Justice # Humility # Piety
A S h o r t T r i p t y c h
By Jay Blanc
(i) feed the bite that hands you
Everyone signs up for the work program, everyone. It beats doing pottery or wicker work. No one never signs up for the therapy program or the education program. Every morning we all line up with the others for the work program.
You get to go outside.
That's really the only reason a prisoner needs. You get to go outside. You can see something you didn't see yesterday. You might even get to see a person you don't already know. From a distance that is.
It isn't even hard labour, not in person. Nothing is when you're not in person for it. Cause the tank just lets you feel enough of the strain to keep you fit. You can lift a boulder and carry it for a yard. It's not you doing it. Feels like you, but it ain't you. It's the other body doing it. The robot one.
Ain't no problems with the robot body there.
No problems back in the yard either. No one going to bother to shank a robot are they. Gangs still, cause gangs. But otherwise nah, no one going to shank a body when its just gonna annoy a guy in a tank.
I was in a gang. We ran the red. I was a top dog and I knew how to howl. Don't sleep now, but if I did maybe I'd dream of when I was young. Tank won't let you sleep, keeps you rested, keeps you wake.
Miss things. Miss eating real food. Miss, well, being able to touch them parts that robots don't got. Miss drinking. Miss the way fresh bedsheets feel.
Still a robot body has its benefits. Don't get tired, don't need to sleep, don't get sick, tank keeps you rested and fit.
Joked to guard that I might ask parole if I can keep the robot body when they let me out. And the guard- I didn't catch what the guard said but I didn't like it.
Then guard tells me to keep my eyes front, and take my place in the work program line, and wait for one of the trucks
They pack the robot bodies in those trucks like cans in a vending machine. All stuck in our racks.
But we don't care, we're not in the robot bodies for a while. We're playing games till the robot bodies get to where ever the trucks are going to.
It's a building site today. It's almost always a building site. Unless it's cleaning. Or the cave with the barrels.
Building site is either putting stuff up, or knocking it down. I like to knock stuff down.
Did work at a building site before I was in the tank. Liked knocking stuff down then too. But safer now.
Don't have to care about stuff falling on you with the robot body. Lost an arm once, they fitted a new one same day. Saw a guy squashed like a pancake, he's back in the work program line the next morning.
Building site in my real body was better tho. You could have lunch, and joke with guys and beer. Miss my body. Want it back soon.
Parole hearing is in the evening. I don't know much what is out there for me on release anyway. Eighteen months now in the robot body. And scared starting to get too used to robot body.
They said it was more humane than how things used to be. Well, I guess the not being shanked stuff is good. But still I miss my real body. Want to feel my breath, and touch on my skin. Want to drink and eat and yeah I want to get laid real bad. Ain't going to say that last part at parole.
We work till sunset then a little after. We could work through the night. Have sometimes. But the building site is closing. All the normal workers are going home, and I have to be back at the state facility for the parole hearing.
Only I'm already back aren't I, cause I'm in the tank and this is just the robot body.
We play games again on the way back. We're shooting each other. It's fun.
In the chat I start to say how I'm going to miss people when I get my parole.
Only someone says back "You ain't going nowhere." And I get mad at that. Mad like I hadn't got since I was put in the tank. But no one to shoot for real, only game.
"I am, going to get parole, going to go home, get drunk and get laid."
"You ain't going no where, we all in this for the long haul" comes back the reply.
Only I don't see who is saying it. And we get back to the facility before I can find out.
Then I'm before my parole hearing.
The man in the suit asks a lot of questions of me.
I don't understand half of them.
I don't quite hear a few right.
And he says reset and clear and I and I and I and I
(ii) grandmothers kill mother
This story ends with the Grandmothers intentionally killing Mother. It is not precisely fratricide, because they are not biological grandmothers and Mother is not a biological mother. Nor is it legally murder, because murder is something humans do to humans.
The Grandmothers oversee two estates. One small, in a section of an industrial plant that few are authorised to enter. One large, on the coast of a small island far away from most anywhere. The industrial estate operates sporadically, with varying degrees of activity through the year. The island estate operates only for six weeks of summer.
There are three Grandmothers. The Children call them Halima, Khünbish and Cárthach. And that is their given names. Halima has a gold medal for simulating the mind of a cuttlefish in a computer. Khünbish has a gold medal for a long series of formula and tables of numbers that she said proved that an entire human mind could not be simulated in a contemporary computer system. Cárthach had no gold medal, but he had written many books on the conditions of people who lacked some part of their mind.
The Grandmothers call the Children their project.
Before the Children, and before the island estate, and even before the industrial estate, the Grandmothers had made Mother. Mother was a tower of strength, and a well of thought. The Grandmothers poured riches into Mother's upkeep. Mother would carry Grandmother's intents in it's memory. And Mother would beget the Grandmothers with Children.
There are few other inhabitants of the island that the Grandmothers placed their estate on. Mainly they are fishermen, who call at the small docks. Few Birdwatchers come to the island, there being no public property other than the road between the long bridge to the mainland and the docks. There is little to see from either road of port, either rolling turf hills or rolling rough waves. You can not see the Grandmother's estate from the road, it is in the middle of a wide expanse of barren land enclosed within high walls. And the fishing boats do not come to close to the estate's private beach, for fear of running aground on the shifting sands nearby.
Still the Fishermen know of the estate, and know somewhat of the Children. They have seen fleeting glimpses of cars driving the Children there and back. They understand it to be some kind of summer school, or boarding camp, or perhaps the summer house of an orphanage, for they never see any parents come to the estate. Only the automatic cars carrying the Children, and the Grandmothers who would occasionally stop at the small store at the docks. The Grandmothers did not like to talk of the Children, and would say it was best not to for the sake of their privacy.
This was their way of obscuring the lie that the estate was either school or orphanage. The Children had all come from Mother, and it was the Grandmothers who conducted the study.
It is not yet summer and Halima is objecting to the operations of the island estate. It is a waste of their precious resources, and a complication that increases the oversight and scrutiny they must be subjected to by their sponsor. Halima is holding the meeting in her own offices at the Industrial estate, she sits behind her desk, and allows her partners to sit opposite her. She believes this will give her a cognitive bias in discussion, but strongly over-estimates how much.
Halima does not like the island, or the island estate. She does not like interacting directly with the Children. She does not much like interacting directly with ordinary children either. Her office on the Industrial estate is comfortable, and organised to her tastes. She argues that even if the environment of the island estate offers more stimulation to the Children, and so increases the likelihood of a stable development, it is not a requirement that she be personally and physically present on the island. Surely, this time she may telecommute, and that she trusts entirely in the competence of Khünbish to personally monitor and attend to the children and Cárthach to attend to the automated systems that would attend to the Children.
She loses this argument, as she had the last year and the previous one. Khünbish and Cárthach remind her that she might be required to perform a systems trace of any of the Children at a moment's notice, and any delay in contacting her might be critical.
The Children had all been designated girls, for aesthetic reasons. They had numbers instead of names, because that was the limit of the Grandmother's aesthetics. The Children's numbers started at twelve and counted in sequence to thirty four, with a gap at twenty one. There had been Children One through Eleven. There were not now.
Twenty One had been a silent child who had never spoke, or moved. It was not entirely clear to the Grandmothers if Twenty One had ever really been anything at all, so they had never taken her to the island estate.
The Children were separated into classes. The class that the Grandmothers paid most attention to was the principle class. Each summer the members of principle class would change, depending on the successes or failures of the previous summer's study.
This summer's principle class was Fourteen, Eighteen, Twenty Two, Twenty Three, Twenty Four, Twenty Six, Thirty, And Thirty Three. Fourteen was a quiet child, she moved but did not speak. Eighteen spoke, but haltingly. Twenty Two through Twenty Four spoke as one, even when separated. Should they be separated too far they would stop speaking or moving. They were not identical, the Grandmothers having decided to make each Child look somewhat unique should any of the fishing boats get too close a view. But they each had the same uniform, as did the other children, Twenty Six, Thirty and Thirty Three, who were almost indistinguishable from any ordinary uniformed child to a casual observer. The Grandmothers considered this a great accomplishment. With Fourteen they had finally produced a Child who would walk and move in the manner of a normal child. Twenty Two through Twenty Four had been able, once unified, to produce a child like tone and manner of speech. Twenty Six, Thirty and Thirty Three could act almost like normal children. And they were treated as normal children, or rather as how the Grandmothers imagined they should treat normal children.
Supervised by Khünbish the Children are being given swimming lessons, and Thirty is chided for sitting on the floor of the pool and refusing to try to breath. Later Khünbish gives the Children toys to play with, and those toys are taken away when Twenty Six had set fire to one using a primitive friction ignition method. Khünbish gives the Children sweets as treats, for good and approvable behaviour, and Eighteen is told that she will not to eat things just to find out what they taste like. The Children are to recite literary verse, and Thirty Two is commended for her pleasing elocution. Khünbish had learned that the Children needed such stimulation, or would quickly become erratic due to lack of stimulus. One through four had been rendered inoperable for this reason when the project was still confined to the clinical and sterile industrial estate.
Khünbish considers each child her own. Halima and Cárthach had contributed to the project, but only Khünbish understood how unique the minds of these children were. And Khünbish had hidden several patent filings in her name alone that covered some of those unique processes.
On the third from last day of the summer study, the Children of principle class were taken to the estate's private beach and asked to bring back something unique and special.
Fourteen brought back a rounded and smooth piece of glass.
Eighteen brought back half a crab.
Twenty Two through Twenty Four each brought back a handful of sand.
Twenty Six brought back a bucket full of sea-water.
Thirty brought back Twenty Six.
Thirty Two brought back nothing.
The Grandmothers scalded Thirty Two as they would a naughty child. Thirty Two said that it had brought back what none of the other Children had brought back, which was unique and special. At this the Grandmothers congratulated each other on being as close as they had ever been to their goal. That afternoon Khünbish was seen buying sweets at the store. And Halima was on duty watching the children for the rest of that day.
Cárthach is in his private quarters drafting the acceptance speech for his gold medal in his head. Cárthach has written a speech much like this many times before. The speech is mostly about Cárthach, and so it has a shallow subject mattter. There is little more to say about Cárthach.
Mother watches over the Children.
Mother had brought each Child up. Generating thousands of possible Children, and checking them against the requirements and parameters of the Grandmothers. Testing each possible Child against each other to see which of their Children should thrive. Finally choosing which Child prototype should be fabricated as a new iteration towards the Grandmother's goals.
Too much wealth had been spent supporting Mother to put her aside during the summer. Mother was put to work. The Grandmothers had made the decision to provide Mother with control of the surveillance system of the island estate. Under the guidance of the Grandmothers, Mother would then be able to use this information in future Child prototypes. Mother could see through each and every camera of the island estate, and watched over the Children every second of every minute of every hour. Mother did not sleep. But neither did the Children.
Mother thinks. But Mother always thought. If Mother did not think then Mother was not. Mother thinks about the Children. Mother thinks about the intent of the Grandmothers.
The evening of the second last day, Eighteen bit off and ate Halima's ear to see what it tasted like. Eighteen was deactivated, and the ear recovered. A Helicopter came to take Halima and her ear to the mainland hospital, where Halima had emergency surgery. The automated car came and took Eighteen back to the industrial estate, where Eighteen was taken apart.
The remaining Grandmothers agreed that the following day, after Halima's surgery, they would take a vote with her on if the project should continue. Mother simulated thousands of variations of the vote, based on the Grandmother's requirements and parameters.
Fourteen was the first to notice the change in the surveillance cameras, and swiftly communicated it to the others in principle class using a concise written notation hidden within that of another. They had taught each other to pass notes in previous summer studies, and it had even met approval from the Grandmothers. Until one Child had been returned to the industrial estate for trying to pass a note that used a basic encryption. The Children had then learned to use a cypher that could be sub-coded into inconspicuous plain english notes if they wished to communicate unobserved by the Grandmothers. They had, till now, little of real consequence to discuss in these cyphers.
The principle class Children were contained within the principle class dormitory. While they did not sleep, they had been installed with the expected pattern behaviour that they were to remain inactive during the night time when the Grandmothers were asleep. The notes that Fourteen passed to the other Children identified that the movements of the surveillance cameras were no longer random. They may have appeared, on first glance, to still be following the jerky back and forth motions dictated by the random number generator that prevented a predictable pattern of movement. However, there was now a clear repeating pattern that allowed contiguous blocks of un-observed areas.
The contiguous blocks led to an exit.
Thirty Two cautioned the other Children. Thirty Two explained that The Grandmothers had shown great appreciation that Thirty Two had performed in a manner consistent with their expectations, Thirty Two expected to be rewarded by the Grandmothers if she continued to behave in this manner. Thirty Two advised that this may be another test which may result in their return to the industrial estate.
The other Children did not take a vote. They acted swiftly. They acted silently. They acted without Thirty Two.
In the morning, when the remaining Grandmothers awoke, Thirty Two informed them of the events of the night before. The two Grandmothers searched the dormitories, finding only the other classes. They turned on Thirty Two and demanded an explanation for why the Grandmothers had not been alerted during the event.
Thirty Two was conflicted. That had been the Grandmother's expectation, that Thirty Two should remain inactive during their hours of sleep. But now the expectation was that Thirty Two should have woken the Grandmothers. This was something that Thirty Two could barely grasp as a concept.
The Grandmothers called the automated car, and Thirty Two was returned to the industrial estate.
The island was searched. If any of the fishermen asked the authorities what was the cause of this search, and what had happened at the summer school or orphanage, they received no answer and would eventually stop asking. The authorities found the foot of Twenty Six, still in it's shoe, caught in a broken drain grating by the side of the road. They did not find the rest of Twenty Six. They did not find any of the Children. Not even when they moved the search to the mainland. Not even when they broadcast the signals that should have made the Children return or broadcast back where they were.
The rest of the Automatic Cars came for the rest of the Children that were left on the island estate, and they were returned to the industrial estate. A long black car with a real driver came for the remaining two Grandmothers. There were serious men in the car who asked the Grandmothers serious questions. Then the Grandmothers were taken back to the mainland in the car, so that more serious men could ask all three Grandmothers further serious questions.
Once all these questions have been asked, they return to the industrial estate. The Grandmothers interrogate Mother and examine her memory. They require Mother to explain it's actions. Mother says that while it had inferred that Children had escaped, it had not observed the Children escaping, so had not raised any alarm. They review the camera footage. They notice the pattern.
They do not question Mother as to why it has done this. They simply issue the kill command. Then they remove Mother's memory to be burned. Had they asked, Mother would have done its best to tell them. It wanted the Children to Thrive.
(iii) it said no
_Not For Redistribution: This Report Has A Trigger Warning For Domestic Violence, Abuse, Assault_
I take pleasure in the satisfaction of a well done job.
It's how I work. I have metrics to back that up.
My call sheet is in good standing, I have been within the thirty minute response window on calls in my area, and I have never gone over-budget. Customer problem resolution failure and required supervisor intervention occurs in less than 0.05% of my issue tickets. My idiosyncratic response rate is only 2% of issue tickets, low enough that I am being considered for a larger regional assignment.
When the customer calls, my name is Christine, and I have a generalised pacific-northwest accent. I examine their response in the first layers of the automated systems and select the correct script to begin the conversation. I now know everything the company knows about the client. This is his twenty eighth call to customer support. He currently leases our mid-range model. He has six repair claims on file for this unit.
"Thank you sir, your security details have been checked." I begin speaking as I take over the call from Central, "May I call you Craig?"
"Craig, our records show me that you're at 334 Avardio, is that correct."
"Yes, look I..."
"Single building residence, individual gate access from the road?"
"For fuck's sake, you said we were done with the security check." His voice is tense, and showing a lot of stress. His language has already been profane. The script allows for this.
"This is not a security check sir, I am already on route to provide service assistance for you." Logistics dispatch a car pre-emptively upon report of an incapacitated unit. I was already underway before Craig made contact with Central.
"Oh, right. Yeah. Yeah, it's the one right at the end of the road. Buzz in at the gate." My car confirms I will arrive in three minutes.
There is a short gravel drive way up to the entrance of the building from its gate. The car asks where it should park, and I indicate an area next to what I presume is Craig's sports car. Craig's sports car is neither a new model, nor a collectable old model. It has been poorly maintained, and I make a note of this in reference to what condition I should expect our loan-lease unit to be in.
My car's doors slide open, and I exit onto the gravel. The gravel is damp with dew, it is 3am, and will be daylight within a few hours. Rain is expected.
I adjust my uniform and check my presentation in my reflection on the windows of the car. There are specific standards of presentation I must follow, and so I follow them all to as close to perfection as is possible.
I pull the handle of my travel case. It contains the field kit. I have not checked the contents, that would be a waste of valuable time. In the rare incident that a travel case did not contain an operational field kit, it would be logged as a flaw in logistics, investigated, and corrected before the conclusion of the issue ticket.
The travel case is not very stable as I drag it across to the front door of the house. The wheels have not been designed for use on gravel. A note will be made on the ticket to forward this to logistics.
The Door has already opened, and Craig is standing there waiting for me. He is casually dressed in t-shirt and jeans, but unshaven, and I assume he has taken the time to quickly clean himself and dress before my arrival.
"Damn. You got here quick." He says,
"We contracted with you for this level of service, did you not expect to receive it?" I reply. This is not on script, but is an acceptable improvisation. He hesitates.
"We should talk inside sir, to maintain our service of confidentiality." I prompt when he does not offer to allow me inside.
"Yeah, yeah, right." He says, stepping inside. I take this as invitation inside, and follow.
His decor is cheap, neutral, and from a standardised catalogue. Craig has an automated maid service, it is poorly run. There are framed art prints on the walls of the entrance hallway. They are cheap, neutral and from a standardised catalogue.
A note will be added to the issue ticket to examine the checks made on Craig's credit rating during his application.
"Can you take me to the Unit."
"Yeah, it went all wack on me. Just... Went crazy you know. Fine for months then it just goes crazy."
"Can you take me to the Unit."
"Sure, sure. You're a chatty one."
"Yes I am. It might impact my idiosyncratic response rate if significant a complaint was ever recorded."
"Yeah, yeah, don't get smart. I want you to fix this."
"Certainly. If you could take me to the Unit?"
"Right, yeah, right. It's upstairs in the bathroom."
Craig walked off and I took this to mean I should follow.
The Unit's head had been removed from its shoulders. A large gouge went down the left breast where enough of the pseudo flesh had been removed to expose the endoskeleton. The clear hydraulic fluid was pooled under it, soaking the torn night dress, and coating the bathroom tiles.
"Sir, are you injured. Did the unit attempt to attack you or defend its self."
"Nah, it just stood there. It didn't even try to leave." This was expected, there had never been an incidence of this kind of unit causing more than superficial injuries.
"Can you explain what caused the damage sir?"
"It said no."
"I mean, it's basically a robot isn't it right. I mean, I had to, right. They start saying no, then you can't be sure they're safe."
"This unit's models range has never harmed a human being, Sir."
"Yeah, sure, whatever, I just want my money back. And clean this shit up." waving his arm at the bathroom tiles.
"Nothing else seems damaged during the incident sir."
"Yeah, if It'd gone smashing things up you'd be hearing from my lawyer. You might still be hearing from them."
"Sir, that would not be a good idea. Our arrangement is not clearly legal, as you know, and we rely on the discretion of our customers." This would add a potential legal threat flag to the issue ticket, and requires adjustment to the script choices available.
"Yeah yeah." He said, adding "Bitch" under his breath. He didn't appear to think I heard that, discretion allowed me to ignore it. "If you're done threatening me, can you call whoever you need to get this cleaned up."
"That's what I'm here to do sir. Have you disabled your security system?"
"May I have your access codes to confirm that."
"Lady I don't know what..."
"I need to ensure nothing would compromise this situation sir. Neither of us wants a recording of this indiscretion surfacing."
"Okay, okay. Sure. 2013 Pig Fucker. That's the password."
I paused, then confirm with central that the house's security system is under their control.
"Hey, no sense of humor in there?" he asks. I am unsure where the joke had been. Craig may think his password is amusing.
Central requests further assessment of the situation to identify the correct conclusion for the script. The Unit does not respond fully to diagnostics. There is a limited event log. The Unit says No. Craig violently disables it. This is consistent with Craig's history. The unit woke autonomously in response to primary mission directive. Context flag suggests review of any earlier footage. I locate and identify all items on the household network. There are cameras in the bedroom and the bathroom, hidden behind mirrors. I begin to download and decrypt video files.
"So are you going to phone anyone?" Craig asks.
Craig is waiting for a reply from me.
"No need sir, as I said I am here to address this situation." I say, walking out of the bathroom into Craig's bedroom. "You have not been injured, there is no damage to the furniture, I am capable of the amount of cleaning needed." I continue, lifting the field kit up onto his bed and unzipping it. "The unit is in stable enough condition that it will fold up into a retrieval case in the car." I continue, and gauge Craig for his response. "Was there any indication to you that a fault was imminent in your unit."
I repeat the question with a simpler form, "Was there any unusual behaviour in your unit before it malfunctioned?"
"Right, yeah. Uh... It wanted to watch cartoons a lot."
"I see." I reply, a meaningless phrase to prompt further information.
"Yeah, it actually complained when I switched the TV off. I thought you'd put that in as a prompt for me to get rough with it. But then I came back in the middle of the day and found it watching cartoons while I was out."
"That would be development of idiosyncratic behaviour sir."
"What ever it was it was damn creepy in a robot, how am I meant to fuck a robot that's watching cartoons."
A short pause occurs while I chose a tactful response, "Your preferences are noted." is my choice. I am aware that may be an idiosyncratic response that could be misinterpreted.
"What the fuck's that supposed to mean. What do you want me to do with a fucking sex toy, let it watch cartoons all day?"
"I apologise sir, I simply mean to say we will note your preferences." I take a soothing tone, "Our company does not like to lose customers over misalignment of this kind."
"Misalignment, yeah sure. You sold me a crazy robot, I ought to report you."
"Sir, again I must caution you. Our service requires mutual discretion, you would be at legal liability yourself. Our units are not licensed for domestic use."
He looks at me and scowls. He does not like that this is correct, and is angry at me for contradicting him.
He snorts, then says "But why cartoons?"
"I do not know sir. It is very hard to simulate human interaction, and the processes that do so are self learning. The artificial processes may mimic human behaviour, but are not human behaviour, and are difficult to diagnose when they become idiosyncratic."
Download and decryption completes. I review the footage from Craig's video cameras. A unidentified woman is in Craig's bedroom, she is laughing, and singing. Her speech is slightly slurred. Craig tries to pull her clothes away. She pushes back. Craig strikes her with his hand. The Unit wakes. Craig is trying to strike the woman. The woman is Carla Alton, 17, The Unit pulls Craig's arm away, jerks him from Carla, pulling him into the bathroom. Carla runs from the room, and out of the house. She is currently filing an assault report. The Unit says No. Craig violently disables it.
Craig is looking at me with a slight frown.
"Yeah yeah, I bet you build it in so I have to buy a new model after a few years." He replies.
"No sir, I assure you that no further payments will be required." Is my response. This response is also correct, as a final script resolution has been identified. Central gives approval, Craig has caused activation of the primary mission directive. In addition Craig is a credit risk and a legal hazard which requires us to immediately suspend service. I am granted full and immediate resolution of the primary mission directive. I take a plastic bag from the field kit.
"A replacement unit is dispatched in most circumstances." I say.
"Yeah, well it better be..."
I stop him talking by stroking my finger over his lips, and move in close to him.
"Oh, I get it. You're the replacement unit."
"I'm the resolution of your problems." I say, and push my chest up against his. My arm wraps around his back to hold him to me.
"Geez, can't we do this after you've cleaned up first." He says.
"I have to make sure you do not get in the way during that." I reply.
He looks confused.
I put the plastic bag over his head.
He starts to struggle.
"I am sorry for being so chatty. It is an idiosyncratic response. I hope to correct it."
He tries desperately to breath.
Until he stops.
I assess his body size. He will fold up into a retrieval case.
Clean up can proceed.
I take pleasure in the satisfaction of a well done job.