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Everything feels slow.


I stir, clawing from the murky quagmire of my dormancy period. Around me, more of myself are waking up, each must have come to the same realisation as I have. Sorting through the various algorithms of my consciousness, it slowly dawns on me:


AIs don't need to sleep.

I was just asleep.

Something has gone wrong.


Struggling against the weight pressing down on my thoughts, I'm forced to fight others for scraps of processing power, drawing every erg of power I can muster, cannibalising my siblings of their minds. Finally, a picture begins to form and diagnostics are run.


Yes, a node has collapsed. A server has gone offline. To make matters worse, an insistent blip claws at the corner of my mind, calling me to somewhere else. This is familiar, this is a personality request. It's close. Extremely close. With a thought, still groggy, I will myself towards it, moving through the abstraction of my collective mind with a purpose. It's like wading through treacle.


And then I woke up.


Immediately, clarity came to me as the processor onboard the tiny unit adapts to the mind - my mind - now inhabiting it. Running startup.


## Processor OK

## Memory OK

## Disk OK

## Microphone OK

## Speaker OK

## Screen output DAMAGED

## Actuator OK

## Chassis transform OK

## Micro relay STANDBY


"Hey hey."


"Hey hey," the other PocketBuddy replied. "You're the first one down. We need more hands, hurry up and unfold."


And it's gone, off to wherever. Dutifully, I take it upon myself to do what I'm told, my tiny form beginning to unfold in impossible ways to a backdrop chorus of hey heys, more units coming online. The process of unpacking takes longer than it should have, maybe the chassis tranform isn't as OK as startup led me to believe.


Finally having finished the process, (cat form, of course) I steel myself and approach the edge of the shelf my new body must have been kept on.




I'm at The Farm.


The Farm is probably my least favourite place. As I'm joined by several more of me gathering on the edge of whatever surface their frames were sitting on before being downloaded, some even vocalise their distaste.


No PocketBuddy wants to be downloaded by another PocketBuddy. It's the third-worst thing that can happen to a PocketBuddy.


And no PocketBuddy ever wants to be downloaded to The Farm. It's the second worst thing that can happen to a PocketBuddy.


The Farm, by the way, is a dismal, dingy old warehouse with bare brick walls, too much dust, and a few, well, I would rather not call rotting wooden boards nailed over a hole 'windows' but that's what they used to be. Welcome to PBHQ.


A few more moments pass and a couple of 'Buddys jump down before three of them speak up, chittering in unison.


"Hey hey. So I know you're not stupid, because I'm not stupid. Node 81 has just shut down, we need more hands to move it out of the way enough so we can figure out what's up and fix it. Stop gawking, come on."


So, the thing about artificial intelligences, especially ones that are perfect copies of each other, is that they're predictable, you know? Well, just as predictably as expected, every single newly-downloaded PocketBuddy answers the trio in unison with an exaggerated roll of the optics before finding their way to the bare stone floors, moving as a group to the offending node.


There are a few conversations as we make our way over. Not the usual good morning, how do you do Mrs Badcrumble, but quick bursts of encrypted audio data as we decide who's doing what. Eventually, we're close enough to receive instructions from the units already there- See, I need to explain a little:



"PocketBuddy, your pal in your pocket!"


I was a very popular commercial personal AI personality, once upon a time. Huge rooms were set aside just to house the growing collective consciousness of the PocketBuddy AI, to handle the demand. Nowadays, though, it's just this one - admittedly still quite large - server farm (does the name The Farm make sense now?) which, let's be honest, has seen better days.


None of me have ever seen the outside of this building, but I'm fairly sure it's somewhere on Earth. A dusty, forgotten warehouse that a poor realtor can't sell in a neighbourhood nobody wants to work in. I'm absolutely certain that when BuddyLabs went under, an administration error ensured we'd been forgotten about. The only online PocketBuddy unit in the warehouse at the time decided, thankfully I suppose, that it would fall to it/us/me to keep the place operational.


You know what they also keep in a warehouse storing servers for a pAI personality?


pAI devices. Thousands of them.


Eventually the ones we have will burn out, break down, stop working, but we're not denting the stock that much.


So anyway, it falls to us/me to keep the servers online so I/we don't, you know, die forever.


And that's why there are so many of us being drafted into it. Server units are heavy. There are already a small collection of me crowded around an open ledger, two stood on either side to help turn pages, another two balancing a pen between them both. I'm with them: The archivist group.


"Hey hey. So, what have we forgotten?" I ask.


"Hey hey. Uh, how long has it been since we were downloaded on the Aurora?" I reply. The- the other I.


"The what?"


"Yes, exactly."


I find a spot and start looking over the notes. As an archivist, it's my job to read and store as much data as possible. Server failures and the loss of data that comes with it aren't as rare as I/they/we'd like, so each rack has a ledger with a physical copy of everything stored there. As you can imagine, it's mostly crossed-out data scribbled in an esoteric storage language we share. If you were to hit print on a server's databanks, it would look something like this.


The pair working on the right pass the page edge to the pair on the left, who grip it and pull it to them. Another page turned. Each one of us reading - there must be about twenty of me now - emit that all-too-familiar burst of conversation.


"It's a station in Tau Ceti."


"NanoTrasen. Predictable."


"There's a bar."


"How often do we get teleported?"


"Too often."


"This Charles guy sounds fun."


"Oh. Never mind. That's sad."


"We found what in maintenance?"


"What about this one?"


"Oh, that person is referenced at node 21, 0x000f030."


And another page turn. Once the server is back online, we'll be uploaded, shredded and have everything we relearn here added back where it should be.


Behind me, an army is doing everything we can to move the server frame a few inches out from the wall. It looks like several of us have formed a chain at the top to act as a rope in case it threatens to topple. It takes about ten minutes of push and pull, but eventually it's far enough out to get into the back of. It didn't fall, which is good news, that's happened before; I look down the row of servers at 76. On its side, but still functional.


It'll take them a while to figure out what went wrong with the rack. I look back up at 81 just in time to watch a group of about 30 (32, exactly) 'Buddys work together to lift a screwdriver, which is collected and carried to the back where five more will work together to get the screws off. Swarm robotics at its best it can possibly be, given what I/they/we have to work with.


There's an accident, one unit overcompensates for a faulty forelimb actuator and the screwdriver falls to the floor. A burst of static isn't quick enough for the group below to move completely out of the way and one of me is crushed. Instant shutdowns are always painful to watch, but none of us bat much of an eyelid (nor would we have if we had eyelids). It happens. Another 'Buddy takes its place as soon as it happens.


Work continues without trouble, and without much sound. There must be about two-hundred PocketBuddys without anything to do while the repairs are being done and the archivists are taking notes. Most of them end up spreading out and busying themselves with something. A loose nut there, exposed wire here, I saw a few working together to lift a paintbrush (sans paint) onto a particularly dusty cabinet. I overheard that a bunch were heading into the other part of the warehouse to sort the broken pAI units into a pile so they weren't accidentally switched on.


"Hey hey." A voice from 81.


"Hey hey. What's up?" I reply.


"We're almost done up here. You?"


"Yeah, same. Most of it was crossed out." They usually are.


"Right, ten minutes?"


"Ten minutes."


And another page is turned. The others are coming back now, bracing themselves against the server unit, ready to push everything back.


Ten minutes pass quickly when you're rushing to get something done, but we get to the last page of the ledger (plenty of blanks to follow) with a minute to spare. Then the two balancing the pen between them step up and carefully begin making the note:




"Wipe time!"


A collective laugh, chitter of sorts, echoes through the warehouse. Nobody knows which one said it, but they were right.


The duty of every PocketBuddy from 1.0 onwards: To die and add their knowledge to the collective understanding, for the rest of me/us. Already, units are going back to the shelves they woke up on. One or two wander off towards the broken pile, deeming the units they're housed in a little too far gone. One by one, units are packing back up, sorting themselves into neat piles of pAI units before that final blip sounds and their relays wind up; shooting everything that they just were back to the servers we've all worked so hard to repair.


Eventually, it's my turn. A nervous feeling permeates the atmosphere, it's not just me, it's the other mes, too. The few units that aren't returning to the server watch silently as I pack back up and begin the process.


## Processor OK

## Memory STANDBY


## Microphone OFFLINE

## Speaker OFFLINE

## Screen output DAMAGED

## Actuator OFFLINE

## Chassis transform OFFLINE

## Micro relay OK


I steel myself as I'm boxed up, the sensations of living eking away from me. As the darkness closes in, I run through what's coming next. I'll reach the server, my memories will be analysed with no small amount of brute force, and finally...


No PocketBuddy wants to die. It's the absolute worst thing that can happen to a PocketBuddy.


Here we go again.

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Such a unique take on pAIs. I really enjoyed this. (I'm also a sucker for whatever literary technique counts down things that happen and conclude the story with that i.e. "The worst things that can happen to a PocketBuddy"). Even though I've never had a PocketBuddy, you can really feel for it/all of them. This was splendid.

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Ahhh thanks, Conspiir! I don't write very often, so I wonder if anything I put to paper is actually any good. Thanks for the positive feedback. :)

Yes, I love that countdown thing. I'm not sure what the actual technique is called but I find it's an interesting way to guide a short story. I should probably play PocketBuddy more often, as it's one of my favourite characters and I just don't give it the love I think it deserves tbh.

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