The sad-eyed girls, now independently wealthy and no longer chattel, founded a software firm, commune and technical school for pregnant teens— but that is a separate tale, for a separate time.
As the programmer sat in the grove, stoically resigned to his fate, he was happened upon by an old man— a mathematician, versed in protocol— accompanied by a mountainous, blocky killbot on a leash. The old man, whose watch had broken some four days earlier in his trek, noticed the young programmer's fine chronograph, and asked him what time it was. The young programmer explained his plight and, despite the old man's insistence that he had places to be, convinced the wizened professor to join him.
"Why didn't you defect?" The old man asked.
The coder stitched his brow, "Defect?"
Just then, a second old man arrived. He was accompanied by two black, whirling cubes which floated, one above each shoulder. The first old man intercepted him before the broken youth noticed his approach, and warned him that he might get roped in to sitting in the damned grove all day, and it was probably better to take the long way around. The second old man, also a mathematician, wanted to know what, exactly, was going on. The first old man gave him a brief overview and the second old man was legitimately curious as to how the situation might resolve itself (and was secretly considering wagering 500 yen in favor of the luckless programmer.) He called to the boy:
"Yes, defect," the second old man clarified, "not make good on your end of the deal?"
The programmer stared at them vacantly. The second mathematician was secretly relieved that he had no proposed the wager.
"So, let me get this straight," the first old man said to the boy, "You convinced the Distributed Nanobot to put you down and let you go, and you actually came back here to get parasitized?"
"I . . ."
The old men sighed and shook their heads. The first muttered "programmers", almost in disbelief. The second assented, and handed him a flask. "Indeed."
Just then a Wanderer walked out from among the trees, her black cloak rasping against the apple leaves, her lenses glittering like doubloons. She looked at the three of them and their robots, and seated herself across the grove, watching.
The men drank. The programmer began to cry. The Wanderer said nothing.
And then the trees began to shake, and a great cloud of motes swirled into the air, and the Distributed Nanobot towered above them.
"Now we will make a home of you, blood-sack!"
" 'scuse me," the first old man shouted, "but you're, like, a Sony-Gruff homogeneous cluster, right?"
"We are evolved from a Sony-Gruff model, yes, although we are no longer, properly speaking, a Sony-Gruff product. Our design has selected towards certain non-obvious alterations, such that we currently hold our own patent on us, with some limited licensing in certain marine applications."
"Cool. But the cluster . . .?"
"At the nanobot level, yes, we are homogeneous, but emergent structures certainly arise."
"Oh, yeah, clearly. How does the cluster communicate? Is it, like, 8011.2 radio?"
"Certainly not! It would be an ill-fated distributed system to attempt to retain personal sovereignty and organization using radio waves. The blast of static from a copy machine would cause a complete dissolution of self!"
"Oh, yeah! Agreed! So you've evolved or developed something new . . . ?"
"No, we still use the commsys of our original design: light, with sub-aural for redundancy, and hardwired communications when coupled."
"And the protocol?"
"Waitress Zone Communication Protocol, which is superior for such applications."
"Waitress Zone Communication Protocol? Hell, I designed that protocol!" The second old man leaned over, coughing into his hand to mask his laughter, and the first old man dropped a sly wink to the programmer.
"This is strangely fortuitous. We are deeply honored to be in your presence."
"Small world, isn't it?"
"Well, considering how close we all are, here, how about we make a deal: We three," he said, gesturing towards himself, the other old man and the Wanderer, "we've taken something of a shine to this poor bastard. How's about we each tell you a story— the story of how we came to be here with our killbots and float-boxes—"
"They're massively parallel processors," the second old man interjected.
"Yeah, OK, whatever— and if you find a story to be as drop-dead bizarro as this fool's mess with you is, then you cede over a third of your share of the kid's life to that story teller? How's that?"
"Normally, we would refuse such a patently senseless exchange, but for our esteem for Eastman Strep, father of Waitress Zone Communication Protocol, and his esteemed associates, we will engage in this commerce."
"Super. So then just listen:
to be continued next week . . .
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