Little things can be important

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by HRogge

Spring 2016

“No, you must not look, its a surprise...”

Cathy was vaguely aware how she was blindly lead through some of the experimentation modules of the Catgirl Industries homebase Jenga. Some month ago she would just have raised an eyebrow about an explanation like this, but that had changed four weeks ago.

A small team of Catgirls had been away in the belt to supervise the installation of a set of defense drones in a Belters base and had decided to visit the Wizards on their way back.

The had come right in time for some funny contest between a pair of red haired boys and a group of serious looking adults. Being caught in the middle of a ‘prank war’ had delayed their journey by a full day, especially after one of the catgirls had her fur coloured neon green and the group decided to join the prank war and have some fun too.

According to the email from Hogsmeade nobody had been hurt, biomodded or otherwise permanently changed, and everyone one had enjoyed the experience a lot.

The group had told anyone else in the company what fun they had there. It could have been just another funny anecdote that could be told to visitors... but it managed to influence Catgirl Industries a little bit more than this.

Within two weeks a major prank war within the company broke out.

Most prank wars in the Wizarding World are fun for an afternoon for a few people, but a prank war fought by groups of engineers, equipped with a lot of tools and Handwavium was something completely different.

It had taken five days for everyone to calm down again... and another two days to find and disarm all kind of traps the various factions had built during this time.

In the end everyone agreed that it had been a lot of fun and had got back to work, but since then Cathy was a little bit more careful when someone promised a ‘surprise’ for her... even when the group had promised it was not prank related.

“It is really a surprise for you and Cortana... we asked her not to look into our lab module while we worked on it... and not to tell you about it” Sammi assured her, “no need to worry about anything.”

Cathy was getting more excited slowly, a surprise for Cortana inside this base was something really special, the AI was involved in nearly all projects the cats were doing.

Finally she was stopped.

“You can take of the blindfold... Cortana? You can activate the cameras here” the Sammi said and grinned.

In front of Cathy was a large experimentation desk with a could of small... drones on top. Cathy looked at the six similar drones, each of them maybe 20 cm high.

“Hmm, I think I have seen this design... but I am not sure where it was” she murmured, but Cortana was faster.

“Ohh! They are really cute...” she announced from a speaker while her holographic avatar appeared near the table. “I think I know them from a Star Trek episode... they were these nice little repair robots... Exocomps... right ?”

Sammi and the other catgirls around the table beamed proudly and nodded.

“Yes, they are,” one of them started, “we had always wanted to built a drone to help inside the base...”

“And then we had the Star Trek TNG marathon weeks some time ago, that’s where we got the idea about the design.” Sammi continued the explanation.

Jana, the third catgirl of the group grinned. “So we took the plans of the Element Zero drive and pushed down to the smallest drive we could get... and then built this hull around it.”

“Wait a moment” Cathy interrupted the waterfall of information, “this small thing has a Mass Effect drive? That’s no repair bot, that’s a small kinetic kill vehicle... isn’t it?”

Sammi chuckled and shook her head. “Keep calm, it is not... there is not enough energy in the internal cell. It can fly a little bit faster than 50 kilometers per hour... but unless it gets external energy there will be neither more speed nor a shield. Maybe with an improved engine system, but not with this one.”

“Aehm... can we maybe skip the rest of the tech explanation?” Cortana asked impatiently, “I would really like to test them... they are ready for testing, aren’t they?”

Sammi just nodded and the three catgirls began to tap activation codes on the small waved screen on top of the Exocomps. The machines obediently beeped and tiny lights began to glow on the surface. Cortana began to rub her hands while staring at the six machines, but then she looked annoyed for a moment.

“You three forgot... ah wait!” she said and began to smile. “Got it... you forgot to tell me their passwords on the wireless LAN.”

Cortana gave the Exocomps a wave with her hand and all six of them began slowly to raise into the air. “Oh you fine drones... what will I do first with you?”

Her avatar vanished and the drones hurried out of the lab, leaving Cathy and the three other catgirls behind.

“It seems she really likes her new toys... Wow... I am really impressed you got them completely finished without anyone else talking about it. What did you put in front as a toolkit? I assume you did not manage to build a full replicator, right?”

Sammi sighed. “No replicator, we had no clue how to do it... we build a revolver style tool box with everything inside you need... laser torch, handwavium dispenser, logic probe and a swiss army knife... and then waved the whole cylinder. Got the idea from a crazy discussion on an interwave forum.”

“Cortana seems to be very excited about them, I am really looking forward to hear her report about them” Cathy said with a smile.


A few hours later is was clear to everyone that Cortana was more than happy with her new Exocomps.

“They are great! Its like having hands with fingers instead of shovels. Finally I can help you indoors, repair small things, have some fun building something crazy! I just would like a few more of them... lets say a hundred? As a start?”

Cortana looked at Cathy after she had finished her long report about the great new drones and all the things she had done with them.

“They are even small enough that they could move between the hull armor and the internal ground plates! We could design small access tunnels for them and can work on the infrastructure there without even opening anything. We just have to redesign all Modules, should not take that much time. I am already working on a better firmware for them, they would fit perfectly to our base. And we really need more of them for ourselves... can I order the parts we don’t have? Please?”

It was the first time that Cortana called a general vote of all company members. They met in cyberspace and Cortana asked Sammi and her group the explain the rest of the catgirls their new drone design and the possibilities. Cortana added her ideas and plans for the drones and asked if the others would agree to spend a good amount of time and money to create more of the drones.

“We have already talked some months ago about the problems in expanding our base faster. There are a lot of small task involved that would eat up more and more of your time and I cannot help you with maintenance and repair at the moment.”

She illuminated the schematics of the Exocomps again.

“But with this new drones we might have a solution for all of this problems. They will be really helpful for maintenance, they can assist you with some construction jobs and they might become a really good product later!”

They discussed the matter for quite some time, but in the end they decided that the Company would work on a full batch of 256 drones in total.

“We will do a group of 16 first, to get ideas for improvements and streamlining the design... after this another 16, then double the batch size until we have the full 256 drones. Cortana, I hope you will be able to help us with the production and with the design of some specialized machines to build them” Cathy summarized their decision. “And Cortana, please try to get a good volume discount on some of the unusual parts.”

The next weeks all catgirls were a lot more busy than the weeks ago. Cortana had ordered all the necessary external parts for the Exocomps and managed to get a very good volume discount. Unfortunately she had told no one that she ordered a thousand units of every part, which meant that a lot of large boxes were now stored in the catgirls base.

After they experienced some problems with the building times of the next sixteen drones, Cortana had agreed to have some of the drones dismantled to look for things that could be done better. Within weeks there were large batches of specialized Handwavium for different parts of the drones and a first set of waved robot arms that were assembling the hull of the drone from pre-constructed parts that were done by everyone in the company.. Even Cortana and her original set of six prototypes were helping where she could, always tweaking and changing their firmware during the process.

‘Its really funny,” Cathy thought, “we only had them for a couple of weeks, but already they are a common sight here. Half of the catgirls here are already tinkering with them to teach them new tricks or just use them in their private projects.”

Cortana had set up a common software framework for everyone, which allowed an easy exchange of small patches between the devices, so that improvements made by her or the Catgirls could quickly integrated into the rest of the Exocomps.

In addition to work related software there was a surge of small extra programs for them, ranging from producing a different kind of sounds, limited voice recognition or throwing and catching a Frisbee.

Sammi and her team had thought about producing an useful tool for working inside their homebase, but now it looked like they had created the ultimate toy for crazy engineers.

Nobody ever admitted who started the whole thing. Everyone had been introduced to it by ‘a friend’, but it got quickly popular.

Cathy was just testing a new app for the Exocomps that taught them how to use their ultrasonic radar system for a massage, as suddenly the shadow of a flying catgirl buzzed past her, loudly shouting in excitement.

Cathy told the Exocomp to end the massage and petted the small machine for a moment, which promptly began to purr happily, as she looked into the direction the catgirl has vanished.

Exactly in that moment a similar sound started from the opposite direction and Cathy watch a second catgirl, sitting on a small saddle mounted on an Exocomp, squealing as she quickly passed Cathy.

Cathy blinked a few times, then she hit her communicator on her left wrist. “Cortana, here is Cathy... did I just hallucinate two catgirls racing on Exocomps through the corridor 5?”

She heard Cortana chuckling as her avatar appeared besides her.

“Oh, I thought you already knew it... a group of catgirls discovered that the Exocomps are strong enough to carry one of them around, so they built a minimal saddle and something to hold on and mounted it on top of two of them. And now... you have seen it.”

Cathy chuckled too. “Okay, that explains why they reconfigured the corridors of the base a few days ago... more different options for racing.”

Cortanas avatar nodded. “Whoever built the software module for the racing did a pretty amazing job. Good physics engine to keep balance, they even network into some of the other Exocomps to know about obstacles out of their direct vision. Even the different gravity fields between modules don’t seem to slow them down.”

“I have to try this out some time in the future... I hope we had no one hurt during the current races?” Cathy asked.

“No, no one hurt beyond a few bumpy landings at slow speed. I am as surprised as you are... if this continues to be as fun for everyone, we might want to build a couple of more plates soon, so we can have a few more empty corridor modules. Some of the catgirls are discussing about creating some youtube videos.”

Cathy thought about it. “I will see that I join the discussions... but we might want to sell a few Exocomp before we create youtube videos about how to use them as racing toys. Otherwise no one will consider them buying them as engineering tools...”

“There are more Fens interested in having fun than Fen interesting in engineering... of course selling them to both of them would be nice.” Cortana replied. “But you should not underestimate the Trekkies... if they hear about the Exocomps, they want them... a lot of them!”

“Yes, that is true... but I am worried about this. What happens if the Trekkies want more than a few drones? Lets say one in a hundred Trekkies wants one? Or ten? We will never be able to build that many.”

Cortana suddenly became quiet.

Since their foundation one year ago Catgirl Industries had done a number of successful contracts, first with the Panzerkunst Gruppe in Grunthal, later with a few other contract about heir new defense drones. But all of them had been involved only moderate sized numbers of drones.

“Good that you see the problem too” Cathy said and nodded. “If we want to sell a larger batch of this drones I see two obstacles... first we need more parts from Earth, especially smartphones and the components of the multitool. In addition to this we need to increase the amount of automation, if we build everything mostly by hand we cannot keep up... and all of us will get bored and sick of it pretty quickly. We want to create interesting things, research, push the frontier... not standing on an assembly line.”

“I will think about it Cathy, there should be a solution for this.”

After the production batch with the 64 drones the work on the Exocomp project stalled for the first time. Working on that many drones was boring, and therefore stressful enough and most of the catgirls agreed to stop the production at this point, take a break and work on a plan how to get more of the nice little drones without that much manual work.

Soon the cyberspace of the company was filled with virtual models of modules full of machines, trying to assemble a nearly complete Exocomp and even some other drones. Several smaller groups began to work on parts of this problem, making suggestions and dropping them every few hours. For the first time the cyberspace contained more than double the number of modules than the real base, just to keep the different plans easily comparable.

But it was clear that going from a company that could create small batches of innovative drones to one that could mass produce said drones was difficult at best. The sanest plans they had come up with included things like doubling the size of the base, hiring many of the catgirls from 125 Liberatrix and raiding second hand markets for smartphones all over Earth for cheap hardware. Not that anyone had called the plan sane.

In the mean time the existing Exocomps had nicely integrated into the normal life on the station. Cortana enjoyed working together with the catgirls on physical things for the first time and she was already preparing a timetable how to change all existing plates in the modules for Exocomp access.

Even the Exocomp racing was still going on. Several catgirls had noticed that the maximum speed of some Exocomps were a little bit faster than the rest. This units were in great demand by the racers, which cared a lot about their little friends. Some additional plates had been produced together with Hephaestus together to build a few more long corridor areas for the racing.

Cathy was just coming from the cafeteria of the base, as she came across another catgirl sitting on the saddle of an Exocomp, slightly shivering, breathing heavily and staring ahead. Cathy carefully laid an arm around the other catgirl and helped her off her ‘mount’.

“Are you alright? You look really scared...” she asked quietly while petting the catgirl a lightly at the neck, which made the other catgirl begin to purr relieved. “Lets just sit down here and tell me what has happened.”

The other catgirl, Fina, took a deep breath and sat down with Cathy, slowly calming down again.

“There is a...” Fina sighed. “No, lets start earlier. I have been racing a little bit, want to do a small competition against some friends tomorrow. I was just rushing through the new corridors around a corner when I hit a section that has been altered. I raced up a small ramp and then jumped over a large chasm... I swear that the gravity drive malfunctioned for a moment and I could see the stars below me... I was so scared.”

Fina shook her head and stopped shivering, thinking once more about her ‘flight’.

“Wow, that... that was terrible... and fun... I have to do this again, after I found out what bastard build this horrible thing” she suddenly said.

Cathy grinned satisfied and nodded. “Show me where this chasm is, I want to see it... the walls of this base are solid Battle Steel, there should be no chasms with stars below.”

Both of them backtracked the racing path and finally arrived in a module that was much darker than the rest of the station, with just two small angled plates in a spotlight. In between the two plates there was a huge pitch black chasm in the ground, and Cathy thought she could see some light points.

“Cortana, this is Cathy... can you please check the integrity of the module in front of us” Cathy spoke into her communicator, but Cortana could not find anything unusual with the module.

“Some of the lights are blocked I think, but the module is technically all right. No need to worry about it, just some creative application of...” Cortanas voice stopped and she chuckled. “Ah, you will see it yourself.”

Cathy and Fina entered the module and went to the edge of the ‘chasm’ to look down at the ‘stars’. Even at this short distance the chasm was pure darkness, but the lights in it looked strangely close.

Cathy finally put her arm over the edge and began to feel around.

“Ahh, that is nice...” she said with a big grin, “the ground is still there, I can feel the steel plate. But its somehow coated in a black substance... and these stars... they seem to lay on the plate, maybe some reflective crystal or a battery powered light, we have to check. A really nice work...”

Fina looked annoyed on the chasm, then stepped on it and took one of the small stars.

“Ahh, I remember these... small waved LEDs with a battery, we used them for a test of the new defense drones. Interesting that they are still glowing.” she said.

She looked back to Cathy, then laughed and pointed to the Exocomp that had followed both of them. “My good friend, we made a really great leap here” she said. A few lights blinked and the small machine sat down besides her.

“Sorry for all this mess Cathy, but I was really not prepared for a joke like this. But its’ great, I hope the three empty modules can stay here for a while, will be fun do have some obstacles for our races.”

“I don’t think we need them for something else... but just keep an eye on the forums about base layout, you know the plans can change within days” Cathy said and patted Fina on her back. “Just keep your head and don’t get hurt, you two...”

The catgirls never got to the point resuming the production of the exocomps in large numbers. Some were experimenting in using other Exocomps assisting them with building more, but there was still no consensus about what to do for a real mass production. Many had objected that building all the necessary machines would force them away from all the fun and research they were having at the moment towards some assembly line style work, which did not sound as fun at all.

In the meantime the insane obstacle courses for the Exocomp races had continued to progress. What started with a simple ‘bottomless’ chasm had progressed to more crazy construct, and now every few days a large group of Exocomps rushed into the modules at night and began to change the racing track for the next morning. Nobody in the company had announced who was responsible for programming the drones this way.

“Its really interesting Cathy,” Cortana said, “someone set up a really crazy distributed program to let them build all this obstacles. I finished a lot of simulations on a few dozen plans for our assembly lines a couple of days ago and finally had some time to look at their behaviour. A single Exocomp is only a node in the programs network, which make it difficult for me to get debugging data on it. Every times I grab one of them, plug a USB adapter into the phone and look at the running code, its already going static because I removed it from the network.”

Cathy looked more than a little bit surprised. “You want to tell me with all that additional computer hardware we built into the base, you still have problems to debug a few cute drone pets? Come on Cortana, I am sure you have something more for me.”

“I did a lot of analysis on their behavior and its really complex. I think they get the plans for the new racing tracks hidden in some small updates from other catgirls, which makes them downloading some texts from gaming forums outside the base. I suggested interrupting them during the night and do a full analysis of them once, but this would stop all their works for a few days and I got voted down instantly in the forum. I have been talking with some friends about the situation to get another perspective.”

Cathy nodded. “Okay, just keep an eye on it, as long as everyone has fun and nobody gets hurt, it would be stupid to do something against it.”

It was true, all catgirls involved had a lot of fun with this racing and even the Exocomps seemed to like it. At least that’s what the racers said. There was even one incident where an Exocomp kept knocking on the door of a catgirl for five minutes because the catgirl had overslept.

Of course if there was anything faster than the Interwave, it was rumors. It was one of the basic truths of Fenspace. Just a few hours after her talk with Cortana, Cathy got a holo call from Starbase 1.

“Hello, I am Chief Engineer Parker from the United Federation Starship Virgil Grissom. We are currently at Starbase 1 for our shakedown and I heard some interesting rumors about your company testing a new kind of drone.”

Cathy looked at the screen for a moment and laughed. “Okay, that did not take long... it seems rumor propagation is as fast as always. Yes, at least some part of the rumors seem to be true, we are testing a new drone system at the moment... but maybe you tell me what you heard and what I can do for you.”

Parker smiled and nodded. “Oh, the rumors I have been able to collect were not really conclusive... according to them you are working on some construction drone... or a self replicating Von Neumann swarm... or on a giant cat robot version of your space station. But what got me interested was a small picture of some schematics of this.”

The screen split and the left part was now showing a rough sketch of an Exocomp, with some cute cat ears on it.

Cathy was cursing some unknown gods of rumors for a moment. The news got leaked, not there was no way to deny it. Maybe there was still something something good coming from this mess.

“Okay...” Cathy said slowly. “Yes, I can confirm we are working on an Exocomp drone, we think it will be very useful for small scale repairs and construction. But at the moment we are still working on the details how to make them into a product.”

Parker pushed the schematics aside and smiled. “That sounds really good, so you already have a working prototype? I would like to see one, hear more about the details. There are other engineers here at Starbase 1 who are really interested in your project.”

‘Either they will buy it or they will copy it’ Cathy thought and nodded. “What do you think about coming to our base and I will show you a little bit about the project... and then we can talk about how to continue from there. What about tomorrow at some time?”

Parker looked at a display blow his communicator. “I will arrive at your base at 10am Mars time. I will bring someone else from administration with me.”

With this Parker dropped the connection, letting Cathy back in her quarters scratching her head what to do with the two Trekkies tomorrow.

Just as she was to return to the newest racing video about the new ‘Tuesday double loop’, her communicator buzzed again.

“Cathy, here is Cortana... I just got some results you should hear about, I think we will need to trigger a full company meeting as soon as possible.”

Cathy blinked and looked puzzled at Cortanas avatar. “A full one? I just got off the line with two Trekkies who want to come talk to us tomorrow about the Exocomps.”

“The Trekkies? How do they know...” Cortana wondered. “But anyways, I told you earlier that I had asked some friends of mine about the strange data we got from the Exocomps behavior... one of them is working with the Vesta Institute of Robotics. He says that he ran the collected data through some pre-turing tests... he guess that the Exocomps would get a Gamma level rating!”

“Cortana, you know that the common Fen consensus says that a waved smartphone is not enough to trigger the development of a Gamma Level AI. That’s why we are using waved phones... are you saying we have a large number of evolving AIs in our company?”

Cortanas avatar shook her head. “No... its not each of the Exocomps, its a larger group of them together. According to my numbers there is a slowly growing group of them, maybe 20 at the moment, who are more networked together than the rest. The program that is running on all of them together is creating some kind of emergent swarm AI!”

Despite our precautions we've created an AI.. a new life. And we dont really know much about it except it seems to enjoy funny races and crazy construction work.

They had all talked about the Exocomps, the new AI and the Trekkies during the last night. Nobody was sure the strategy they had agreed on would really work, but it was the best idea they had come up with.

And now a Type-7 Federation shuttle from Starbase 1 had arrived in a hangar of the Catgirl Industries homebase.

Cathy entered the hanger as soon as the outer door had been closed and atmosphere had been restored to greet their two Federation visitors.

“Chief Engineer Parker, I am Cathy... in the name of Catgirl Industries I welcome you on board of our space station... would you please follow me to the meeting room we have prepared?”

Cathy guided the two visitors into a nearby room with a large table, a few chairs and a large screen on the wall that showed the stars outside the base. Sammi was already in the room and a beamer on the ceiling projected Cortanas avatar into the room.

“Gentlemen, may I introduce to Sammi and Cortana... Sammi is one of the researchers and engineers that started the drone project you are interested in and Cortana is the Artificial Intelligence of this station.”

“Thank you for your invitation Cathy... I am Lieutenant Commander Joe Parker, Chief engineer of the Federation starship Virgil Grissom and this is Lieutenant Henry Kim, from Starbase 1 administration.” Parker said, everyone shook hand and they sat down.

“I called you yesterday, so maybe I should get the ball rolling.” Parker continued. “During the last days I heard rumors about Catgirl Industries working on a drone project, one based on the Star Trek TNG episode ‘The Quality of Life’ Exocomps. You confirmed at least this part of the rumors and invited us to talk about your project and how you plan to continue with it.”

Parker looked to Kim, who continued the explanation.

“We did some research on Catgirl Industries, but there isn’t much data on it. Your company is not even two years old and you have never shown much political activity. The two important facts about your company are that your employ catgirls exclusively and that you don’t sell drones with on board AIs. None of your products or internal designs have ever shown parts of Star Trek Fandom and you have never expressed feeling associated with the United Federation of Planets.”

“You are right... we don’t have a background that would draw us to a specific Fandom, we are just enjoy working on engineering challenges and tinkering with waved mechanisms. You know, cats like to play with their toys... but I think Sammi can tell you a more about the Exocomp project” Cortana explained with a grin.

Sammi looked back and forth between the two guests, then took a deep breath and started explaining. “We have a small cinema room here on the base, and from time to time we have some longer science fiction or anime nights there, a few months ago we watched season 6 of Star Trek TNG... that’s where we got the idea for the Exocomp drones. We wanted a design that could be used easily for indoor work, and we liked the episode. So me and two others started working on it in our free time and finished the six prototypes a few months later.”

Before she could continue Parker interrupted her. “Wait a moment... you are saying you already have six working prototypes? Its not a research project anymore, they are finished?”

Sammi looked a little bit uncomfortable to Cathy, which decided to answer the question herself. “Yes... the original prototypes were finished nearly two months ago. Since then the whole company worked some changes in the design and produce more of them. At the moment we have 60 to 70 running around on this base.”

“Seventy ?” Kim suddenly sounded suspicious. “Tell me, are they self replicating? I know there are several factions working on Von Neuman machines, but a mobile doomsday machine of this size would be scary.”

Cortana grinned. “If you program them well and lock them into a room of waved multitools, smartphones and Mass Effect engines you might get your self-replicating doomsday machines... but no, they cannot replicate on their own, there are too many parts we have to import. Unfortunately you will have to wait for your first Doomsday machine a little bit longer.”

“You mean waiting for the third Doomsday machine” Parker added dry. “Don’t ask, the details are classified.”

He cleared his throat and continued. “But lets get back to the reason why we are here. In my opinion the Exocomps could be a good addition to the Federation of Planets technology. But on the other side, there will be more than a few members of the Federation demanding that we don’t buy OUR technology from an outside company that doesn’t even associate with our Fandom.”

Both Trekkies suddenly looked a lot more serious. “I am sure you have thought about this too. What do you propose we do?”

Cathy nodded thoughtfully. “Yes, we all have talked about this last evening... I have seen the possibilities of the Exocomps here on our base, so I agree that they could be very useful for you.”

Both Trekkies looked approvingly and Cathy began to explain. “We have not talked that much about the political aspects of the problem, but we had other ones. While it was possible to produce nearly 70 Exocomps in the last months, we cannot produce the numbers the market might demand. We are a group of researchers, not a large production facility, we don’t have the construction facilities for a production run this large.”

“Does that mean you don’t want to sell them to the market?” Kim asked.

Cathy shook her head and grinned. “Our conclusion is simple... Catgirl Industries is looking for a business partner to licence the designs of the Exocomps to for production.”

Parker and Kim looked surprised at each other.

“I have to admit that was not what we expected to be offered” Parker admitted finally. “And you would consider to offer an exclusive production licence to the United Federation of Planets?”

“Yes, we would...” Cortana explained. “Of course we will only do so if the Federation offers a fair licence payment in return. And we would like to let people know that we originally designed the Exocomps, as a research and prototyping facility this is really important for us. We will continue to use the Exocomps internally ourselves, but if I can judge my friends here right, we might approach you from time to time with upgrade plans.”

“We could provide you with enough parts to build a hundred of them and a group of engineers, who tell you how to do it... and where to expect trouble. The only thing which would needed to be done would be a replacement of their internal engine. Otherwise you would have to buy the engines from us, which would be a similar problem than the Exocomps itself” Cathy finished their proposal.

Parker smiled. “We have to talk about this with the Federation Council, but I am sure we are at least interested in this offer. But first we would like to see some of the prototype drones and what they can do.”

“I think Sammi will be able to show you more than a few examples, right?” Cathy replied.

A few hours later when both Trekkies were gone, Cathy and Sammi were sitting together on a couch with a drink.

“Could have been much worse I think... do you think we tried to move too fast?” Cathy asked, sipping on her glass.

Sammi smiled. “We all talked about it before... we don’t want to draw out this talks so much that their Mads beginning to build their own Exocomps... or that they ask the Soviets how much it would cost to build a few hundred. I have a good feeling about this, they both really liked all the stuff our Exocomps can do... and I think at least Parker liked the idea that they might get upgrades for them later. We will hear from the Federation soon.”

“Will be interesting to work with their Scotties together to integrate a Trekkie engine into the Exocomps” Cathy said and patted the Exocomp between them. “Don’t fear our little friend, we will not sell you to the Trekkies... they will only get some parts and the plans.”

The Exocomp purred satisfied and Cathy looked over to Sammi. “They are developing quickly... I wonder what will be going on here in a few days.”

The new few weeks became more chaotic than any time since the foundation of Catgirl Industries.

It was felt that selling a product with an AI was akin to slavery, regardless of concerns if the new AI would be nice or even working with the buyer. And a hatred of slavery was possibly the single thing every freed victim of Asmodeus Gray creation held in common.

Other Fen circumvented this problem by seeding the AI with some fandom from Scifi, Anime or TV that they assumed to be fitting for the job they had in mind, but the catgirls thought it would be better just to skip producing AIs and hire or work with people you could interview first.

But now the specific thing they had tried to prevent had happened, and the emerging Artificial Intelligence slowly but steadily spread through all the Exocomps in the company.

“The computational power of the AI is rising too Cathy” Cortana had told her, “but it doesn’t seem to like cyberspace... I created datapaths from each of the Exocomps to cyberspace and the AI spread through it for a moment, but then it withdraws itself again. I don’t understand it.”

Cathy smiled: “Give him or her a little bit time... our cyberspace is large, dark and without ground... maybe the AI is scared about it?”

Cortana sighed. “Yes maybe,” she said, not interested to hold a long monologue that AIs perceived the cyberspace differently than the optical illusion for physical Fen and androids.

“I will keep an eye on them,” Cortana said, “but at the moment there is not that much we can do... if the new AI wants to talk to us directly, it will do so.”

There had been some discussions, if the racing should be discontinued, but some wordless protest of the Exocomps had put a stop on this pretty fast. Some of them had began to lay siege on the doors of the missing catgirls, a few even had started exchanging riders in mid race.

Cathy was a little bit scared what kind of projects the racing catgirls would start when everything had settled down to normal. Most likely it would involve something crazy and really fast.

After talking with Cathy about the current status of the Exocomps, Cortana turned her attention back to Cyberspace and the communication lines to the Exocomps. During her talk with Cathy she had an idea what had been going wrong with her earlier attempts to show the Exocomps cyberspace.

Cyberspace was infinite flexible in practice, a place where an AI could do or be what it liked. But the intelligence of the Exocomps had developed in a network of small waved drones and it was clear they liked to construct things.

“Maybe Cyberspace really just feels too empty... too large” Cortana thought and began to construct a new software frame. Within moments a virtual image of an Exocomp began to form, being made of a few Megabytes of code to hold the virtual shape together and provide some input for the still empty core module.

Cortana build another five of this virtual avatars, then she sat down with them inside the representation of one of the Modules and connected each of the six to a communication line of an Exocomp. She quickly added a few walls around herself and the virtual drones to built a small room and waited.

She had to wait for a long time.

Finally, after fifteen seconds, the bright representation of bits and bytes began to flow out of the communication streams into the dark software constructs, slowly filling them with thousands of tiny sparks zipping around. The surface of the constructs began the light up and interact with the virtual environment, instead of the AIs software just spreading out on the virtual ground and disintegrating soon after.

The small drones began to shiver a but, then one of them slowly began to float up, just to sit back down on the floor again. But soon after another one began to hover, slowly rotating to look around.

Within moments Cortana had a small swarm of six Exocomps buzzing around her, quickly getting used to the new environment. She was just looking at a group of three drones carefully floating around each other when she heard a loud crash from the wall left to her.

One of the Exocomps had crashed into the thin wall, damaged its own software framework and had created a head sized hole in the wall Cortana had created. Cortana stood up and carefully grabbed the still shivering drone and sat it down on the floor to one of the others.

“You must be a bit more careful my little friends, the rules here are a little bit different than in the physical world. I don’t want you to get hurt...”

The other five Exocomps landed around their damaged team member and Cortana could see that they were exchanging an increasing amount of data. The damaged construct began to glow more brightly and within a few seconds it had regenerated the missing code pieces.

“Yes, having multiple copies around is a nice thing, but I would not have expected that you already know this trick.” She thought about it for a moment while the Exocomps where hovering again. “On the other side you started as some kind of swarm AI, so having multiple copies could be normal for you... I am already curious to learn how do you do it.”

The Exocomps were already surveying the whole in the wall. One of them were carefully moving forward and suddenly extended a virtual buzz saw from its front... three times larger than the Exocomp itself! The rotating saw made a loud screaming noise as its pattern was pushed into the one of the wall and as fast as it had appeared it vanished again.

All Exocomps and Cortana stared motionless to the one that had deployed the saw and Cortana suddenly had to laugh... “Nice trick little one... but a smaller saw might have been a better idea.”

The tense moment was over soon and after some experiments a reasonable sized buzz saw extended the hole from the crash to something the Exocomps could easily travel through. One by one the small drones left through the hole, the last one looking back at Cortana.

“Yes okay... I will come with you” Cortana said with a grin and stepped through the wall.

This caused some confusion among the Exocomps. Again the were exchanging an increasing amount of data, one of them bumping carefully into the wall Cortana had come through, another one touching Cortana.

Cortana chuckled and looked around. “I have created this small world and its rules... and the cheat codes. Don’t worry about it, you are safe here.”

A few minutes later the Exocomps were racing around everywhere in cyberspace. It had taken them some time to decide whether to step out of the module into the empty space above the grid, but after Cortana did it first, they had quickly followed to see all the other places floating in the darkness. Seeing them playing with one of the catgirl avatars had been interesting, but one of the Exocomps made Cortana laugh really hard when it enlarged itself to an image of more than 5 meters diameter and floated slowly above the grid, not unlike a hot air balloon. Another one had vanished, withdrawing the complete avatar back through the communication line, but after a while other Exocomps appeared in cyberspace with their own avatar.

Finally one of the little avatars returned to Cortana, sat down on the virtual floor and just looked at her for a moment. Then it lit up a bit more and hit Cortana carefully with a stream of pure binary data.

Cortana connected to the datastream, but could not make much sense out of it first. She began to send back some basic data... frames similar to the one used for cyberspace, filled with some basic logic and semantic rules, explanations for mathematical and logical symbols, some easy to use video and audio fragments. The avatar consumed the incoming data and answered with a new package of data, this much more structured than the last one.

Cortana watched the video with the small holographic replication of her avatar and a list of mathematical symbols and nodded. “Yes, I am different than you” she answered slowly, and answered with a longer data set.

The communication between the two AIs became quickly more complex again and it became more challenging for Cortana to follow the data exchange.

“Its hard, but we definitely have made progress” Cortana explained to a small group of catgirls. “The basic thought processes of the new AI are differently organized than mine, so we had to work out a lot of basic communication protocols. The AI has now spread to all of the existing Exocomps and an equal number of virtual instances in Cyberspace.”

“Is there a danger that the virtual Exocomps will fill cyberspace and use up all resources?” one of the catgirls asked. “They are really nice, but if they built more and more copies...”

Cortana shook her head. “No, I don’t think so. I would say the AI does not like pure virtual instances, so it just use cyberspace to double its capacity. Each instance alone should have a high gamma level rating, but the total network has broken the beta barrier a few hours ago.”

This raised some rumors in the room. Beta level was normally considered as the same intelligence than any normal Fen.

“How can the AI be both at Gamma and Beta level” Sammi asked, “this is really strange.”

Cortana nodded. “I am still wrapping my mind around the details. Just take it the way it is... each of the Exocomps is on par with a highly intelligent animal, but the sum of them can manifest a human level intelligence anywhere in the swarm it wants.”

“I hope the AI does not dislike how we have treated the Exocomps” Cathy mentioned, “we used to think about them as clever pets, not that much more.”

“That should be no problem” Cortana said calmly, “from what we two discussed the AI likes its current integration into our company and would like to continue it or built upon it.”

Cortana chuckled. “Oh, just another thing... the AI said that it clearly recognize that the single catgirls are more capable than its Exocomp drones, but we might work a little bit on our coordination. Your group mind seems to be a little bit strange, especially during this prank war some time ago!”

The two AIs were still communicating with each other inside the cyberspace of Jenga.

“I still think it feels strange... why do we need this Avatars, its not that a small part like this is more important than the rest!” the newcomer asked.

“For you it might natural to be fully distributed and I am still a little bit envious of how easy you do it.” Cortana said and smiled. “I have spent years to come up with a solution to be in two places at once, you do it with a hundred!”

“Yes, that’s true... but you did not answer my question.”

Cortana nodded. “Think about it from the catgirls point of view. They cannot spread their consciousness around, so they want to have ‘someone’ to talk with. It doesn’t matter if you create one Avatar or multiple, having an humanoid interface makes communication easier.”

The new AI sighed but signaled an acknowledgement.

“You are most likely right, it should not be that difficult to do. Just a matter to get used to it. I hope you will still help me to use larger computers than these small smartphones more efficiently, getting the catgirls to build me a couple of hundred more drones might be difficult. And buying them from the Trekkies just sounds wrong.”

“Of course I will” Cortana replied and smiled. “But only if you help me to understand your distributed structure better. I have written your base code, so its not that different from some of my basic components. Might be interesting to see if we can trade some architectural decisions. And there are a lot of AI friends I want to introduce you to.”

The other AI chuckled. “Seems it will become an interesting time, I am already looking forward to it.”

Cortana nodded. “And think about all the changes we have to make for the home base and its components now your Exocomps are living here. I am pretty sure neither you nor me will be bored for the next couple of years, Serina.”

Cathy dropped on a couch in the central kitchen and smiled tiredly.

“I tell you Vivio, working with our own Mads is fun, but working with the Trekkie Scotties and Mads was even more crazy. Exhausting but crazy.”

Vivio chuckled. It had been two week since Sammi, Cathy and a small team of engineer from Jenga had visited the Trekkies on Mars to work on the Exocomp conversion to a subspace drive.

“I am really glad we don’t have a that huge Fandom to draw upon. Every few hours you discuss details with a Scotty only to hear from another one that they did it different in Voyager. Damned, ‘they did it this way in Voyager’ should not be allowed as a logical argument anywhere.”

Vivio just handed her a cup of cold water.

“Thank you” Cathy said and emptied the cup quickly. “Ahh, that’s good. But it was really interesting, you would not believe how much machines and tools they have at Utopia Planitia. We finished the first test batch of Trekkie Exocomps yesterday and they seem to work well enough. But their mads are already working on an automated assembly line to produce most of the Exocomp without Fen interaction, so they only have to do a few waving jobs.”

Vivio smiled: “So do you think they will built a lot of them? Even with the licencing fee they have agreed to pay?”

Cathy nodded. “Yes, they will. They have already a waiting queue for the Scotties and Mads at Utopia Planitia. Everyone who helps getting their assembly line up and running gets on the top, everyone else on the bottom. I expect them to start the full production next month.”

“It seems you had an interesting excursion Cathy” Vivio said.

Cathy grinned. “Yes, I had... but its good to be home again. One of the Trekkie Mads even said his Exocomp prototype warned him about some explosion on his testing ship. There was a lot of fuss about it, but he refused to give the prototype back, saying the experiments were too important to risk personal on the recurring plasma breaches.”

“I hope you have no holiday planned in the near future. While you all were gone, Cortana and Serina have worked around the clock on plans for the new Boards and Modules for Jenga. It seems we will be busy breaking up all existing Modules one at a time in the next months to make them Exocomp friendly” Vivio mentioned and grinned. “I think it would be okay if you take one day off, but only one...”

“Oh dear...” Cathy said and laughed. “But its okay. It is a good chance to correct some early design mistakes we made for the first Modules. I think you are right, I will take a day off and then see what Cortana and Serina have planned.”

“Do this... and if you have time, just check the new Exocomp racing channel in our video database. I am sure you will like it.”