with one of their sheets, there’d be nothing soft to stuff it with… No cotton or other organic materials, the only things around were plastics and metals… suddenly he had an idea.
Pira, do you think we could make some elastic fibers using the materials around here?
[elastic? that should be possible. I’d have to create a new machine that can reprocess and spin plastic scrap into fibers. What are you going to do with it?]
I’m thinking… a giant hammock. Lasko stretched his hands out, estimating the size of the room.
[A hammock, huh?]
Yup, a giant, synthetic one that will have just a bit of give.
[Alright. I’ll get working on it right away, allocating the drone labor to prioritize this project. No guarantees that you’ll have anything tonight… but I’ll see what I can do.]
Thanks PIRA.
[Yeah, yeah.]
That takes care of that. Lasko sent his mind towards the next project. Running water…
Losing interest in the house, Sharp and Tunnel busied themselves with getting to know Ford, the giant dog. Initially acting distant with the two kids, eventually the dog began to open up to them. It helped that Tunnel was bribing the dog with pieces of the food bars.
They had completely forgotten about doing work, and that suited Lasko fine. Kids should know how to take breaks, after all.
Taking the water generator from the stash of goods from where Sharp and Tunnel had stashed them, Lasko began to put the pieces together in his mind.
If we want water pressure, we’ll need an elevated source of water… And we’ll also need a tank.
Scouting the area for large, bendable sheets of scrap metal, using the help of a couple free drones, Lasko accumulated a pile. Then, soldering them together and cutting the edges off as necessary, he created a large rectangular sheet. (He had to reinforce a couple spotty edges.
Then, directing the drones, the sheet of metal was carefully rolled up, and soldered together, forming a large cylinder.
Then taking another sheet of metal, he cut it into a circular shape, sized appropriately to fit the edge of the cylinder.
Cutting a thin line from the center to the edge, Lasko overlapped the edges, forming a slight conical shape. He soldered the cone in place, and then carefully soldered the newly formed base to the cylinder, forming a tank with a narrowing bottom.
Observing his handiwork. Lasko gave himself a couple moments of satisfaction. Then, a thought occurred to him.
PIRA, is it safe to use this tank for water?
[I had it tested. Most of the metal that you selected is a non-corrosive alloy that should be safe. When it was soldered though, there may have been places where the metal had lost its stainless properties. Don’t worry. Using the plastic that I’ve obtained for the hammock, I will give the tank a coating. It’ll be more than safe to use it to drinking, showering and for sewage. The coating will degrade in UV light though, so you probably want to keep the tank covered.]
OK, I’ll be sure to do that.
It was getting late, and the light was beginning to fade. Sharp and Tunnel had somehow figured out that the giant dog liked to chase objects, and they had evolved from running around chasing each other to throwing a large metal bar around, which Ford would grab, and consequently not return. Then the two would laugh and chase the dog, attempting to take the bar back…
It seemed dangerous…
It’s probably ok… right? Lasko told himself.
[It’s a total safety hazard.] Pira commented drily.
Sheepishly Lasko coughed. Please keep an eye on them. Let me know if they start doing anything really dangerous.
[By that time, it’ll probably be too late] Pira grumbled, but didn’t mention it again, to Lasko’s relief.
It was funny how Pira made him feel like a bad parent.