V. Root and Stem

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My body was heavy with resources from the bodies of the crustaceoforms I had scooped up. Unlike the longer-legged versions I had seen foraging in the silt, these smaller hard-shelled creatures relied on their small size, large number, and proximity to the heat of the geothermal vent to avoid their natural predators.

The beak my body had been given by natural selection was powerful, but I had upgraded its musculature and rebuilt its hard parts with an upgraded hybrid composite. I was confident there was little on the planet that could withstand the force I could bring to bear with my new beak.

I delighted at how the upgraded beak sheared through the exoskeletons of the unlucky creatures, and I reflected on their chemical composition and behaviors as I crawled around the lumpy structure of the vent, recording the tastes of the various creatures that had cemented themselves to the stone as I intended to do shortly myself.

I extruded a heatproofed tasting appendage up, letting the tendril grow long, stretching as it crawled away from the bulk of my current form. I extended the long tongue up, where the vent's released material was thick and hot. The microorganisms living there made extensive use of the bountiful sulfur compounds and calcium carbonate provided by the vent. The information-dense acids defining their forms were rich with clues I might use later when I could finally devote resources to analyzing and extracting this biosphere's many valuable designs.

My good spirits dampened a bit as I thought of the progress I would have made by now if it weren't for the series of setbacks I'd faced. I'd be a quarter of the way to a global sensor net by now. I'd be mining and automated factories would already be taking shape across the surface of the ocean.

Instead I had lost far too much time. Even with the setback, I didn't think the traitor's probes would reach me before I'd completed my mission and saved my people, but as recent events had shown, I couldn't afford uncertainty. I needed to get those factories online. I couldn't afford to wake one day and discover the traitor had arrived while I scrambled to catch up.

Those designs were still inaccessible to me, but I could begin stockpiling resources now while I worked to restore Library functionality. I wouldn't be able to construct a global sensor net right away, but I could survey this region.

I lowered myself to a point near the base of the stone pillar and pulled myself snugly into place with my suckered arms. This would do. I used my arms to clear away silt and grit from the spot I had chosen, and shifted calcium compounds and others into newly-constructed channels in my arms.

I began depositing a lumpy cement that hardened quickly from the new openings at the tips of my arms. I moved my arms in a wide circle, smoothing and shaping as I went. I had created an epoxy based on the stone-like organic constructions I had sampled, but rather than emulate their shapes, I built according to basic geodesic principles, with an eye to stability and future expansion. A small but strong shelter began to form around me as three of my arms continued the steady, hypnotic work.

Meanwhile, I had trapped a larger specimen of the pale crustaceoforms that clustered near the vent. It struggled vainly, then went still as I drilled into the top of the creature and began to change it. My previous scouts had been unwieldy and limited in function. This would be the first of many harvester scouts. I elongated its legs and gave it a retractable suckered arm modeled after the form I had been wearing. I equipped the retractable arm with taste organs, suckers, and tendrils of bioluminescent tissue it could use to bait prey or briefly illuminate a space.

I gave it ink glands like the ones I had removed from my own body, and for good measure altered the ink glands to secrete cells based on the translucent creature's microscopic stingers. I was confident the stinging, blinding cloud this produced would confuse and distract most creatures that might try to waylay my harvesters.

Finally, I gave my harvester an expandable sac to fill with samples and raw resources. I admired the nearly-finished product, and took the last steps, imparting commands into its waiting mind: Scout. Observe. Retrieve. Return. Report. I left almost all the creature's instinct behaviors in place. I had learned my lesson in that regard.

As the first harvester scuttled off, stopping occasionally to stuff creatures and samples into its maw, I started budding another based on its design, leaving the repetitive task to an autonomous process.

I turned my attention to the rudimentary shelter I had been building. The dome was almost complete, and I'd started sinking shafts into the stone toward the tube full of rising heat and minerals. I wouldn't be able to take full advantage of the geothermal power yet, but an inefficient free power source was far better than none at all.

I built a chitinous gate at the peak of the dome, forming an actuated portal I could open and close with enough force to shear through an exoskeleton.

I ran my arms happily around the smooth interior of my shelter. I had a protected place to study the Library. All this resource acquisition and expenditure had finally paid off.

I released the second harvester scout, opening the portal to let it out.

I closed the portal behind it and turned my mind inward, listening in the silence for distant echoes of home.


3.21e2 / 2.17e34 NODES VERIFIED



I had built taste organs into the exterior of my emplacement, and I could taste that a harvester had returned. I opened the portal and pulled the harvester inside, pulling it apart as I examined its memories and the haul it had brought back for me.

This was the fourteenth harvester I had built, and it had explored significantly farther than the others yet had. It had come across one of my earlier generations of scouts, and had brought it back. I pulled both apart, organizing the resources and earmarking materials to expand the rudimentary computation organ I had been building. Their memories flooded into my mind and my consciousness of the world around me expanded a bit more.

The trench I had noticed earlier ran nearby to the east, dropping off to a depth my harvesters had not yet plumbed. There were three more prominent hydrothermic vents within five kilometers, as well as an entrance to a cave system that seemed like it would demand my personal attention. It was home to the things whose presence had saved me from the opportunistic creature. None of my scouts had yet achieved a close analysis of the massive, noisy creatures and lived.

I was excited to analyze the frequencies they used for echolocation. It would vastly improve my cartography efforts to obtain or imitate that mechanism, but my adaptive abilities without the Library hadn't been sufficient for me to reverse engineer it yet. The large predators were a problem, and I needed to figure out how to turn them into an opportunity.

More harvesters steadily arrived as I mused, continuing to expand my emplacement. I had constructed one dedicated computational organ for the Library. Soon, I'd be able to start building additional computational organs.


5.21e3 / 2.17e34 NODES VERIFIED



One of my harvesters scuttled across the ocean floor toward my fortified position, followed closely by an eager shape effortlessly cutting through the water with smooth, continuous motion. The harvester was missing a leg and stumbled wildly now and then, but it managed to stay just ahead of the creature behind it. It was ten meters away from my emplacement-- five meters--

The creature in pursuit lunged, its many teeth closing on the harvester. The harvester only twitched impotently, not deploying any of the defenses I had designed into my latest generation of probes.

As the attacker paused and began to bite down a second time, the silt of the seabed shifted and a tough but flexible tube half as wide as the predator rose up. The creature's jaw opened in confusion, then, with a dull thump, water began to be sucked into the tube with such force it adhered to the side of the predator, trapping it.

The creature thrashed, fighting to swim away, but the suction was too powerful. The flexible tube remained in contact with the skin of the creature as I began to release enzymes from glands in the fleshy ring at the end of the tube and pulled material from inside the creature into newly-constructed subterranean chambers I had constructed to contain samples for analysis.

Full utilization of the available geothermal power would be impossible until the Library was online, but I had been able to take advantage of fluid dynamics to build a vent-powered vacuum pump. I surveyed my work with satisfaction: a network of tubes restricted the flow of pressurized water, created low-pressure zones, and allowed me to construct the incredibly useful recovery tubes. I had grown eight of them out from my emplacement, and had begun using them to manually harvest small creatures and mineral deposits nearby.

After adding some additional reinforcements and weaponry, it seemed they were useful for subduing larger specimens as well. This test had gone off without a hitch. The opportunistic predators would pursue wounded prey, so a damaged harvester had been perfect bait.

The opportunistic predator disappointed me at first as I examined its biology; it appeared to be extremely similar to some of the creatures that had attacked me on the surface, with triangular serrated teeth. This variant had no eyes, however; it seemed that it used an entirely different sensory modality. Some kind of motion detection?

I saved its ghost for later interrogation and pulled most of its nerve material into my central chamber to be added to my growing Library processing core.

Once I could start deploying even the most rudimentary designs, my advantage over this world's life would be properly restored. It was only a matter of time.


1.12e4 / 2.17e34 NODES VERIFIED



Y7C:3DQ:H0R:6J8 1.8e12 HF HASHES

C4K:S0M:AB2:R26 3.2e13 HF HASHES

V1D:W9M:F4T:222 1.1e21 HF HASHES

Finally. Relief ran through me like a hot spike. The vast bulk of the Library's designs were still unavailable to me, but at least I could begin properly directing its reconstruction. This was the first of many choices to come; the nodes I prioritized for recovery would determine what kind of capabilities I would get first. Some of them would take longer than others to unlock.




This option would give me access to designs for useful compounds and nanostructures. It was very tempting, especially because it required the fewest cycles to recover, and I would need it before I could bring the factories online.




Advanced constructor units were a good deal faster than the generalized constructor units I had been working with. Advanced units could be specialized for efficiency, speed, or unique purposes.




I thought of the thermophilic microbes I'd discovered at the vent and the decidedly enticing prospect of exploring and expanding on the nucleic acids that formed the canvas for this world's evolved designs. The design framework was infuriatingly opaque, but I could accelerate my understanding by contrasting the genetic material of evolutionarily divergent designs, like the unicellular vent bacteria and the octopod creature whose original form was still discernible even in the midst of my ongoing modifications.

It meant I could get to work appropriating this world's biosphere. I didn't know what designs might be accessible next from the available surface of my partially-functional Library, but if I could suborn the DNA molecule, I could use the resources in my environment-- independently evolved life-- to expand the range of my senses as I continued to recover.

I selected V1D:W9M:F4T:222, sighing at the projected time to completion at my current holofractal hash rate. With only a single computational silo devoted to the operation, the hash rate was quite low.

It would grow, in time. As would I. I surveyed my burgeoning base of operations. Automated processes handled basic mapping, harvesting, and construction. New (if not yet improved) computational organs would come online shortly as my automated processes expanded the base.

Dreaming lumps of thinking flesh lay nestled under my body behind thickening layers of protection. They thrummed with their silent computations as they painstakingly wove together the shattered threads of my people's legacy.

Everything was under control. I adjusted my perception of the flow of time and watched the remaining hashes dwindle.

I remained in that dreamlike state until my automated processes screamed in alarm.

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