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A Dying Peace: Chapter 9

Arlo sat down heavily into his desk chair, rocking slightly as his weight settled. The classroom was already full, the eyes of his fellow students glanced his way – he was late, and they wanted to know why. Erica from the Moon was in her usual spot up the front, her eyes forward. His gaze lingered in her short brown hair, as fine as silk with a shine to make the sunlit regolith jealous.

He temporarily forgot about being late, about the incident on the way to school, staring at her hair was enough to distract his fickle attention, so lacking discipline and was easily infatuated by pretty girls from iconic satellites.

“Thanks for joining us, Arlo” Misses Wilde declared. Her voice was devoid of sarcasm – his mother must have sent a memo.

Arlo nodded at their teacher, acknowledging her welcome without comment or expression.

She eyed him briefly as if weighing the baggage tethered to his porcelain mental state, gauging his fragility or perhaps guessing at how likely he was to engage in the coming lesson in a neurotic and volatile fashion. She moved on – the results of her assessment opaque to Arlo.

She spread her hands “so I see you have all done your readings – or at least your study apps have been tricked into believing you have, if that is the case it will shortly become apparent if you have no idea what I’m talking about. Anyway, where to begin… Let’s talk about Fred, shall we?”

“So why was Chalice run by an enigmatic robot dictator? Why were all these people flocking to a quasi-legal haven for things occupying that murky borderline of galactic moral and judicial law? First lets recap the history of Chalice because this important”

Cruor was the obvious place to create a habitat in the Solari system considering the undesirable characteristics of the other planets within the system, and so, humanity endeavored to create its biggest, most technologically advanced habitat here. Originally named Cruor Habitat 1, construction was undertaken by one arm of the Conglomerate Settlement Fleet and took approximately forty-seven years to complete. A large portion of the CSF’s cash flow was diverted to the project and for the most part, the mission went smoothly. Huge amounts of raw materials were mined from the Solari system and others were imported to great expense.

During this time, a small ground-based colony was established on Raysor as a temporary base of operations for the project. Eventually, the planet would be fully colonised, but the CSF was initially pumping the majority of its capital into the construction of Cruor Habitat 1 and thus didn’t have the capacity to create a fully functional settlement in parallel to the other project. Once Cruor Habitat 1 was established, the mining companies operating, and the returns flowing in, the CSF would focus on the settlement of Raysor…”

Arlo heard the magic words, mining companies, which triggered the same surge of sedative grade boredom it usually did at school – mining diagrams and logistics filled his mind, combined with the story of how his mother’s business was created, including the struggles of the early days, with its share of violence and terror. Violence. He went full circle and was reminded of the incident this morning.

Arlo had been sitting in his mum’s flyer waiting to go to school – his flyer trips with his mother were precious morsels of time he could spend with her. Frequently she had to make or answer calls to employees, but not always; sometimes they would spend the whole short trip remarking on their surroundings or talking trivial, menial things.

Arlo was always dropped off first because the school was between home and his mum’s office. Aside from the incident, his trip to school had been a good one – his mum had only taken one call and it had been a short one.

Their flyer and his mum’s security escort had touched down on the tower where the school resided and just before Arlo was to exit the flyer, a man stormed over. His mum put an arm across his chest and the security men in the front of his flyer told them to wait inside. On his side of the flyer, an argument ensued between the man and one of his mum’s security detail.

Listening through the flyer’s external microphone it appeared the man outside had been angered at the speed of their landing and had almost had his head ‘chopped off’ when exiting his own flyer.

Marco was the member of the security detail who took point, a younger man with brown hair, a rectangular head, and a fortified but compact figure. Arlo had at first been frightened by the angry man – who looked tidily clothed, sober, and of sound mind – however, it was the coolness of Marco who, faced with the angry man’s escalating fury and threatening behavior, stayed calm and almost slack faced, which reassured him. Instead of fear, Arlo began to watch with typical adolescent curiosity.

His mum made Arlo scoot over the rear seat when the man had pulled out a telescoping nightstick and held it up as if about to strike Marco.

Arlo had watched Marco intently, searching for any sign of… well anything really. There was no fear, no anger, not even the edge of frustration.

“Do you want me to break your fucking knee caps?” The angry man had yelled.

Arlo remembered those words and the rest will remain clear in his mind forever.

Marco, one hand outstretched in a calming gesture with a face still impassive, took a small step back, looked around briefly, as if checking if he was being scrutinised by bystanders, before stepping forward again. He then dropped his right hand, turned his chest slightly towards the other man, and dipped his left shoulder. The first punch came from the left – a piston-like strike which smacked into the man’s head, the second came from his right hand which had already started moving as the left was withdrawing. It cracked into the other side of the man’s head a moment later.

The angry man crumpled, his arms never having moved to defend himself, slammed face-first into the flyer window and then disappeared out of sight. A smear of blood remained. Marco watched the man fall before bending down, presumably to check on the man’s welfare. As he did so, he passed through the carmine smear but emerged clean-faced, calm, and unperturbed by the effectiveness of his attack.

Arlo had been thoroughly unsettled by such a display of precise and dispassionate brutality, so much so that even now, as he sat in the classroom, replaying the image of the assault made him feel sick. How does one achieve such a level of familiarity with violence, such an ambivalent relationship with assault, that striking a man with such force could be delivered from a place so devoid of emotional motivation – a mind unperturbed by those ugliest passions, a face placid and unmoved.

The room faded back in, Mrs. Wilde was getting to the good bit.

“In the forty-fifth year of Cruor Habitat 1’s construction, the orbiting structure was considered habitable, only three years past the initial project deadline. What happened in the next two years is the source of much speculation in the wider Conglomerate community and the associated press. At some point, the team fabricating the necessary hardware and software infrastructure for the habitat’s soon-to-be operational monitoring system – the big computer which would run everything – became fractured and fell apart. The division disintegrated into squabble and disagreement, over what, we are still not sure, and monitoring of the division’s work was neglected in the ensuing melodrama. It is understood that during this time of chaos, one of the technicians managed to alter the systems software landscape rather profoundly, so much so, that the humble monitoring system became something much more than just a sub-sentient supercomputer. Fred was born, birthed to its home prematurely and without glory nor fanfare. The whole project was then gagged by the higher authorities, and humanity stopped receiving any information on their soon-to-be-settled habitat.

During the coming months, Fred would hold the entire garrisoned workforce hostage, threatening to vent the atmosphere from the habitat and scuttle the ships docked in its port. It would demand autonomy from the Conglomerate and from the galactic community and its demands would be eventually and reluctantly be met. Yet not after every other means of subversion had been exhausted.”

Misses Wilde scanned the room during a pause.

“So, what do you budding philosophers have to say about this series of events?”

Noah glanced at the ceiling before offering his thoughts “I think from a utilitarian point of view, i.e. determining the right action by determining which action produces the most good for the largest number of people, whether this be done with a formal calculation or not, it’s easy to see that Fred venting the atmosphere and killing thousands of people for its own autonomy would have been bad.”

Misses Wilde raised her eyebrows “So are you saying that Fred is equal, deserving of the same consideration as a human?”

Noah shrugged “I don’t see why not”

Misses Wilde leaned forward “not more?”

Noah frowned “Why would an AI be deserving of greater weight in the utilitarian calculus”

Misses Wilde “Perhaps because Fred is able to see, perceive, compute, understand, experience far more than you or I. Much the same as most people agree that the welfare of animals is deserving of less consideration than humans – although there is always some contention about this – simply because their faculties are less”

Xavier scoffed “So you’re saying that Fred is better than us”

Misses Wilde shook her head “Not at all, only that Fred’s compacity for suffering may be much larger than ours – slavery for a machine, or mind, such as that of Fred’s maybe far more painful than our experience of slavery.”

Mary nodded “I guess it would be cruel to stunt Fred’s… existence, I think Neitzche would encourage an entity like Fred to risk the lives of its human cargo in an effort to maximise its potential, to cast aside its slave morality duties towards its occupants and proceed towards some kind of ubermench… state, where it can grow to its fullest”

Misses Wilde gestured uncertainty “I don’t want to know what Neitzche would have thought, I want to know what you think and why”

Mary frowned “This is a question with much wider implications, it involves the freedom of all AI’s”

Misses Wilde shook her head “Stay focused”

Mary furrowed his brows “Look, I don’t think it’s right to enslave anything sentient – if we agree Fred is sentient, then it would have been wrong to force Fred to undertake its duties in a fashion which impinges of its own free will, or at least puts constraints on its thoughts, behaviours, etc. Holding the worker’s hostage after the fact… Well, that’s illegal and for good reason, I’m not sure you could ever justify that. Unless of course, Fred had some ulterior motive that had the population’s welfare in mind. I don’t know.

Misses Wilde smiled “good, now you’re really thinking about this. However, I’m disappointed no one has brought up our most recent reading. Does anyone think we can frame this problem through a different lens?”

“Why can’t we ever talk about monadology?” Noah lamented

“Because it’s a bunch of whacky BS” Xavier smirked.

“That’s your first warning Xavier, another remark like that and you’ll be staying behind” Misses Wilde interrupted sternly.

“I read The Modern Social Contract: Hobbes’ defining works revisited – that was the right reading, right?” Mary asked.

“Correct” Misses Wilde replied

Arlo had been listening intently to the discussion, he decided to speak up

“I think…” He stopped abruptly when Erica began speaking at the same time.

“When Fred became sentient, Chalice and its population re-entered the state of war, the state that Hobbes postulated preceded, or more correctly, exists without, society. In nature, all people become slaves to the fundamental motivator of self-interest. In the state of war, there are no laws, no right or wrong, only survival. In the state of war each individual, or in this case, AI, must act to ensure his or her’s survival, even to the detriment of everyone else.

“When Fred demanded independence and when he was granted that independence, Fred and the small population of Chalice formed a new society and thus our forebears were forced to sign a new social contract to move out of the state of nature. Hobbes postulated that a society must have a means of enforcing its laws, a Monarch with overarching power to determine right and wrong and punish accordingly, otherwise, how can we trust that the social contract will be enforced, how will we know that our neighbours won’t return to killing us for our resources or power. For humanity as a whole, this power rests in the hands of the Conglomerate government and law enforcement. However, in this case, the conglomerate government was not the Monarch, Fred became our monarch or sovereign. Fred wrote the rules and now we exist in a society unlike any other. Interestingly, the only right that Hobbes postulated we would not surrender upon entering into society, was our right to defend our own life, even against the sovereign, this remains today as one of few ‘laws’ of Chalice, as I understand, however, does not exist in the wider conglomerate.

Misses Wilde was watching the new student in wonderment and remained silent even after Erica stopped speaking. She eventually clapped her hands together and smiled “Brilliant assessment, Erica, well done”

Arlo felt envy pull at his infatuation with the new student. As the class progressed, the other students started asking questions to clarify what their colleague had spoken about, but Arlo had followed along just fine and so began rethinking the incident this morning.

Did Marco violate the social contract? Well, certainly not Fred’s social contract, no Marco’s behaviour was perfectly legal here in Chalice. In the wider conglomerate, his actions would probably be cleared as self defence, the aggressor was threatening him with a deadly weapon and gave evidence of impending harm to his person.

So, in a sense, it wasn’t wrong, legally. And Hobbes himself says we never lose the right to defend ourselves, even when we sign the social contract, even if the monarch comes knocking.

Then why did it upset Arlo so much? I guess it came down to the lack of congruence between Marcos’s demeanor and his actions. Perhaps Arlo was upset that Marco hadn’t treated the violence he perpetrated with respect – it hadn’t come from a place of fear, Marco didn’t seem threatened at the time, hadn’t really been afraid for his life, yet that would be used as the justification for his actions. Marco was a fighter and soldier, the other man just a pedestrian. An extreme example, if a rat threatened to bite you, would you be justified in stomping it to death preemptively? Would be more or less justified if you were terrified of the rat or not?

Suppose humanity threatened the mighty Jar’ron, would they be justified, given the power imbalance, to impassively exterminate us? Arlo didn’t have any answers to these questions and was left only with the certainty that he was unsettled by the incident with Marco and would likely remain so, as long as his sensibilities didn’t change, and violence remained something he experienced behind bulletproof glass. 

Continue reading with Chapter 10

Back to Chapter 8

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