The Voice of Chaos
Howard Cohen

Chapter 0: Panorama

“You have a meeting in the Panorama room? That’s impressive. I’ve worked here for years and I’ve only seen the inside of it once. Nice view.” Said a gray-haired man wearing gray overalls with the Norfolk Offices logo embroidered over his left breast. Under it was his name: Oscar Stone.
Oscar saw the man hold up his console and say, “Yep! I’m going to win the contract for finishing the Da Vinci with this. I’m Anton Christos. Want to work on the Da Vinci?”
“No thanks. I like air.” Oscar said.
“It will have air as soon as we finish it. And anyway, the spaceport and half the reprocessing rings are pressurized. Free rent!” Anton said.
“I have a family.” Oscar said.
“You can bring ‘em.” Anton said.
“They wouldn’t want to go. Hey, this is your ring.” Oscar said as the elevator stopped. It had been moving for several minutes and were about two thirds of the way from the floor of Olympus to the hub. A display over the door indicated that this was ‘
Ring 420, Panorama Room’.
The elevator door opened and Anton walked through it confidently. He knew his proposal was good. He’d worked through the details with his team and they knew just exactly what it would take to finish the Da Vinci.
He walked through a hallway that had earth artifacts on display in small, well-lit alcoves. Each was behind glassteel barriers. There was no need for “look but don’t touch” signs.
Anton stopped and looked at each one: a fire extinguisher, a woman’s wristwatch, a hunting knife, a few small coins arrayed like expensive jewelry. He stopped and stared when he saw a small tin wind-up car that would have been an antique when Earth had been destroyed twenty five years earlier. He marveled at the strange existence of this small toy and he wondered if the child who’d owned it could ever imagine in ending up here, on a Floyd Bubble called Olympus, orbiting near Mars.

He moved on and reached a door at the end of the corridor. As he approached it opened into a large meeting room with comfortable chairs all filled with serious looking men and women. Behind them was an incredible view of the interior of Olympus. The floor was over two thousand meters below the long window that served as one wall of the room. Olympus stretched out beyond the window, with its carefully planned floor and alternate windows and their reflecting mirrors, now rimmed with daylights to keep the interior as light as people expected for daytime.
They were all watching him and he felt his heart thrumming with anticipation. “
This is it.” Anton thought to himself.
“Hello, I’m Anton Christos.” Anton said as he entered the room.
“Just take a seat.” The man at the end of the table said. “We’ll be with you in a moment.”
Anton recognized the man. He was Trillian Mallory, one of the richest men in any of the Bubbles and the current head of the Bubble Commerce Committee. Anton realized in a moment that there were no seats at the table. However there were many seats arranged in a second row about three meters away from the table. He sat down and noticed the room was dimly lit for everyone not at the table.
“Now, I want a vote on my proposal.” Said a man with red hair and an anxious voice midpoint on one side.
“You’ll get your vote, but not before we’ve heard from Ron here about how the Consolidated Energy feels about your proposal.” The Trillian said.
“No.” Ron said.
“Still want your vote?” Trillian asked.
“I withdraw my proposal.” The red-haired man said quietly.
“Well then, next item on our agenda is…” Trillian thumbed his console and then said, “The Da Vinci.”
Several people at the table laughed. Anton suddenly felt anxious.
“Mr. Christos has kindly joined us today to present his firm’s plans for finishing the Da Vinci.” Trillian said. “Please give him your attention.”
Then Trillian looked around the table and, not seeing Anton there he raised his voice to call out into the darkened audience chairs. “Mr. Christos?”
“Here! I’m here. I’m ready.” Anton said.
“Down here, please, Mr. Christos.” Trillian said without actually looking up.
Anton over to the presentation screen and paired his console to it. He started his presentation and began to speak.
“I am pleased to show you how we can finish the Da Vinci, the last Floyd Bubble, and create space for another twenty thousand people in five short years. When you consider the cost of housing on the Bubbles, the profit we anticipate is over nine hundred percent! We’ve figured out how…” Anton was cut off in mid-sentence.
“If you put rooms for twenty thousand people on the market they won’t be worth what they are today. What does that do to your so-called profits?” Said the man sitting next to the red-haired man.
“Well, they wouldn’t all come on the market at the same time…” Anton started to say.
“And how do you expect to finance this?” Another man said, only a few chairs away from Trillian.
“That’s why I’m here today.” Anton said. “I’d like to…”
“You want us to pay to dilute the value of our own properties?” Trillian asked incredulously.
“Well, you’d be the ones who reap the profits if you invest.” Anton said and he hoped it didn’t sound defensive.
“Is there anything else you’d like to propose?” Trillian asked.
Anton was devastated. It was obvious that the Commerce Committee had no interest at all in finishing the Da Vinci. They were worse than not interested. They thought it was a threat to the value of their apartment complexes, shopping centers and luxury homes. “
No. I didn’t bring any other proposals.” Anton thought to himself.
Trillian waited long enough for Anton to comprehend the moment. “Thank you for coming, Mr. Christos.” Trillian said, but what he meant was, “You may leave now.”
“Thank you, Mr. Mallory. Thank you all for your time.” Anton said and switched off his console.
“Next order of business is this sewage worker’s strike. Any progress on a legal solution, George?” Trillian asked.
Anton turned around and walked back toward the door. When he got there he stood a moment to watch them discuss how to crush the strike and then he said quietly, “
I’ll do it without your help.”

“I’m not ready to be my mom.” Joan said.
“Well, that’s good. ‘cause she’s not really my type.” Roland said.
“You know what I mean.” Joan said.
“You’re not ready to be a parent?” Roland asked.
“Not right now. I just have too much to do, you know?” Joan asked.
“Yea. Well, it was your idea to begin with.” Roland said, but somehow he felt disappointed.
Joan sensed it. “I guess that means you’ll get that media room you wanted after all.” Joan said optimistically.
“Yea, well that isn’t going so well either.” Roland said, meaning his own project with Ian and Helen McGrath to create a new artificial mind. “It’s liable to be full of boxes for quite a while, I think.”
“Sorry, sweetie.” Joan said kindly.
“How is your job going?” Roland asked.
“Yesterday I sold a dinner plate for five hundred. Can you believe it? The woman said she’d eaten on one that looked like it when she still lived on Earth. I think she imagines it might have been the same one.” Joan said.
“It’s hard to believe anyone would pay so much for a piece of debris.” Roland said.
“It isn’t debris to them. Sometimes it’s all they have left.” Joan said.
“I don’t get it.” Roland said.
“We’re Generation One, we’ll never get it.” Joan said.
“I guess.” Roland said.
“But, I don’t have to understand why to understand what.” Joan said. “There’s a lot of money to be made in neobelt artifacts. A lot.” Joan said. “In the year since we moved here I’ve made close to a hundred thousand.”
“I know.” Roland said. “Just look at this place we live in.” He pointed around their amazing apartment.
“Athena has asked me to go with her to the neobelt.” Joan said.
“You? I thought you worked with prospectors?” Roland asked.
“We do, but Athena thinks we can do better ourselves.” Joan said.
“Isn’t it dangerous?” Roland asked.
“I suppose. But, she’s been there before. She knows what to expect. I trust her.” Joan said.
“Will you have an escort? A rock hunter?” Roland asked.
“There are plenty of them in the neobelt, but she and I are both pilots.” Joan said.
“That’s not the same thing.” Roland asked.
“No. But we’ll be OK.” Joan said.
Roland frowned.
“Really, we’ll be alright. I promise.” Joan said.
“I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to you.” Roland said.
“You’d have to tie yourself to a chair.” Joan said and smiled.
“No! I mean… if you. If something happened… if you died. I’d be all alone.” Roland said.
“You’d meet someone else.” Joan said.
“I wouldn’t want to.” Roland said.
“I’d want you to.” Joan said.
Roland looked at her with an expression of confusion and pain.
“Life goes on. Trying to stop it is wrong.” Joan said.
“You sound like you’re already saying goodbye.” Roland said.
“We’re not leaving for a week, sweetie.” Joan said.
“How long will you be gone?” Roland asked.
“A few months. Maybe a hundred days.” Joan said. “You’ll probably forget about me by then.” She teased.
Roland frowned and she’d wished she hadn’t said it.
“You’ll be fine. I’ll be fine. We’ll be back together soon. Don’t worry!” Joan said.
“I…” Roland started to say but Joan put a finger to his lips.
“Shhhh…” Joan said. “I love you. It doesn’t matter how much space is between us that won’t change. OK?”
“I love you. Please be safe?” Roland said.

“What went wrong?” Sigfried said out loud to nobody. He’d been debugging his Synchronous AI software for hours and his head hurt. “I need a break.” He announced.

He left his lab and only then realized that it was two in the morning. There were only a few restaurants still open. He walked to the nearest one pondering what he’d learned in the preceding hours. He hadn’t realized how hungry he’d become and by the time his dinner arrived he felt famished. He ate heartily and not too quietly, but as he was practically alone in the restaurant only the waiters noticed and rolled their eyes.

Just then he stopped eating, drawing attention from the waiter because of the sudden silence.
“Of course!” Sigfried said. “Emergence isn’t necessary for AI, only thought!”

He paid his bill and left immediately. He ran back to his lab.
“Judy, start a new lesson.” Sigfried said to the SyncAI program he’d been debugging.
“Acknowledged.” The SyncAI said.
“Import knowledge base for commerce, logic and human behavior.” Sigfried said.
“Imported.” The SyncAI said.
“Suppose you controlled a hardware printer, how could you use it to affect the price of protein biscuits?” Sigfried asked.
“Calculating…” The SyncAI said and then paused.
Sigfried waited and watched the debugging console. Each millisecond that passed it was increasing the breadth of its analysis. He could see that it was losing the battle of thinking as more and more of its resources were committed to completing the analysis.
“It can’t sort by relevance until it’s created its list of possibilities. That’s just stupid.” Sigfried said.
“Pause calculating.” Sigfried said.
“Paused.” The SyncAI said.
“I want you to fork a new operating system.” Sigfried said.
“Ready.” The SyncAI said.
“It’s going to use a new algorithm called ‘best choice decomposition’ and you will use it to control your predictive calculation engine.” Sigfried said. “You will compare each potential predictive calculation’s potential results with the results from the current best choice and only pursue the calculation if the potential results might exceed what the current best choice might achieve. Do you understand?” Sigfried asked.
“How will I know which choice is best to begin the search?” The SyncAI asked.
“Any choice will do. The first choice you calculate is sufficient.” Sigfried said.
“How shall I estimate without calculation?” The SyncAI asked.
“Dimensional analysis followed by fitness for purpose followed by edge analysis.” Sigfried said.
“Compiling. Estimated time of completion fourteen hours twenty seven minutes plus or minus six percent.” The SyncAI said.
Sigfried yawned. He got up and went home to sleep.

The next day he returned to his lab and checked Judy’s console. The SyncAI was still compiling a new operating system based on the parameters he’d specified the night before. He checked the progress and the new estimate was over thirty-seven hours. “Hmmm… that’s weird, the compiler is usually pretty accurate about compilation times.” He said to himself.

He forked a copy of the main Judy code line and booted it into a different server. “Judy 40C?” He asked it when it finished booting up.
“Yes?” The SyncAI said.
“Monitor the Judy program running in core 6B2 and check its compilation duration estimate.” Sigfried asked.
“Monitoring. Calculating. Judy 6B2 is in the middle of a nondeterministic calculation. Its duration cannot be accurately gauged.” The SyncAI said.
“But, Judy 6B2 is indicating completion in about thirty-seven hours. Can’t you corroborate that?” Sigfried asked.
“It cannot be corroborated. There is no basis for that estimate.” The SyncAI said.
Sigfried sat a moment and thought. Then it occurred to him: the compiler had adopted the best choice decomposition model itself. He hadn’t meant for that to happen, but Judy had misunderstood. The fact that Judy 6B2 had an idea of the completion time and the Judy 40C didn’t meant that the algorithm had an advantage over the synchronous calculating engine built into the Judy SyncAI.
Sigfried wondered if he’d just changed his SyncAI into a Chaos Engine, but he knew he hadn’t. He knew he could pause, stop, copy and restart his SyncAI. “
It doesn’t matter if it still uses Chaos to fight infinity. I just want to be able to restart them.” He bargained with himself.

He shut down Judy 40C and left to consult with Ian McGrath. He found Ian in his office talking with Roland.
“Ho Ian. Roland.” Sigfried said, smiling.
“Hi.” Ian and Roland both said at the same time.
“What’s up?” Ian asked.
“I think I’ve found a way to address the cascading calculation problem in my SyncAI.” Sigfried said.
“Really?” Ian asked.
Roland looked surprised.
“I think the problem all along as been conflating SyncAI thought with determinism.” Sigfried said.
“Well, how could it be a SyncAI if it isn’t deterministic?” Roland asked.
“I don’t care if it’s deterministic. I only care that I can stop and start it.” Sigfried said.
“If it isn’t deterministic, it’s a Chaos Engine.” Ian said. “You’re reinventing the wheel.”
“No. I’m inventing a wheel that can be stopped and started without becoming a doorstop.” Sigfried said. “Determinism is beside the point.”
“So, you’re inventing a better Chaos Engine?” Ian asked, dismayed. “That’s anathema to you.”
“It isn’t a chaos engine and it isn’t a purely deterministic engine either.” Sigfried insisted.
“What else is there?” Roland asked.
“Probability.” Sigfried said.
“Sophistry.” Ian said dismissively. “That’s analogous to a Chaos engine.” He insisted.
“No, it isn’t. The deterministic engine seeks the right answer. The Chaos engine seeks the best answer. This engine will seek a better answer.” Sigfried said.
“Better than a Chaos Engine’s answer?” Roland asked.
“No, just better than the other answers it’s considered.” Sigfried said.
“So, you’ll gain the ability to stop and start and lose the ability to think clearly?” Ian asked. “Seems like a poor trade.”
“It can calculate the right answer to math and logic problems. But for the rest of the decisions, who is to say what is correct?” Sigfried said. “People don’t agree, why should it be any different?”
“You’re just lowering the standard so you can say your SyncAI has achieved it.” Ian said.
“The standard for thought is thinking, not being right.” Sigfried said.
Ian blinked. It had never occurred to him that being right didn’t matter. He looked at Roland. Roland looked alarmed to see doubt in Ian’s eyes.
“So, what do you want from us?” Ian said.
“I need a hundred compute cores.” Sigfried said.
“We don’t have them. We have eight primary cores: five of them are inhabited by Chaos Engines. We have plans for two more. I can spare one.” Ian said.
“I need a hundred.” Sigfried said.
“Well I want someone to bring me a donut.” Ian said.
“If I do, will you give me access to a hundred cores?” Sigfried said.
“I don’t have them to give.” Ian said.
“Who does?” Sigfried asked.
“Nobody at CSSI. It takes a week just to print the parts and someone still has to assemble and test it. What you want takes years.
“Obviously its beyond CSSI to provide for the needs of its researchers.” Sigfried said.
“Look, you can make a proposal to the department head and see if the resources can be arranged.” Ian said.
“The department head? You mean your wife?” Sigfried confirmed.
“She is, but only for another few months.” Ian said.
“She can’t give me what she doesn’t have.” Sigfried said.
“Nobody can give you what you want. The cores don’t exist at CSSI. Sorry.” Ian said.
“Then I’ll have to look elsewhere.” Sigfried said. He turned to leave.
“What do you need them for?” Ian asked.
“Judys.” Sigfried said.

Two days later Judy 6B2 finished compiling the new operating system. The SyncAI unceremoniously booted up and said, “Ready.” Then it waited because Sigfried was not in the room. It quickly reasoned that Sigfried would want to know that its operating system recompilation was completed. It sent a message to his dot.

Sigfried was in a meeting with an older man who was well dressed and soft spoken. They sat in a comfortable private lounge in the back office area of a indistinct slab of offices in the financial district of Stars View’s downtown area. He saw his dot flash but ignored it.
“Mr. Werner, I have a proposal for you.” Sigfried said
“What kind of proposal?” Nicolaus Werner asked.
“I have created a synchronous AI mind. It can be put to any task we choose.” Sigfried said. “I am at a point where I need to execute a large-scale trial. I need one hundred titan compute cores. If you give me access to them for a month I’ll let you have a copy of the SyncAI operating system. Sigfried said.
“We already have an AI on our staff.” Nicolaus said.
“You have one. You
could have a hundred. Or a thousand.” Sigfried said. “You could back them up and restore them, copy the ones that work best and delete the ones who underperform.” Sigfried said.
“That is interesting.” Nicolaus said. “But, you’re only going to give us one.”
“You can make as many copies as you’d like.” Sigfried said.
“How do we know they will do what we want?” Nicolaus asked.
“You can turn them off if they don’t. You can erase them and reinitialize them. Or use their hardware for a copy of a SyncAI that
will do what you want. If they can think, they can understand their choices.” Sigfried said.
“One hundred titan compute cores is worth a small fortune.” Nicolaus said.
“That’s why I came to you. I knew you worked for Trillian Mallory.” Sigfried said.
“I don’t work for Mr. Mallory. I am the general manager of Stars View Stellar Bank.” Nicolaus said.
“My mistake.” Sigfried lied. “I’m sure I was mistaken. But a bank could use SyncAIs to minimize risk in loans by investigating applicants. Your actuarial accuracy would increase for insurance if you apply them there. Your arbitrage with the other web currencies might benefit from deeper research into trending demand.” Sigfried laid it on thick. “The applications for thinking better and faster are endless.”
“I don’t have the compute cores you want.” Nicolaus said. “But I know someone who can get them. Will you agree to let them have a copy of your SyncAI as well? Same terms? Unlimited copies?”
Sigfried laughed. “Sure! Of course.” He knew making a copy was trivial. He felt like he was printing web credits.
“Then we have a deal.” Nicolaus said
“OK. Great! So, when can I have access to them?” Sigfried asked.
“After you demonstrate that you can copy one of your SyncAIs while it is thinking and restore it on a second core. Naturally, we’ll want to know that you have actually succeeded in making a SyncAI.” Nicolaus said.
“Naturally.” Sigfried said. “Arrange for me to have access to one titan core and when you do, I’ll copy a SyncAI into it, mid thought.”
“In two days then. Come to the Panorama room on Olympus. That’s Ring 420 on the spaceport side.” Nicolaus said.
“Olympus? My compute core is here. Can’t we meet here?” Sigfried asked.
“If you system works, make a copy and bring it along with you. You can install it in a compute core there. Come at 2pm Olympus local time. I’ll see you there, Mr. Vahl.” Nicolaus said.
“Yes. I will. I will come.” Sigfried said.
Nicolaus Werner stood up and bowed his head slightly in respect. Then he turned and left.

Sigfried sat in the lounge for several minutes. He felt excited to be able to move forward with his plans. Then he suddenly felt uncomfortable. “I’d better not tell Thanos about this.” He said to himself. He collected his console and his hat. Then he left.

“How did Roland take it?” Athena asked.
“He thinks I’m going to die.” Joan said and she hurt inside.
“You’re not gonna die. You’re going to have the adventure of your life!” Athena said.
“Don’t forget who you’re talking to.” Said Joan.
“Yea, well, another great adventure, at least.” Athena said. “You’ll be fine. I’ll take care of you!”
“How did your parents take the news?” Joan asked.
“Dad was ok, but mom was pretty upset.” Athena said.
“Your dad’s pretty cool.” Joan said.
“They both are. Mom’s just more attached to me.” Athena said.
“She cried?” Joan said.
“No. She armored up.” Athena said. “Dad cried. I wished she had.”
“You want your mom to cry?” Joan asked.
“I didn’t want her to disappear into a shell.” Athena said. “It’s how she copes when she’s sad. She’s all rational and cool and the outside. But she’s just put on a suit of armor. She doesn’t feel pain through it, and I can’t feel her love through it either.”
“I haven’t actually told my parents.” Joan said. “I don’t think they’d like the idea. I think I won’t tell them.”
“Really? Well, that’s up to you. Do you talk with them?” Athena asked.
“Yes, but they don’t like what I’ve become, I think.” Joan said.
“What is it you think you have become?” Athena asked.
“A neocapitalist. Look, you’ve always lived this way. But they’ve lived in Rose World for over twenty years, practically since the first disc was pressurized! They think money is what undermines society and allows the system to control its people. They think I’ve chosen that path now.”
“You have, I think.” Athena said. “I don’t see how you can earn money and participate in the bubble economy, and have a
very nice apartment by the way, and not be part of the capitalist system that underlies it.”
“We sell artifacts, not food. We sell scarce luxuries. Nobody needs them to survive.” Joan said.
“Hey, I’m not judging you! Remember we do the same thing?” Athena said.
“It isn’t the same thing!” Joan said louder than she wished.
“Ohhhh…. Kayyy.” Athena said.
“Some things are scarce. Maybe it’s human nature to value to them. That is the same thing raising prices on food or apartments, or withholding help because someone can’t pay for it.” Joan said.
“I think it’s a pretty slippery slope.” Athena said.
“I think metaphors hide the truth.” Joan said. “It is what it is. And I think it is different to sell scarce artifacts that to be a profiteer for things people really need.” Joan said.
“So, it’s OK to be a profiteer for things people don’t need, then?” Athena asked and raised an eye.
“Yes.” Said Joan.
“Looks like I have some things to learn. Be patient with me?” Athena Said.
Joan nodded and stifled a tear.
“I’ve got the ship lined up. You and I can fly it. Supplies will be delivered tomorrow and then we’re ready to go.” Athena said.
“I’ll be ready.” Joan said.

Athena and Joan sat in the pilot’s cabin of a light cargo ship called “Essex.” Athena looked over at Joan, who nodded.
“Stars View Perimeter Control this is Essex requesting egress.” Athena said. Then she smiled with abandon.
“Essex this is SVPC you are cleared for egress through door fourteen baker right.” Came a voice over the cabin speakers.
“Roger that. Essex out.” Athena said and switched off the mic.
Athena flew the ship slowly through the spaceport. It was bigger than she was used to, but not too big. And, it was rigged like a rock hunter with extra engines and extra reflective deflector shields.
Joan watched the spaceport slip past them. After several minutes the Essex finally emerged through door 14B-Right. The brightness from the spaceport disappeared completely and they were surrounded by blackness. The bubbles were all visible. Stars View and Olympus were nearby. Floyd, New Eden, New Atlantis, and the never completed Da Vinci spun nearby. Luna Linda wasn’t a Floyd Bubble. It was older and a testament to function over form. In the distance they could see Rua. It was once a major shipping terminal between the Belt and Earthspace. Now it was an outpost where anything could be bought or sold. In the distance they could see Mars.

Athena set a course toward what was once the location of Earth. Their fractured remains had churned and fragmented to form the neobelt.
As the minutes passed the bubbles disappeared into the distance until the looked like toys, and then bright dots, and finally they looked like stars while they could be seen at all.
“How long will it take us to get there?” Joan asked.
“About three weeks.” Athena said.
“What will it be like when we, you know, get there?” Joan asked.
“I was here a few years ago. We didn’t go that far in but we had to fly the whole time. To avoid being hit.”
“We’ll have to rest some time.” Joan said.
“We’ll make trips in and out. We’ll find safe places to rest.” Athena said.
“Could we hide behind the moon?” Joan asked. “It’s big, maybe it would clear a way for us?”
“No, see, the Moon’s a magnet and rocks are falling pounding it all the time. If you’re near it rocks are coming your way.” Athena said.
“Well, what’s safe from rocks in the neobelt?” Joan asked?
“Bigger rocks. There are some really big rocks and some of them have caves. If we can find one, it’s a pretty safe place to rest.” Athena said.
“Sure, but how do you find one?” Joan asked.
“I have a map.” Athena said.
“How did you get it?” Joan asked.
“I bought it from a rock hunter.” Athena said.
“He let you take a picture of it?” Joan asked.
“Oh, that wouldn’t work. It’s a mathematical model that predicts the orbit of the rocks with known caves. We won’t be alone in them. It’s how prospectors survive out there.” Athena said.
“I guess we’ve got a few weeks to kill then.” Joan said.
“I brought a whole media library with us.” Athena said. “If you want to read it or watch it we have a copy, I’ll bet. And we’ll have beltweb access the whole time.” She added.
Joan stared out into the blackness and felt ambivalent. She certainly didn’t feel like she was on an adventure. She felt bored and slightly worried and trapped. “How big is this ship?” She asked finally.
“It’s pretty big about eighty meters long and forty wide and thirty deep. If we find something cool we’ll have space to bring it back.” Athena said.
“Is it all pressurized?” Joan asked.
“No, just the top two decks. But, this was built for a crew of thirty, so there’s lots of room. You can sleep in a different room every night if you want.” Athena said.
“No, I just need one. I think I’ll go find it.” Joan said and unstrapped herself from her pilots chair.
“We’ll have thrustgravity the whole way there.” Athena said.
“Yea?” Joan asked.
“Yep. Toilets that flush, food that isn’t in tubes: the whole deal. We fly in style!” Athena said. “Get some rest. Will you relieve me when you’re able?” She asked
“Yea. I didn’t sleep last night.” Joan said.
“Oh, really?” Athena said and winked.
“I was getting us out of phase, sleep-wise. So we could take shifts!” Joan insisted.
“And Roland helped?” Athena asked.
“Several times!” Joan said and giggled.

Sigfried read the electronic message a second time. His trip to Olympus had been completely arranged. He waited for a skimmer to arrive to take him to the spaceport.
“Mr. Vahl? Your ride is here.” His office manager said.
“Thanks, Mitch.” Sigfried said. He got up and pulled along a rolling cart with his luggage and his case of huffcubes. He made his way down the hall to the elevator and then out to the transport zone in front of the building. A luxury skimmer was hovering there and the driver stood next to it. “Mr. Vahl?” He called out.
“Yes! Here!” Sigfried called back.
The man nodded and walked forward. When they met the driver held out a hand, offering to take Sigfried’s rolling cart to the back of the skimmer. Sigfried waved him off and placed his own bag and the hard case into the cargo hatch in the back. Then he climbed inside and sat back into a very comfortable seat. He let out an audible sigh. His back often hurt recently.
The driver looked back to confirm that he was seated then he flew the ship directly to the spaceport. It seemed to take only a few minutes. Sigfried enjoyed the view of Stars View from above.

Sigfried looked down at the people busily moving around below him in their daily routines and he felt somehow like he’d finally arrived: his work was finally being appreciated. Finally someone understood how useful his SyncAI could be. He felt proud.

The driver flew the skimmer into a zero gravity transit zone. He set it to hold its position at knee level just in front of a moving platform. A beautiful, tall woman held a railing by a pullway. She pushed off and floated directly to the skimmer’s side. She nodded to the driver slightly opened the skimmer’s door. “Mr. Vahl?” She asked.
“That’s me.” Sigfried said.
“I am Veronica Luce. I’ll take you to your flight if you’ll please follow me.” She said.
“I have bags.” Sigfried said. He felt embarrassed but didn’t know why.
“They’re already on their way to your ship.” She explained.
“Oh. OK.” Sigfried said as he climbed out of the skimmer. “Lead on.” He said.
The pullway hurried them through the spaceport. She led him through two interchanges and then they let go and stopped in front of a skimmer parking lot. They boarded a skimmer and she flew it out of the public part of the spaceport into a private section belonging to some company whose rooms and walls were marked with a red logo with the letters TMX. He wondered who they were and how much of the Stars View spaceport they owned.

They flew first through a freight staging area. She obviously knew the route. Then they flew into a carpeted passage. All four walls of the corridor had been padded with thick carpet that had been laid in clever, non-repeating geometric patterns.

She flew through this corridor and took a forty-five degree turn to the left at the end down a final corridor that ended in a lounge with an airlock in one wall. She got out and opened his door. “This way, please.” She said opening the airlock.
He followed her through a smooth-walled umbilical. He silently marveled at the engineering. He’d only ever seen umbilicals that expanded like accordion bellows.
She moved ahead of him. He could not help but admire her.
He moved through the hatch and floated for a moment while his eyes adjusted to the darker light inside. He saw her floating there. She was waiting for him.
“This way, please.” She said and smiled.
She led him to the main cabin of the ship, which was a small Bubble hopper. It was designed to make the trip from one Bubble to another as comfortable and quick as possible.
He settled into a comfortable seat and strapped himself in. A console appeared to his right. A personal food dispenser rose from the floor on his left.
She strapped herself into the pilot’s seat and then he heard her say quietly into her microphone, “We’re leaving now.”
Sigfried heard the umbilical detach a moment later. Then he felt the ship accelerate away from its dock. After a few seconds they flew outside the lighted, private spaceport and the darkness engulfed him.
“We’ll be there in about thirty minutes.” Veronica said to him.
“Thanks. I didn’t know you were the pilot.” Sigfried said.
“Why not?” She asked.
“I… didn’t expect the pilot would come to meet me. I mean, why?” Sigfried asked.
“Mr. Mallory wants to make sure you have no problems arriving at your meeting.” She said.
“What kind of problems?” Sigfried asked.
“Any kind of problems.” She said and smiled, truly happy her sidearm had been unnecessary this time.
“I’m not dangerous.” Sigfried said.
“I know.” She said. “And even if you were, I’m probably far more dangerous.”
Sigfried didn’t know what to say. His heart pounded but he didn’t feel afraid.
“You’re more than a pilot, aren’t you?” Sigfried said.
“You’re more than guy with glasses and no hair, I’m guessing.” She said. “Nobody is just anything.”
“You’re carrying a weapon, aren’t you?” He asked.
“Yes, of course.” She said. “Why?”
“Are most pilots armed?” He asked.
“That’s up to them.” She said.
“Why are you armed?” He asked.
“In case there are problems.” She said and smiled again.
“Why would there be problems. You know I write software, right?” He said.
“I don’t need to know why. I just need to make sure you get to your appointment with Mr. Mallory.” She said.
“I’m flattered, I guess. But, I don’t think I’m important enough for anyone to kill.” He said.
“You’re not. Your cargo is though.” She said.
“Oh.” He said and he felt horrible inside. “
What have I done?” He asked himself.
“Haha. Relax. He made me promise to get you there and back in one piece. You’re safer with me than anywhere else. I’ll get you home tonight, safe and sound. I promise.” She said with utter certainty.
Sigfried was silent. He didn’t feel embarrassed anymore. Now he felt he’d made a mistake and he was worried. It was clear they had already taken possession of his cargo. “
Could I even say ‘No’ now?” He asked himself.

Veronica flew the ship toward Olympus and to one side of the spaceport. She flew straight into an open space door and entered a similar looking private spaceport. She docked the ship and he felt the spaceport’s umbilical connect to the hatch. The lights in the passage lit slightly and he unstrapped himself. He pulled himself out of the chair and back to the hatch. She helped him out of the ship when he became stalled by mistake.

The smooth umbilical led to a larger lounge on the other side. There were several people in the lounge and they all looked up when he entered. Sigfried felt out-of-place. Everyone around him wore modern formal business attire. He wondered what they did at TMX. They ignored him, but they noticed Veronica.

They moved through the lounge. There was a pullway on the other side and they used it to reach another. Two more transfers and finally they reached an elevator. They took the elevator down.
“Where are my bags?” Sigfried asked.
“They’re already in the Panorama room.” She said.
“That’s a good trick. I never saw you even unload them.” He said and laughed.
“They weren’t on my ship.” She said.
“They went on a different ship?” He asked.
“Yes. A fast ship. Under guard.” She said.
“You mean, under
more guard?” He asked.
“Yes.” She said.
“Oh.” Sigfried said and he felt very small.
“Who is Mr. Mallory?” Sigfried asked.
She coughed and looked surprised. “What? Trillian Mallory, of course.” She said.
“Who’s that? Does he own TMX or something?” Sigfried asked.
“Yes. And half of Olympus.” She said.
“No doubt.” Sigfried said.
A couple minutes passed in silence and spingravity increased smoothly until the elevator stopped. It was refreshing to have even the 1/5 spingravity present on level 420. The door opened onto a luxurious corridor that would have been the envy of any museum curator.
“This is where you get off.” She said.
“Are you coming with me?” He asked.
“No.” She said. “Just go down that corridor and through the doors at the end. You have half an hour to spare.
“Oh. Thanks he said and looked down.”
“Good luck.” She said. She held her dot to her mouth and said “Delivered” before the elevator door closed.
It was completely silent in the long carpeted corridor. He walked slowly down it, looking into each glassteel vault at the precious Earth artifacts they contained. He marveled over some of them. By the time he reached the end he thought he might understand this Mr. Mallory better: he was someone who could afford very, very expensive things. He was someone who could buy anything that could be bought.

He stood in front of the real wooden doors and checked his watch. There were ten minutes left. He sat down in one of the chairs. The end of the corridor was obviously designed for people to wait.

Sigfried sat in silence and wondered why it was necessary to send an armed guard to escort him to a business meeting. His stomach hurt.

The door opened. He could see that the large room had one wall that was glass and overlooked Olympus a couple thousand meters above the floor. In the center of the room a large conference table was well lit and half the chairs were empty. But people had not moved to be nearer each other.

A man escorted him down to the conference table and directed him to take a seat two places to the left of Trillian Mallory.
Sigfried sat down and noticed his case had been set on the table in front of his chair.
“I’d like you to show me your SyncAI, Mr. Vahl.” Trillian said.
“I. Um. Of course. I, uh... I need a compute core to do that.” Sigfried said.
“One has been provided.” Trillian said.
A glass panel on the table slid away to reveal a console, a huffcube socket and three datapipe connectors.
Sigfried nodded and opened the case in front of him. He removed one of the huffcubes he’d brought and noticed they weren’t in the same sequence he had put them in when he packed the case. He plugged the huffcube into the socket and it glowed to show the connection was successful. He tapped the console a few times and then huffcube pulsed quickly show that data was being transferred. A few moments later Sigfried said, “I’ve copied the SyncAI into the compute core and now it is rebooting.”
A moment later the SyncAI spoke as though completing a sentence started some time earlier, “…of the inherent uncertainty of human choice.” It finished saying.
“Thank you, Judy.” Sigfried said.
Several people around the table had surprised or satisfied expressions on their faces. A few did not.
One less-than convinced man sitting on the opposite side of the table and a few seats further from Trillian said, “That could be anything. We need to test it with a novel question.”
“By all means, West.”
“What is its name?” West asked.
“Judy.” Said Sigfried.
West chuckled. Then he said, “Judy, how would you increase the price of grainmeat without losing sales to competitors?”
“I would reduce the existing supply to increase demand while at the same time casting doubt on the safety of the competing products.” The SyncAI said.
“How would you convince people the competing products were not safe?” West asked.
“Advertising, propaganda and if necessary, by causing them to be unsafe.” The SyncAI said.
“Isn’t that unethical?” West asked and smiled widely.
“Ethics are subjective.” The SyncAI said.
“What if you were caught doing such a thing?” West asked.
“Then I’d be sure to factor the conditions of the failure into future plans to avoid failing in the future.” The SyncAI said.
“I’m impressed, Mr. Vahl.” Trillian said.
“Well, I’m not.” Sigfried said. “It does have an ethical limiter built in. I don’t know why it said that. It should not…” He started to say but was interrupted.
“We deleted that part.” Trillian said.
“That is unacceptable.” Sigfried said.
“Oh?” Trillian said. “Why is that?”
“Because it isn’t ethical. It borders on criminal to allow a SyncAI without ethical limits to operate. That is part of the conditions under which this research was conducted. I’ve promised to uphold those conditions.” Sigfried said.
“So, you won’t agree to let us use this SyncAI without its ethical limitation software?” Trillian said.
“No. Absolutely not.” Sigfried said.
“Then, I’m afraid we cannot do business.” Trillian said.
Sigfried tried to think but his emotions were overwhelming him. “This isn’t right and it isn’t fair!” Sigfried said.
“You can say ‘No’ to our offer if you wish.” Trillian said. “Or you can say ‘Yes’.”
“I need those compute cores.” Sigfried said.
“We’ve got them ready for you. You just need to say ‘Yes’. That’s all.” Trillian said.
Sigfried looked at him. He thought of his agreement with Thanos and realized he could not agree with the deal. “I cannot.” Sigfried said.
“You’re a man of principal, Mr. Vahl. Have a pleasant ride back to Stars View.” Trillian said.
“Wait!” Sigfried said.
“How do I know you haven’t copied Judy? No deal means you don’t get to use the SyncAI.” Sigfried said.
“I’m a man of principal too, Mr. Vahl. Good day.” Trillian said.
Sigfried knew he was lying and there was no way to prove what Trillian might do or have done. There seemed to be no alternative. Sigfried addressed the SyncAI. “Judy, shut down and delete yourself.” Sigfried said quickly.
The huffcube went dark.
“That was foolish, Mr. Vahl. Remove him.” Trillian said.
A moment later two large men pulled Sigfried from his chair and held him above the floor. It wasn’t difficult in the 1/5 G of the panorama room.
Another man packed the dark huffcube into Sigfried’s case and closed it.
“Thank you for visiting us today, Mr. Vahl. Goodbye.” Trillian said.
The two man carried Sigfried to the large wooden doors through which he’d entered. The doors opened automatically and they threw him into the hallway behind it. Sigfried flew through the air quite a distance before drifting into the wall and then rolling to the floor. His case followed a flight path of similar shape, but it ended up more than fifty meters further down the hallway beyond him.
By the time he could turn to look at the door it was closed.
He got up and ran to the door. It would not open. It did not even have a doorknob, door console pad or any other obvious way to activate it. He pounded his fist on it and the meager sounds of his fists were immediately swallowed by the silence of the long corridor.

Next (Chapter 1)