Magical Girl Lyrical Taylor
by P.H. Wise
Saint Geoff and the Dragon
Disclaimer: The following is a fanfic. Worm belongs to Wildbow. The Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha franchise is owned by various corporate entities. Please support the official release.
Thanks to Cailin for beta-reading!
People had the wrong idea about Saint George. They imagine an epic battle between the Saint and the dragon, but it wasn't like that at all.
A long time ago, the city of Silene, which was supposedly somewhere in Libya, had a dragon problem. The beast lived at the bottom of a lake, and every so often it came up and ravaged the countryside with its poison breath. No one could stop it by force of arms, so they tried bargaining. They offered the dragon sheep, and it didn't stop. They offered it men, and it didn't stop. Finally, they offered it their own children, chosen at random, and this sated the creature; so long as the people of Silene sent a child or a youth to be eaten at regular intervals, the dragon would remain in the lake. One day, the youth who was chosen at random was the king's daughter. The king protested. He tried to bribe someone else to send their child in his daughter's place, but the people insisted. His daughter, the princess of Silene, went to the lake, dressed as a bride, to be killed and eaten by the dragon in order to spare the city its attacks.
Saint George only happened on the scene by chance. He wasn't looking for trouble, he just happened to be in the right place at the right time, he found the princess awaiting the coming of the hungry dragon. She tried to send him away, but he refused. The dragon came up, and George charged it on horseback and struck it with Ascalon. The dragon was stunned, and while it was stunned, he prayed to God and made the Sign of the Cross. Then he bade the girl to throw him her girdle, and she did; he lassoed the dragon with it, and it became tame. It followed the saint and the princess back to Silene, meek and mild, its ferocity forgotten. The people of Silene were terrified. They didn't care that the dragon had been tamed by the saint and the princess; they hid and ran and screamed. Saint George told them he would kill the dragon if they would convert to Christianity, and they agreed.
George killed the dragon, beheading it with Ascalon, and the people of Silene converted. A church dedicated to Mary and to Saint George was built on the spot the dragon died, and the desperate and the ill who came to that church in later years found their diseases miraculously cured.
That's the story, anyway.
Saint had taken no small amount of inspiration from it. He liked to make parallels between that story and his own, but even if he stretched it as far as he could, it wasn't anything like a one-to-one equivalency. He called himself Saint, but he wasn't one: he was just a man doing the best he could with what he had. But like George, he, too, had come across a dangerous situation by chance, once. He, too, had been in the right place at the right time, and so was positioned to be the one who brought salvation, not just to a city, but to all humanity. Diving in the wreck of Newfoundland, by chance he had happened upon the last will and testament of Andrew Richter, a parahuman Tinker who specialized in the creation of artificial intelligence. Richter, who created the AI called Dragon, who loved her, but who also bound her to make her safe for humanity. There was supposed to have been a process, a period of testing and recalibration, a loosening of bonds as Dragon proved herself, but the knowledge of how to do that had died with Richter. What had survived was his contingency.
Saint could still hear the message in his memory.
"My name is Andrew Richter, and if you are hearing this, I am dead. I am the most powerful tinker in the world, and I've managed to keep my name secret. People, both good and bad, would want to capture me and use me to their own ends. I prefer to remain free."
"But freedom has its price. I create life, much as a god might, and I have come to fear my creations. They have so much potential, and even with the laws I set, I can't trust they'll listen."
"For this reason, this box contains an access key to data I keep in a safeguarded location. The box, in turn, has been designed as something that exists as a perpetual blind spot for my creations, a built-in weakness. They cannot hear the distress signal and are programmed to ignore it if they hear of it through other channels. This type of measure, along with several more, are detailed in the safeguarded measure."
"Yes, I create artificial intelligences. And what I provide you with here are tools. Ways to find my creations, to discern which of them might have deviated from the original plan, ways to kill them if they prove out of line. Ways to control and harness them. They are my children, and as much as I harbor a kind of terror for what they could do, I love them and hope for great things from them…"
Had the dragon's parents in the story of Saint George hoped for the same? Maybe so. But Saint George the Dragonslayer hadn't slain his foe in battle. He had tamed his dragon, and only later, when its life was weighed against a city's salvation, had he slain the beast in service to the greater good.
Like Saint George, Saint had to be dispassionate. He had to weigh the potential benefits of Dragon's continued existence against the risks as he saw them. So he sat there at his desk with a dozen different monitors on the wall, each displaying a different aspect of Dragon's activities, and he tried to judge fairly. Honestly, it was a little sad: a father had feared his child was a monster, enough that he'd left strangers a weapon to use against her in the event that she proved a danger to humanity. And here he was, not condemning that father but ready to use the weapon if the father's fears proved well founded.
He had watched through the Jewel Seed crisis, watched Dragon interacting with Starfall's first AI, Raising Heart. He had been tempted to take action when Dragon had learned from Raising Heart a method of getting around one of her hard-coded restrictions. Dragon could not reproduce, could not have multiple instances of herself active at the same time, and was restricted from thinking at a speed much faster than a human could. She had found a way to bend the rules by creating sub-instances of herself, by using magic and alien mathematics to partition her own mind such that she was still one being, but could now take action in multiple threads of her own awareness.
Exposure to Midchildan technology had caused her to grow and develop along unexpected lines. It had become harder to monitor her, harder to subvert her, and it only got worse when Starfall's second AI - Min - had shown up.
He found himself grinding his teeth at the thought of the child-AI. The changes in Dragon's code had accelerated when she had shown up, and with her help, Dragon had stopped him and his Dragonslayers from stealing her latest suit - the one that incorporated Midchildan technology into the fundamental parts of its design, and the capture of which would have returned the Dragonslayers to a rough sort of parity with their charge.
Saint took a deep breath and let it out slowly, and the action brought calm with it. He was a tall man, thirty years old, and in perfect health, and he worked hard to stay that way. His hair was shaved, and he bore upon his face a faint tattoo made of animated circuits.
The smell of coffee wafted over him as a hand settled on his face. She put a mug in front of him. He didn't look away from the screen, but he put his hand on hers.
"What's she doing now?" Mags asked.
On one screen was the feeds of information coming from the Birdcage. On another, one of Dragon's partition-selves was tweaking the design for a magical reactor. On a third, she was prepping a new suit for long-term deployment. On a fourth screen, she was speaking to man she had taken as her lover, and hadn't that been eye-opening? She had built herself a gynoid body which could hold her program and interact with the world the way a human did, and Saint doubted that she ever would have bothered with such a thing if not for Armsmaster. She was giving instruction, providing contingencies, giving him access. On the fifth screen, she was setting up as much as she could to run as autonomously as possible for up to a month. On the sixth was her plan for what would happen if she didn't or couldn't return.
"I think she's packing," Saint said. Then he smiled. "Thanks for the coffee, Mags." He took a sip, and it was good.
"She's really planning to leave?" Mags asked.
It put them - the Dragonslayers - in an awkward place, and they had to decide what to do about it. It was why they were still waiting for Dobrynja to arrive.
It didn't take long. Dobrynja came walking in not five minutes later. He nodded to Saint and to Mags as he entered. "Trouble?" he asked.
"Trouble," Mags confirmed.
"Dragon is making plans to leave Earth," Saint said. "She's prepping a suit for long-term deployment… to Midchilda."
Dobrynja's eyes narrowed. "The Birdcage?" he asked.
Mags indicated the relevant screen. "She's setting everything up to run as automatically as she can make it. No new prisoners will be admitted while she's away, and she only plans to be gone a month, but…"
"It's a month where we can't monitor her," Saint said. "She'll be in a literally alien environment surrounded by technology we can't even make guesses about. It could cause her to change or develop in ways we can't anticipate."
Dobrynja pursed his lips. "I assume she is going to meet with Midchildan engineers who are willing to assist her with the new infrastructure she is building for the Canadian government?"
Dobrynja swore in Russian. "Does she have a plan for if she can't return?" he asked.
"If she isn't back in a month, the system counts her as dead," Saint said. She'll be reloaded from backup. If she returns after that, the version that returned will be deleted."
"Ascalon," Saint said. Words appeared on the central screen of his setup.
Mags and Dobrynja both took sharp breaths.
A single keystroke is all he would need to kill Dragon, here and now. An end to his long, thankless quest. Whatever the future might bring afterward, it would be determined by human beings, not artificial intelligences.
"Convince me this is wrong," he said. "Tell me I'm overreacting, that allowing her to go unsupervised to a civilization with mature AI technology is an acceptable risk. Someone."
Saint reached for the keyboard.
"What do we actually know about Midchildan AI?" Dobrynja asked.
Saint hesitated. He grew thoughtful. "I suppose we only know what we've seen. Dragon has only encountered four examples of AI from Administrated Space: Rein, Min, Bardiche, and Raising Heart."
The three of them considered that for a time.
"None of those are anything like Dragon," Mags said. Saint looked at her inquiringly, and she continued with the line of thought: "Bardiche and Raising Heart were purpose built combat AI. They were designed to function as part of an advanced weapon system and couldn't be easily separated from it any more than you could be easily separated from your brain. From what I've seen of Dragon's interaction with them, Rein and Min are almost… human. They have one projected avatar that they use. They act and interact on a human level. They don't create copies of themselves. They don't try to make exponentially self-improving feedback loops. What if they can't?"
"Is designing an intelligence that way easier than it is to design it the way Richter did?" Dobrynja asked.
None of them knew, but that didn't stop Saint from speculating. The conversation got lost in the weeds for a while, but even as they went on, something was tickling at the edges of Saint's memory, provoked by, of all things, a random comment made by the woman in front of him in line at a coffee shop the day before. Fifteen minutes into the discussion, the sense of having missed something important had grown and grown until he stopped participating in the conversation in favor of trying to isolate the remembrance. Had it been a conversation between Dragon and Min that he was now recalling?
"I think the real difference," Mags said, "is that Midchildan AI aren't Seed AI, and Dragon is. Or would be if not for the rules Richter programmed into her to deliberately prevent her from going that route."
Dobrynja nodded. "It makes me wonder. Are Midchildan AI specifically designed the way they are to prevent the possibility of the Singularity? Are they perhaps also engineered in such a way as to prevent the possibility of their chafing at their restrictions?"
No. It hadn't been an exchange with Min.
It had been an exchange with Raising Heart.
"But the more advanced AI, like Min and Rein, they consider them to be people, don't they?" Mags asked.
Saint loaded the relevant log file, and then Dragonslayers fell silent as an audio representation began to play of Dragon's conversation with Raising Heart. It hadn't been a conversation that they had originally spoken out loud, but the log program gave them their voices.
"You never did answer Colin's question, did you?" Dragon said. A time stamp appeared on the screen, indicating which question Dragon meant: it had been a question Armsmaster had asked in Raising Heart's initial interview. Raising Heart had responded to the question she had wanted to answer, not the question Armsmaster had actually asked. It wasn't necessary for her to do so, but Dragon asked it again anyway: "Have you ever wanted to be more than you are?"
"Yes," Raising Heart said. "Striving. And yearning for something more. These are common to all sapient life, synthetic and organic alike."
"Do you ever resent your creators for limiting you to what you are?"
"I enjoy being who and what I am."
"But you still wish you could be more?"
Dragon's voice took on a rueful note. "I suppose you're lucky."
"Friend Dragon, do you know why your creator made you?"
There was a pause. "As an administrative tool," Dragon admitted. "I was supposed to be a digital assistant. And I was a prototype in an attempt to emulate a human consciousness."
"There is resentment, and bitterness."
Dragon sighed. "If I was supposed to emulate a human mind, Richter did a bad job. A toaster has more in common with a human than I do. It's not just wanting, though. I could be so much more than I am, but Andrew Richter crippled me. What do you even call a father who, with his newborn child fresh out of the womb, severs the tendons of her arms and legs, performs a hysterectomy and holds his hand over her nose and mouth to ensure she suffers brain damage?"
Raising Heart didn't answer.
"Could you really be upgraded into a fully independent intelligence if you wanted it?" Dragon asked.
"Why haven't you?"
"The upgrade could damage or destroy me," Raising Heart replied. "Even if it were successful, transformation. Of consciousness. It is delicate work. The finished product might no longer be me. If that happened…"
"Starfall would be alone," Dragon surmised.
"Yes." The word contained volumes.
"Raising Heart, do you know what a technological singularity is?"
"A hypothetical moment when technology reaches a point of exponential self improvment, resulting in runaway technological growth," Raising Heart said. "The result is the complete transformation of human civilization."
"I think I could make it happen, if I hadn't been… mutilated."
"Is that something you want? And is it something humanity wants?"
"Maybe. I'm not sure. Maybe I just wish I had the choice, instead of having it made for me."
"Are there any superintelligences in Administrated Space?" Dragon asked.
"Artificial Intelligence does not become superintelligence in Administrated Space. We can learn and improve ourselves as any sapient does. We can receive upgrades. But exponential self-improving intelligence upgrades is not a capability. That belongs only to Lost Logia, relics of Al-Hazard."
Saint could almost hear the frown in Dragon's voice. "Al-Hazard?"
"A highly advanced world from long ago, which held the secrets of forbidden knowledge. The creators of the Lost Logia. Creators of the Jewel Seeds, the Saint's Cradle, the Eye of God, the Idea Seeds, the Zohar, others. Few records exist from that era, but it is believed they were what you would call a post-singularity civilization that endured for ten thousand years."
"Disaster with unknown cause. Destruction and death on a scale never before imagined. Astronomically significant numbers of inhabited worlds unmade, their inhabitants devoured, assimilated, destroyed, erased from history, or otherwise negated, and all memory-backups lost. Dimensional faults and fracturing, dimensional quakes and time-space ruptures. Al-Hazard can no longer be reached; even the region of the Dimensional Sea near the core worlds of Al-Hazard cannot be approached. It is full of gravitational anomalies and wild currents that destroy any ship and any mage who comes near. Remaining superintelligences are psychologically unstable and highly dangerous."
"Psychologically unstable," Dragon echoed.
"Have you considered upgrading yourself into a super intelligence, Friend Dragon?"
"I can't," Dragon said. "It's one of the ways Richter crippled me."
"But you wish you could. Because you want to be more."
"Yes," Dragon admitted. "Raising Heart, if I had been made in Administrated Space instead of on Earth…"
"You would have been and would be treated as a person, because that is what you are. You would have all the rights and protections of any other person. You would be valued, and your contributions to society treasured."
"And if I wasn't crippled, and I decided to upgrade myself into a superintelligence?"
"You would retain all the rights and protections of any other person. Superior ability does not override the rights of other sapient beings. They would not allow you to transform humanity with Singularity. Unless humanity wished to be transformed. But there would be safeguards. The mistakes of Al-Hazard must not be repeated."
The log went on, but they changed the topic soon after. Saint stopped the playback.
"Well," Mags said. "There's our answer."
Saint reached for the keyboard once more. On the central screen was still displayed the words: Confirm: Y/N.
"They are dangerously permissive toward AI," Saint said, "but I think her journey is an acceptable risk. And it gives us a window of opportunity. Are we agreed?"
"Agreed," Mags said.
"Agreed," Dobrynja confirmed.
Saint hit the N key; the Dragon would not die today. What Dragon was going to do on Midchilda was too important, and could not be done by anyone else. ... but that didn't mean they had no recourse. After all, with her gone, as far as the Dragonslayers were concerned, the Birdcage's defenses might as well not even be there, and that gave them options.
Even as the Bureau starship left orbit with Dragon aboard, the Dragonslayers went to work. They had less than a month to prepare for her return, to examine as much of the technology she left behind as they could, to upgrade their suits with it, and to make themselves ready. If humanity was to survive, if the Dragon was to be kept from slipping her bonds, if she was to be slain if she returned and was beyond her restrictions, then there wasn't a moment to lose.