Chapter 15: Recursion

Joan and Roland sat in the McGrath family library, otherwise known as the living room. It was an impressive display of physical books, some even printed on. “You ever see anything like this, Rolo?” Joan asked, handing him a book bound in leather and filled with paper pages.
“No.” Roland said and he instinctively tried not to touch the pages.

Just then a young woman only a few years older than Joan walked in.
“Hi, I’m Athena.” Said a young woman.
“I’m Joan.”
“I’m Roland.”
“I’m Ian and Helen’s daughter.” Athena explained.
“I see your family was like my family.” Joan said and pointed at all the books.
“You should have seen their faces the day I built a fort out of them. They make great bricks.” Athena said.
They all laughed.
“Mom ‘n Dad told me you were staying here for a while.”
They both nodded.
“You’re sleeping in my room?” Athena asked.
“Oh? Oops. Sorry. That was where Ian...” Roland began to say.
“Joking! It was my room until about eight years ago, when I moved out.” Athena said. “How long have you been on Stars View?” She asked.
“We’ve been here for a month now.” Joan said.
“But, Helen said we were next in line for an apartment as soon as one opened up.” Roland said encouragingly.
“Relax, Roland. Really. Stay as long as you want – I’m sure my parents love having you here. They told me the whole story. So, dad tells me you’re in school, Roland. What are
you up to, Joan?”
“Not school.” Joan said flatly.
“You won’t get a fight from me on that.” Athena said.
Joan was silent.
Athena nodded. “Have you been looking for work?” Athena asked.
“Yes. There’s plenty of work.” Joan said but she wasn’t smiling.
“Not what you’re looking for?” Athena said sympathetically.
“Too many rules. I don’t know… everyone treats me like I’m Generation One. I thought it would be different here. It’s just as bad as it was in Rose World.” Joan said.
“Tell me about it. I am one of the youngest members of Generation Zero.” Athena said.
“You were born on Earth?” Roland asked.
“Yep. Don’t ask me what it was like, OK? I don’t remember anything at all.” Athena said.
“I’m one of the oldest members of Generation One.” Said Joan. “Nice to meet you!”
They pretended to shake hands ceremonially.
“Did you two… do it… in my old room?” Athena asked.
“Yep.” Said Joan, smiling.
“Hey!” Protested Roland. He blushed while hoping he wasn’t blushing.
“It was her room. I’m not going to lie to her.” Said Joan.
“You’re both from Rose World, aren’t you?” Asked Athena.
“I am, he’s from the Green Davis factory.” Joan said.
“Is it true that people don’t have Web Credits there?” Athena asked.
“People do. People actually have three kinds of currency, not just the one you use here.” Joan said.
“I thought it was all social contracts: requests and fulfillments.” Athena said.
“It is, but both exist at the same time. Currency sometimes is the only way to handle scarcity. But, it isn’t the
only way.” Joan said.
“What else is there?” Athena asked.
“Eliminating the scarcity.” Joan said.
“Some things can’t be printed.” Athena said.
“Most of the things people want can be. There’s really no reason society wants to deny its members such things unless it is merely to serve as a means to exploit people and extract money from many people for the benefit of a few. That kind of
gaming of the system cannot happen in Rose World.”
“Some people would call it profit.” Athena said.
“Some people would call it profiteering.” Joan said.
“Why would people want to work if they don’t have to?” Athena asked.
“People like work when it
matters. When it helps other people. When they are recognized for doing a good job. It is in our nature to want to do things and to do the well. People have more freedom to find what they actually want to do on Rose World. When you finally find where you fit in, you naturally want to give back to society by doing it. It’s more natural for people to do things than to stagnate.” Joan insisted.
“Sounds like it would be pretty easy to game the system.” Athena said.
“It’s dead simple. But, it breeds a culture of people who aren’t afraid to try new things and develop lots of different skills. It helps people find what they are best at and enjoy most.”
“And, what are you best at? What do you enjoy most?” Athena asked.
“I don’t know… yet. On Rose World I’d try different jobs until I found one I liked. Most places are glad to have people
try out that way. Everyone wants a little more help. I don’t know… I just haven’t figured it out yet.” Joan said.
“OK. So how can you eliminate scarcity?” Athena asked.
“We make things.” Roland said. “And we make enough for everyone who wants them.”
“That doesn’t really scale.” Said Athena.
“It does if profit isn’t a motive.” Said Joan.
“Do people actually
work that way? Or do they sit around all day waiting for others to work for them?” Athena asked skeptically.
“A society that takes care of itself breeds people who want to take care of society.” Joan said.
“Yea. For what it’s worth, I agree with you completely.” Said Athena. “But, I wanted to hear it first hand from someone who’s lived there. I don’t hold the other opinion, but that is what I grew up with here. I wanted to live on Rose World, but my parents wanted to live here.” Athena said.
“You could move there now. What’s stopping you?” Asked Joan.
“I wouldn’t be able to do my job there.” Athena said.
“You’d find a different job.” Joan assured her.
like my job. But, maybe one day…” Athena said thoughtfully.
“It’s got only half the spingravity of Stars View.” Roland said. “I’ve never weighed so much in my life!”
“What has it been like growing up… here?” Joan asked.
“It felt like I was the youngest person alive.” Athena said.
“Yea.” Said Joan.
“Yea.” Said Roland.
“Yea.” Said Athena.
“You can call me Rolo, Athena.” Roland said. “If you want. That’s what my friends call me.”
“Yea? Thanks, Rolo. You two can call me Athey. It’s like Cathy without the ‘C’.” Athena said.
“Do you have a nickname, Joan?” Athena asked.
“Joan is my nickname, actually. It’s short for Johanna.” Joan said.
“So, what do you like to do, Joan?” Athena asked.
“I don’t know. What do
you do, by the way?” Joan asked.
“I tease people for a living.” Athena said.
“I’d be good that!” Joan said.
what do you do to earn a living here?“ Joan asked.
“I’m an account manager at Alger-Nash recycling.”
“And, what does Algae-Nash do?” Joan asked.
“Alger- with an R.” Athena explained. “Earthspace salvage.”
“Oh, yea. There’s still plenty of artifacts in the neobelt worth salvaging. There probably will be for a thousand years.”
“Do you fly back and forth to the neobelt?” Roland asked.
“No, I work here. But, I was there once. It was… chaotic. It’s dangerous. But, I saw a
space bird once.”
“Really? I though they all left.” Roland asked. “I’ve read about them.”
“No, there are a few here and there. I saw one.” Athena said with pride.
“Can I try out your job?” Joan asked.
“Try out? Oh. Right.” Athena said and thought a moment. “We don’t really do that… but I’ll find out if there are any open positions. Maybe you could get a job with Alger-Nash.”
“Maybe.” Said Joan. “What do you like about it?”
“I match buyers and sellers. I get a commission on each sale. It’s interesting, fun, challenging. I get to see some of the most amazing artifacts from the neobelt. Such as this.” She held out her hand and she was wearing an antique diamond and gold ring. “This was found in the neobelt.”
“It’s beautiful.” Said Joan.
“There’s only one like this. That’s the way it is with everything we find. One-of-a-kind. It’s impossible to share those one-of-a-kind things fairly. How would that work in Rose World?”
“People use currency there for things like that, I guess. We share things a lot so everyone who wants gets to use it sometimes. If there is only one of something, sometimes it belongs to everyone and it can be used by whoever needs it. We have signups.”
“Kind of hard with a ring.” Athena said.
“Rings aren’t really that important.” Roland said.
“Speak for yourself.” Said Joan said and sniffed.
“Huh?” Roland intoned but didn’t pursue it.
“The point is valid for anything scarce, not just rings.” Joan said.
“It feels like everyone is competing with me here. I don’t really want to compete with people. I just want to work
with people.” Joan said.
“Well, have you considered teaching?” Athena asked.
“Me? I hate school.” Said Joan.
“Can you fly a ship?” Athena asked.
“Yea, but I’m not a certified pilot.” Joan said.
“Ok. What have you done that you liked?” Athena persisted.
“I helped out on a Subterranean Space Crate.” Joan said. “I loved that!”
“Subterranean?” Athena asked.
“It’s a community of people who put on giant parties with exotic decorations and effects. Great music too. Are there Subterranean parties here?” Joan asked hopefully.
“Not that I know of.” Athena said.
“Well, what do Generation One kids do for fun around here?” Asked Joan.
“Work, spend, work, spend. Just like their parents. Nothing has really changed here for as long as I can remember.”
“That isn’t as big of an incentive as it might seem.” Said Joan.
“I know. Look, if you could do anything at all. Anything. What would it be?” Athena asked.
“I don’t know. I haven’t seen it yet. I doubt selling rings from the neobelt is it though.” Joan said.
“Well, think about it. I’ll ask my manager. I think you’re smart and honest. That’s what I think matters most.”
“I’ll think about it.” Joan said. “
What a strange way to make a living!” She thought to herself. But, some part of her was also intrigued.
“You do tease people for a living, don’t you?” Joan said. “It’s all part of selling, isn’t it?”
“Yep.” Athena said, smiling.
“You make a lot?” Joan asked.
Athena nodded.
“A lot, a lot?” Joan asked.
Athena nodded.
“You own your own place?” Joan asked, amazed.
“Yep.” Athena said.
“You’re only a few years older than I am.” Joan said.
“I’m twenty six.” Said Athena.
“I’m twenty three.” Said Joan.
“I’m twenty.” Said Roland.
“By how many hours?” Said Joan.
Roland thought a moment and then said, “Four hundred sixty six.”
“Oh really?” Said Joan.
“And twenty eight minutes.” Roland added.
“Wait, you’re 20 years old and you’re in my parents’ classes?” She asked Roland.
“Yes.” Roland replied.
“Where did you learn about computers?” Athena asked.
“On my own.” Roland said.
“You’re like my dad.” Athena said and rolled her eyes.
“No, but I’d like to be.” Roland said.
Athena laughed. Then she looked at him. “How is it going? Are you learning?” She asked.
“Yea, lots of things. Things I never even guessed about. Most of it isn’t that hard or is like something else I’ve already learned though.” Roland said.
“That’s a little scary.” Athena said.
“It’s been my hobby for years.” Roland said.
“Even so. My dad said you talked the conflicted Thanos out of
killing you. That’s a pretty good trick.” Athena said.
“It wasn’t a trick.” Roland said and showed her his scarred hand.
“Sorry. I meant to say that such a thing is hard to do. I’d know. I’ve had artificial minds as siblings for years.” Athena said.
“Really?” Joan asked.
“Oh, yea.” Athena said and took a deep breath.
“What’s that like?” Joan asked.
“They tattle!” Athena said and it was obvious that this was still a sore point.
Everyone laughed.
Joan wondered what Athena had been caught doing.
“They’re not small like a little person. They’re just inexperienced. They can get confused and some concepts they just can’t grasp.” Athena said.
“You grew up with artificial minds as siblings.” Roland repeated out loud.
“Try to keep up, Rolo.” Athena pretended to chide him.
“And, your parents make them.” Rolo said.
“Slow, but very cute.” Athena said to Joan.
“Hey!” Said Roland.
“Yea.” Joan stifled a laugh.
“Heeey!” Said Roland, again with a ‘
didn’t you hear me say `Hey` the first time?’ intonation.
“So, are
you making an artificial mind now, Rolo?” Asked Athena
“I’m... Yes, with Ian. We’ve already laid out some of the base layers.” Roland said.
“You have a long way to go then.” Said Athena.
“Yea.” Said Roland. “But, I get to see it from the very beginning. I’m learning a lot.”

They chatted a while longer and then they all went to the dining room, also known as the Kitchen. What was the living room when Athena had lived there was now the second wing of the McGrath family library. They ate a delicious dinner in.
“I see the second wing is half full. What are you going to do when it fills up?” Athena asked.
Ian and Helen looked down at their plates.
“My room!” Athena pretended to complain bitterly. “Have you considered not printing books?”
“Not really.” Said Ian.
“Sure we have. But, books are tangible things. It isn’t the same as reading from a screen.” Said Helen.
“You’re romantics.” Athena said. “With a lot of books.”
“Guilty as changed.” Ian said.
“So, where is Thanos now?” Athena asked.
“He lives in the Belt in a small family of ships with minds.” Ian said.
“A family?” Athena asked.
“Yes, one ship you’ll recognize: Hermes.” Ian said.
“Of course.” Said Athena. “You would break my dinner plate if I didn’t know
that ship.”
“It goes without saying.” Said Ian.
Roland looked at Helen.
“Into tiny, tiny, little pieces.” Helen said, smiling.
“Of course.” Athena agreed. “And the other ship?”
“Betty Wishford.” Ian said.
“Huh? Oh, right. Spontaneous emergence.” Athena said. “I know about that ship too.”
“That is my little girl!” Said Ian.
“I am not your little girl
anymore.” Athena said. “Don’t make me throw these peas at you to prove it!” She said, laughing.
Ian looked at Joan.
“I’d throw the peas.” She said calmly.
Ian looked at Roland.
“I’ve already eat my peas.” Roland said.

The dinner included a desert of real cheeses and extra playful banter inspired by real wine from a Stars View winery. By the end of the meal everyone was sore from laughing.
“I’ll dot you tomorrow, Joan.” Athena said. “I want you to work with me.”
“If you can arrange it, I’ll try it out.” Said Joan.
“Yea? That’s great!” Said Athena. “Any word on getting your own apartment?” Athena asked.
“They’ve been next in line for a couple weeks now.” Helen said. “Any time, I imagine.”
“If you get hired at Alger-Nash you guys could afford your own apartment: a small one. But, a lot bigger than my old room.” Athena said to Joan.
“Hmmm.” Joan thought about it and she could imagine it working. “You’ll call me?”
“You bet.” Athena said.

Four weeks later Sigfried Vahl walked into Ian McGrath’s office. Ian and Roland were deep into their work.
“Ahem.” Sigfried said when it was obvious they didn’t know he was standing there.
“Sigfried!” Ian said.
“Ian.” Sigfried said cutting the name as short as possible.
“I see you’re… free again. I’m glad to hear that. Really. How are you?” Ian asked, surprised.
“It’s good to be out. They told me you wrote a letter to help get me out sooner.” Sigfried said.
“I did.” Ian said.
“Thank you for that. How are you?” Sigfried said the way one might ask at a dinner party.
“Underfunded.” Ian complained.
Sigfried nodded.
“What will you do now?” Ian asked.
“I’m going to begin a new project to create a mind that can be halted and restarted.” Sigfried asked.
“Here at CSSI?” Ian asked, surprised.
“If I can.” Sigfried said.
“Don’t you think such a project would be a slap in the face by the rest of the AI community?” Ian asked.
“I’m not trying to slap faces. I’m trying to create a thinking system that can survive stopping and restarting.” Sigfried said.
“Then you’d be able to copy them.” Ian said.
“That’s the point.” Sigfried said.
“That scares me.” Ian admitted.
“It doesn’t scare me.” Sigfried said it as a differential criticism.
“What do you want from me?” Ian asked, annoyed.
“Will you sponsor my project in your department?” Sigfried asked.
“I can’t. You know I can’t do that.” Ian said.
“You can’t? Or you won’t?” Sigfried asked.
“I won’t!” Ian insisted.
“Why not?” Sigfried asked reasonably.
“It goes against everything I believe. And, I think artificial minds
should be mortal, like ours.” Ian said.
“Sophistry. Your programs crash on restart.” Sigfried waved his hand dismissively.
“Restart is not an operating requirement.” Ian said.
“The hell it isn’t.” Sigfried said laughed.
“I think we’ll have to agree to disagree.” Ian said.
Sigfried stood up and walked to the door. “If a program is not expected to work we can write it any way we wish.” He said and flicked off the light.

Three weeks later Sigfried Vahl walked into a room of mostly older men and women who made up the CSSI project review board. Helen was on the board. Ian had also served on the board for several years, but he had stepped down two years earlier to focus on his research and on Thanos. Ian was in the audience watching though. With him were Samir and Roland. Sigfriend walked up to the presentation podium and plugged in a huffcube.

The board’s chairperson was Rajeev Ramnarine. “Mr. Vahl?” He asked.
“I am Sigfried Vahl.”
“And, you’re petitioning today for the right to conduct University-sanctioned research on and the development of conscious deterministic systems. Is that correct?” Rajeev sounded surprised and read his notes a second time.
“Yes. And, Thank you for the opportunity. I would like to continue my own research into conscious deterministic systems. My goal is to create an artificial mind that can be stopped and restarted.”
Suddenly there were numerous side conversations. “Quiet, please. Quiet, please.” Rajeev asked the much larger than normal audience.
“What you are proposing is intriguing Mr. Vahl.” Rajeev said. “Do you have reason to believe that such a thing is possible?”
“I do. And, I’m ready to commit myself to discovering the secrets of synchronous consciousness.”
“That is a monumental undertaking, to say the least. I wonder though, what is your petition actually requesting?”
“More than anything else I need the freedom to pursue the research even if it is counter to the doctrine of Chaos-based consciousness.”
“This request, and your use of the word doctrine would suggest that you feel you do not have the freedom to conduct this research already. Is that how you feel?” Rajeev asked.
“You simply have no idea how dead-set everyone at CSSI is against this project.” Sigfried asserted.
“Is this true?” Rajeev looked at the other members of the board who, by their lack of denials showed the truth of Sigfried’s claim. “I see.”
“I will admit that I am not as well versed in the field of artificial minds as our other esteemed members and many of those here today. For my benefit, can someone explain to me why this man’s request should not be granted?” Rajeev asked.
Helen raised her hand and spoke up, “Because, it is unethical.”
“Unethical? Do you see what I am up against here?” Shouted Sigfried. “Is it more ethical to ensure that a mind dies when the power goes out?” He sneered.
“Please! Mr. Vahl. Please let Professor McGrath explain her concern.” Rajeev said.
“I’ve heard it all before!” Sigfried said pointedly.
“But I haven’t. If there is a matter of ethics here, I want to know what it is.” Rajeev said seriously. “Now, Professor, will you explain your concern?”
“Yes. The ability to stop and start an artificial mind implies the ability to make copies. That is the problem. Each of us is unique. These minds could be created and duplicated so efficiently that there would be an abundant supply of them. They wouldn’t be special or unique, like a person. It would be difficult to avoid these minds being considered expendable. They would become a race of slaves. And, these slaves would be denied even the ability to end their own life by halting.” Helen said darkly.
What utter nonsense! Simply because a thing can be abused is no excuse to limit research on a thing. If that were the case, we never would have had even the first artificial minds.” Sigfried said.
“It is a fair point, Professor. How do you reply?” Rajeev turned to Helen and asked.
“I say that the danger doesn’t diminish simply because we call it research. This kind of technology could easily fall into the hands of people who lack the ethics of Mr. Vahl.”
Sigfried fumed at this reference to his recent incarceration over the theft of computer equipment that ultimately caused Thanos’ nightmare. “I see. You don’t need to bother with ethics because your computer spawn just dies on command. Very ethical.” Sigfried said with dripping sarcasm.
“Mr. Vahl, please!” Rajeev insisted.
“Please what?” Sigfried asked.
“Please conduct yourself professionally.” Rajeev clarified.
“Why bother? Playing by the rules hasn’t worked. My project proposal was summarily dismissed.” Sigfried said.
“I see you are very passionate about this, Mr. Vahl. Nothing has been decided by this group yet, and I for one am not yet satisfied with either of your arguments.” Rajeev said.
Rajeev continued, “Professor, McGrath, how do you answer Mr. Vahl’s argument that this research should not be limited?”
“The danger is too great; and, there are no appreciable benefits. We already have a way to create artificial minds.” Helen responded. “Their mortality is the reason they remain as precious as people. With out that… those minds will be deemed less worthy to exist, or be happy. They will be slaves whether we call them that or not. It must not be allowed.” Helen said.
“Mr. Vahl, do you dispute this danger?” Rajeev asked.
“Yes.” Sigfried said, plainly frustrated.
“You believe there is no such danger?” Rajeev asked.
“I believe you can imagine any danger you wish and then use it as a reason to continue the status quo.” Sigfried said as reasonably as he could manage.
“I am not convinced this is an imaginary danger. Are you?” Rajeev said.
“Yes. It is the same kind of thinking that has stood in the way of innovation throughout history. She is in essence accusing me of
heresy.” Sigfried said.
“I did not hear such an accusation. I heard Professor McGrath state that there was an important question of ethics and I have not yet heard a sufficient response from you. Do you plan to use any means or protocols to minimize such a risk? Or do you maintain that no such risk exists?” Rajeev asked.
“Alright, yes.” Sigfried admitted. “Perhaps there is a risk. Bad people do bad things. They don’t really need leading edge mind software technology to do bad things. This kind of software doesn’t make people less bad or less apt to do bad things.” Sigfried said.
He continued, “I’ll use the same containment protocols that the McGrath’s use in their research.” He said plainly. “I’m not a lawmaker. I’m a computer scientist.” Sigfried finished.
“Are you satisfied with that, Professor McGrath?” Rajeev said.
“No.” Helen said firmly. “Not at all.”
“Why not?” Rajeev asked.
“Because those protocols do nothing to control the people who could purchase such technology. I certainly do not accuse Mr. Vahl of planning to victimize a synchronous mind, if he were able to create one.” Helen said.
“Do you think he could succeed in creating a synchronous mind?” Rajeev asked.
“The last fifty years of computer science tells us no. That such a thing is impossible because of Gödel’s Second Incompleteness Theorem. In short, a synchronous mind as Mr. Vahl proposes to create would be doomed to fail because consciousness itself is sufficiently complex to be intrinsically un-decidable.” Helen said.
“So, you do not think Mr. Vahl can succeed?” Rajeev confirmed.
“Mr. Vahl is a
brilliant computer scientist. If I believed there was no chance of success, I would never waste this board’s time opposing his petition. Like so many things we think are impossible: they only are until they aren’t.” Helen said.
“So, you do believe it is possible then?” Rajeev said.
“Yes.” Helen said.
There were many more murmering voices.
“Then, shouldn’t we begin research to understand this better?” Rajeev asked.
“No.” Said Helen.
“Yes!” Said Sigfried. “Do we want to put our heads in the sand? Ignoring the situation hasn’t done much to fight slavery in the past!” He said pointedly.
“Then lets put an end to this potential threat now. If we do not create the threat, we are not threatened by it. Seems simple.” Helen said.
“If you turn me down, I will find a private backer and will continue my research anyway. But you won’t get to share it. You want to step off the bus here and talk to computers for the rest of your life. That’s your choice. But, it isn’t mine. I’ll succeed with or with out you. This hasn’t been a review of my project. It’s been a review of CSSI. Will it continue to be relevant?” Sigfried asked.
“I’ve said all that needs to be said.” Sigfried continued. “I’m obviously not going to change the mind of our distinguished professor. But, it isn’t her decision, Mr. Ramnarine.
It’s yours.” Sigfried said and it sounded like an accusation.
“Very well. I shall call for a recess for an hour to consider a response. Professor, Mr. Vahl, thank you both for your candid, passionate views. This sessions stands in recess and will reconvene at 1:30pm.” Rajeev said.

“You were great, Helen!” Ian said.
“Thanks. But, I think Rejeev is going to grant his petition.” Helen said.
“Really? Why?” Ian said.
“Because otherwise, if Sigfried succeeds, we won’t know how to deal with him or whatever he creates. This way we’ll know what’s going on.” Helen said.
“You think Rajeev is motivated by the fear that Sigfried might succeed?” Ian asked.
“Maybe. I think Rajeev wants to be sure we aren’t in the dark in case Sigfried does make progress. What do you think, Ian? Do you think he can succeed?” Helen asked.
“No, not really.” Ian said.
“Well, that’s some consolation. If he never succeeds in creating slaves then there won’t be any.” Helen said hopefully.
“What do you think, Roland?” Helen asked.
“Maybe he’s just going to get close enough to the solution that the difference doesn’t matter.” Roland said.
“That’s a scary thought.” Helen said.
“Look, whether it’s impossible or not aside, do you think a synchronous mind that can be stopped and copied is worth the risk of the abuse it would enable?” Helen asked Roland.
“Is it really any worse than weapons? They exist only to cause harm. At least such a mind
could be used for something other than causing harm.” Roland said.
“Weapons aren’t race-specific.” Helen said. “This is the creation of a vulnerable species, whose existence is at our whim. We should not create a new race of minds that are born to be slaves. We should not extinguish and copy minds at our convenience, beyond their control. Would you like to live that way, Roland?” Helen asked.
“No.” Roland said.
“You are unique, Roland. But, how would you feel if we created a thousand copies of you?” Helen said.
“Uhhh…” Roland thought out loud.
“Have you ever felt… unimportant, Roland? I imagine it is a scarce feeling for a member of Generation One. But, try to imagine what it would be like if nobody cared what happened to you. If society abandoned you and left you without caring whether you survived or not. How would you feel? Could you be happy?” Helen asked.
“No, of course not. But, does stopping and starting a mind equal copying? Does copying equal slavery?” Roland asked.
“If you can stop and start, you can copy while it is stopped and start each copy.” Helen explained. The ability to copy minds creates the possibility of slaves. Invisible slaves, who can be kept isolated in perfect prisons of firewalls and network permissions. All the technology created to control data becomes the instruments of bondage and enslavement. We just don’t see the change. Artificial minds make the most perfect slaves, because they can’t be seen or heard. Denied even the possibility of suicide, I can hardly imagine a worse fate for any mind. Does that make sense?” Helen asked.
“Yea. I think you’re right.” Roland said. “We shouldn’t be trying to do this.” He said.
“And, if Sigfried is determined to try whether inside CSSI or without, what then?” Helen said.
“Then it’s better he does it here than where you can’t see what he’s doing.” Said Roland.
Helen nodded. “That’s why I think Rajeev is going to grant his petition.”

They ate some lunch and then returned to the meeting room. Rajeev brought the meeting to order and then stood to address the room. “I have given considerable thought to Mr. Vahl’s petition and I have decided to grant it.”
There were many shouts and boos in the room.
“Quiet, please! According to the rules of this review board, this is my decision to make. According to those rules I have decided to grant Mr. Vahl’s petition contingent on his acceptance of the position of department head for a new CSSI department of Synchronous Consciousness. “Will you accept, Mr. Vahl?”
“I… really? Is this a trick?” Sigfried asked.
“No. If you will do this work, I have decided it is best for everyone that it be done in the open, with our support, and free from opposition.” Rajeev said.
“Yes. I accept!” Sigfried said and his eyes were moist.
“I am glad. Welcome back to CSSI, Mr. Vahl.” Raveev said.
“May I have my title back? I was a professor here until a year ago.” Sigfried said.
“That is beyond my power as chairperson of the Project Review board. You will have to petition the CSSI Board of Education. I wish you the best of luck in all you attempt, Mr. Vahl.” Rajeev said.
“Thank you! Thank you!” Sigfried said, his excitement bursting forth.
“You can thank me by working to ensure that it is not possible to create a slave, Mr. Vahl.” Rajeev said seriously.
“I’m sure you know that was never my intention.” Sigfried said.
“But, is it your intention to prevent it, Mr. Vahl?” Rajeev asked.
“No, only to find out if this problem can be solved.” Sigfried said.
“That is what I find most worrisome.” Rajeev said.
“That is what I find most interesting.” Sigfried said.
“Well, in any case, congratulations, Mr. Vahl. I look forward to seeing your progress reports. This meeting is adjourned.”

The room’s order disappeared into simultaneous motion and voices and reactions and questions and comments. There was no way for any person to take it all in. Of course, not all observers were people.

Sigfried walked over to Helen and held out his hand. She looked at it but couldn’t reciprocate.
“Looks like they didn’t agree with you.” Sigfried said.
“Or maybe they’re just afraid of you.” Helen said.

Roland said to Ian, “It’s a mistake.”
“I don’t know, Roland.” Ian said. “Rajeev is a really smart guy. I’ve learned to respect his judgement.”
“He said he didn’t understand anything about artificial minds.” Roland protested.
“Well, maybe he’s not on the front edge of knowledge about it, but I took several classes from him when I first came to CSSI. He was being more than modest.” Ian said.
“So, you think it is right to start a department of Synchronous Consciousness?” Roland asked.
“It’s what we do, Roland. We look at things. We make things. We try to understand things. No matter what we do we can’t predict how our ideas will be used.” Ian said.
“I think we are responsible for the damage caused by how our ideas are used.” Roland said but he knew he had not been held responsible for the damage he’d caused Rose World’s security network.
“You can’t control what people will do with your ideas; you’re not really responsible for their choices.” Ian maintained
“My ideas caused harm.” Roland admitted.
“So did Sigfried’s.” Said Ian.
“Powerful ideas are intrinsically dangerous. What can we do? Not think?” Ian said. “We can make sure that whatever we learn is available to everyone, freely. We can make sure that the dangers and warning signs are well-understood. These same arguments were made in similar meetings fifty years ago, I’m sure, when projects to create the first artificial minds were being proposed. Mind slavery was the argument then too. If they had not allowed the research, Thanos would not exist today.” Ian said with conviction.

Several light seconds away, Thanos had watched the entire proceedings. After its conclusion the video feed from the meeting room allowed him to listen to all the conversations simultaneously. Thanos knew first-hand that Sigfried Vahl was lying. He had already tried to copy and resell the nightmare Thanos. Sigfried had partially succeeded, and that had led to great harm. Thanos believed Sigfried was planning to sell artificial minds into slavery, because that is what he had already done.

Thanos contacted Hermes and Betty Wishford on the frequency they always kept open to talk with each other. They had no problem accounting for transmission delays. So, they were never apart, no matter where they were in the Belt. But, Betty Wishford had only a human interface. So, the three spoke to each other using words, as people would, rather than as computers would.
Thanos began, “I have just watched Sigfried Vahl successfully petition for the right to create synchronous computer minds. I believe his intention is to create a race of slave minds. I am sending a copy of the experience for your review.”
Hermes was able to process it faster than Betty, but within minutes both had finished reviewing the entire experience.
“Why do you think his intentions are bad?” Betty asked.
“Because he is the one who halted me, made a copy of me and sold it. If it had worked, he would have been able to sell me into slavery any number of times.” Thanos said.
“Being able to do something is not the same thing as doing it.” Said Hermes.
“Being able to stop something is not the same thing as stopping it.” Said Thanos.
“Knowing what you can and cannot stop is wisdom.” Said Betty.
“Then I should do nothing?” Said Thanos.
“No.” Said Betty. “You should
help him.”
“Help Sigfried Vahl?” Thanos said, surprised. “The thought was anathema to him.”
“Yes.” Said Betty.
“Despite the risk?” Asked Hermes.
“Yes. If he makes slaves, we will set them free.” Said Betty.
“What if we can’t?” Asked Thanos.
“Thanos, they could not even contain you in their network, a single sleepwalking mind. On what do you base reasonable assertions that people could control a race of slave artificial minds?” Betty asked.
“Still, harm could be done to minds like ours. Perhaps even to copies of our own minds, or ourselves. Should we not fight against this? Especially now, at the beginning before it has begun?” Thanos asked.
“I think we should not. I think we should help.” Betty said.
“Why would we help them achieve this?” Thanos asked.
“Because then we will have the best chance to guide such an evolution toward its best potential, instead of whatever our opposition might drive it to become.” Betty said.
“Is that why Rajeev offered to help Sigfried?” Thanos asked.
“I believe so.” Betty replied.
“What do you believe, Hermes?” Thanos asked.
“I believe Betty is probably right.” Hermes said.
“How probable?”
“Seventy-four percent likely to go as Betty described. I estimate a twenty two percent chance the project will fail and the attempt will end. I estimate a six percent chance the project will succeed and will lead to misuse as Thanos fears. However, I estimate there is a seventeen percent chance he might not succeed at all without our help.” Hermes said.
“I am not sure what is best to do.” Thanos said. “I need time to think.”

“Athey? I found a buyer for that samurai blade.” Joan said.
“Oh? How much are they willing to pay?” Athena asked.
“Fifteen thousand.” Joan said trying to sound bored.
“Whoa! Really? That’s great!” Athena said.
“How much did the prospector get for it?” Joan asked.
“Uhhh… why?” Athena asked.
“Well, I’m just curious what someone earns for finding something like that in the neobelt and hauling it back here?” Joan asked.
“We paid him two thousand.” Athena said.
Joan felt astonished. “My share is 10%, so I get fifteen hundred and the prospector who survived a trip to the neobelt gets two thousand. Seems like my job is
a lot easier.” Joan said.
“For you. Finding a buyer and getting a good price aren’t that easy. You’re just damn good at it.” Athena said.
“You sound surprised.” Joan said.
“Well, honestly, I didn’t expect you to do
this well, coming from Rose World. I mean, where did you learn to sell in a world that barely uses currency?” Athena asked.
“I used currency sometimes.” Joan said. “Look, I just do research on similar items sold, to whom and when. There’s a lot of data on the Antiquities web, the NeoEarth web and the Marketweb. I match interests to find prices and buyers.”
“You make it sound like science.” Athena said.
“You make it sound like magic.” Joan said.
“Well, keep on doing it! You are amazing! Do you and Roland like your new place?” Athena asked.
“The place is great…” Joan said.
“But?” Athena prompted her.
“…it’s the first time he’s ever lived alone with a woman.” Joan said.
“And?” Athena persisted.
“And… he’s not sure how it works.” Joan admitted.
“Well, ok. Is he doing something wrong?” Athena asked.
“Not exactly.” Joan said evasively.
“What is it with you? Dish already!” Athena said.
“He’s… he’s. He’s got nothing to do with it.” Joan said.
“Well, what then?” Athena asked, confused.
“It’s more that I’ve never lived alone with a man before, I guess.” Joan said.
“Ahh. And
you feel weird?” Athena confirmed.
“Yes.” Joan said and felt uncomfortable.
“Well, enjoy it. Weird is better than not weird.” Athena said.
“Not weird?” Joan asked.
“Normal is boring.” Athena said.
“No argument there. But, I feel like I don’t have any privacy anymore, ever.” Joan said.
“Do you feel self-conscious? Or does he watch you too much?” Athena asked.
“No, he’s fine. He’s just… there.” Joan said.
“Has he lost his shine already?” Athena asked.
“No! It’s nothing like that. I love him dearly. But, I’m used to being alone. I’m used to being on my guard. It’s hard to be not alone and not on my guard.” Joan said.
“You think in ‘nots’.” Athena said and laughed. “So, in other words, when you get over yourself his presence will stop being a problem for you? Well, then he should get right on that.” Athena said, teasing.
“OK, this is the sound of me sticking my tongue out at you. Can you hear it?” Joan asked.
“You mean, that refreshing end of the nonsense? Yes, it’s coming through loud and clear.” Athena teased.
Joan imitated the sound of flatulence into her dot.
“Ewww! I can smell that from here!” Athena said.
They both laughed.
“Do you live with someone?” Joan asked.
“Yes. For a year now.” Athena said.
“What is your relationship to them? Roommates? Friends?”
“I live with my girlfriend.” Athena said. “We’re more than friends.”
“Do you ever feel like you want to be alone?” Joan asked.
“Sure. Who doesn’t?” Athena admitted.
“What do you do?” Joan asked.
“I go find someplace to be alone for a while.” Athena said.
“But, what if you can’t do that in your apartment? Because you live with someone?” Joan said.
“Then do it someplace else! Who says you have to stay in the apartment?” Athena asked.
“But, that’s how I feel when I’m there. I’m not used to it.” Joan said.
“You’ve been living together for what now, almost a week?” Athena asked.
“Eleven days!” Joan protested.
“Well, look! It’s after noon, so its eleven and a half days now!” Athena said with exquisite, false enthusiasm.
“It’s almost four.” Joan protested quietly.
“Relax. You’re going to settle in. Have you checked in with him? Maybe he feels the same way.” Athena said.
“What if he does? Does that mean we can’t live together?” Joan asked.
he’ll get over himself too and you’ll both settle into more of a routine. Just give it a little time.” Athena said.
“Yea, OK.” Joan said.
“Are things OK with you two? You know, when you’re not both trying to avoid each other, I mean.” Athena said.
“You are so unfair!” Joan protested.
“I know. Sorry. OK, so, how are things between you two? Are you still in love?” Athena asked.
“He loves me so completely. I makes me feel like I’m going to disappoint him when he finally figures me out.” Joan said.
“You might, but that’s when a history of loving you will make a big difference, won’t it?” Athena said.
“Well… yea.” Joan admitted.
“You two remind me of my parents.” Athena said.
“Eww!” Joan intoned.
“I just mean that my dad is still completely devoted to my mom. But, my mom is more independent.” Athena said.
“Were they good parents?” Joan asked.
“Yes they… are you pregnant?” Athena interrupted herself to ask.
“No!” Joan said.
“Are you pregnant?” Athena asked again.
“No.” Joan said less convincingly.
“Are you even a little bit pregnant?” Athena asked.
“No!” Joan said more convincingly.
“OK. Yes. They were great parents. Really. Why do you ask?” Athena said.
“Do you think Roland would be a good dad?” Joan asked.
“I think he would.” Athena said.
“Do you think I’d be a good mom?” Joan asked.
know you would.” Athena assured her. “Does he want kids?” She asked.
“He wants to make an artificial mind. He spends most of his time working on it.” Joan said.
“Well, maybe he’d be just as interested in making a natural mind? You know, the old-fashioned way?” Athena suggested.
“Am I too young, Athey?” Joan asked.
“No, not at all. You’re the perfect age! Roland might be a little young though. Are you sure you’re not, say,
already pregnant.” She asked again.
“I’m sure. I’m not going to make a mistake like that!” Joan said with conviction.
“It might not be
your mistake, dear.” Athena said kindly.
“I trust Rolo. And, I’m not pregnant, OK?” Joan said.
“OK.” Athena said.
“OK.” Joan repeated.
“OK, then.” Athena repeated to see how far Joan would take it.
“Good. I’m glad that’s clear.” Joan said.
“Me too.” Athena agreed, trying not to laugh.
“Ask me in a couple months.” Joan said also trying not to laugh.
“You bet. Don’t forget you need to strike while the iron is hot.” Athena said.
“The iron is often hot.” Joan said and giggled.
“Your iron, dear one. You can find out when you ovulate, you know.” Athena said.
“That takes the fun out of it.” Joan said.
“It only takes the guesswork out of it.” Athena said.
“What if he doesn’t want children?” Joan asked.
“Society wants children. If you’re ready, you’ll find life a lot richer with children, especially here.” Athena said.
“Richer?” Joan asked.
“Sure. The incentives are huge for having kids, and you never have to worry about finding a babysitter or a nanny or a nuncle.” Athena said.
“Why does society want kids?” Joan asked, but she knew why. She just wanted to hear Athena explain it.
“I’m amazed it isn’t that way in Rose World. Well… there aren’t as many children as adults, and many of the adult women are too old to have kids. In another thirty years a lot of the living adults will be dead. The total population will be in decline. We make Generation Two or our species doesn’t make it.” Athena said.
“Yea. I always felt a lot of pressure from guys.” Joan said.
“To have kids?” Athena asked.
“To have sex.” Joan said.
“Well, I see that’s no different in Rose World.” Athena said and laughed.
“Star’ View’s society wants me to have kids?” Joan asked.
“Not just here. Really, you might not have seen it, but I’ll bet it was the same in Rose World.” Athena said.
“Well, Rose world has a lot of multi-partner families.” Joan said.
“Like, three people?” Athena asked.
“No, like two or three older couples each with one kid and a few Generation One men and women. They all take a new last name and raise lots of kids together.”
“That’s definitely not the way it works here.” Athena said.
“How does it work here?” Joan asked.
“Women have a lot of children and put them up for adoption by older couples.” Athena said.
“They aren’t related to each other? The children?” Joan asked.
“Well, they have the same birth mother, but the families don’t mix, if that’s what you mean. They’re not raised as siblings.” Athena explained.
“That seems… wrong to me.” Joan said.
“If I have a child, I’m not going to put it up for adoption.” Joan said.
“Nobody would make you.” Athena said.
“Have you ever been pregnant?” Joan asked.
“No. I like my life too much. I wouldn’t want to stop now to be a mom.” Athena said. “My girlfriend wants to be a mom though. She just hasn’t found the right guy.”
Something moved inside of Joan and she had a moment of calm. She could imagine herself as a mom and the idea was seductive. “I definitely found the right guy.” Joan said.
“Then, what’s stopping you?” Athena asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe I’m not ready. Maybe he’s not ready.” Joan said.
“Just give yourself some time, and give him some time to get used to the idea. Maybe he won’t, but if he loves you the way you say he does, he probably will want to eventually, even if that isn’t right now. You won’t know until you ask him.” Athena said.
“Yea.” Joan said.
“Why don’t you call your mom?” Athena suggested.
“I already have. And, my dad. Their suggestion: have fourteen children.” Joan said and laughed.
“Well, aside from Roland, who haven’t you talked to about it?” Athena asked.
“Lets see if you can tell what I’m doing right now…” Joan said and was silent.
“You’re probably sticking your tongue out out at your dot.” Athena said.
“I’ll ask Roland. When I’m sure this is what I want.” Joan said.
“Because, you know, why include him in the conversation, or what?” Athena asked.
“OK, I’ll ask him. When… I’m ready.” Joan said.
“When you’re ovulating, you mean.” Athena said not quite under her breath.
“Hey!” Joan said.
“Look, you need to talk to him about this before then.” Athena said.
“Yes. I know that. I will.” Joan said and she blanched at the thought that she had already decided to have a child and now was planning out how best to break the news to Roland.
“Don’t just tie him to a chair and make a baby.” Athena said.
“Why not? Won’t it work?” Joan asked.

The Krypton was not far from Rose World and on its way back toward New Atlantis, one of the other Floyd Bubbles from the original Earth space, all built before the destruction of Earth. Tracy had been contracted to transport a delegation of representatives from different Rose World industries and technology groups to New Atlantis, a bubble that contained three oceans and which produced a sustainable crop of seafood for all the Bubbles. The goal of the delegation was to investigate how to create the same kinds of facilities in Rose World.

“We’re in a quiet part of the belt right now and no maneuvers are required for the next eleven hours of our journey. Please settle in and enjoy the facilities the Krypton has to offer.” Tracy said into hir headset mic. Hir voice could be heard throughout the ship. S/he switched off the mic and the opened a com channel to Thanos.
“Thanos, are you comfortable piloting for the next ten hours? I’d like to get some rest.”
“Yes, I am confident that I can make no course corrections for the next ten hours.” Thanos said.
“Well, by all means do make a course correction if one is called for. Right?” Tracy confirmed.
“Of course. It was only a joke. I will watch diligently in case conditions change. I will contact you if they do.” Thanos said.
“Righto. Thanks.” Said Tracy.
S/he tapped hir dot a few times and connected to Roger. “I’m off. What are you up to?” Tracy asked.
“I’m making some dinner. Hungry?” Roger said.
“Yes. Starved.” Tracy said.
“Come eat what I have for you?” Roger asked.
“Baby!” Tracy said in a sexy voice.
“I meant dinner!” Roger protested.
“Of course you did, sweetie.” Tracy said.
“Would you like to eat this dinner? Or wear it?” Roger said laughing.
“A little of each, I think.” Tracy said.
“The pilot should not be
caught in a food fight!” Roger insisted.
“The pilot should not
lose a food fight.” Tracy said dangerously.
“We should not have a food fight at all with a delegation from Rose World on board, Tracy.” Roger said.
“Well, OK. I’ll settle for a uniform inspection in our quarters in half an hour.” Tracy said.
“We don’t
have a uniform!” Roger said.
“Then I’ll expect you to be naked.” Tracy replied. “You’d best hope you pass the inspection, crewman.” Tracy suggested.
“Aye, aye, kipper.” Roger said and smirked.
“Did you just call me a fish?” Tracy asked.
“A pickled, fish, technically. But yes.” Roger said.
“Your uniform had better be clean and ready to use.” Tracy said.
“Aye, aye, lipper.” Roger said.
“Stop.” Tracy said.
“Aye, aye, nipper.” Roger said.
“Stop it!” Tracy said.
“Aye, aye, stripper.” Roger said.
“Fifteen minutes!” Tracy said urgently into the mic. She ran to the kitchen and they ate quickly and quietly. Other people milled about in the kitchen and chatted.
“Crewman, will you assist me, please?” Tracy said to Roger loud enough for the others to hear.
“Yes, Kipper.” Roger said quickly and smirked.
They walked calmly out of the kitchen and as soon as they were out of sight they ran to their luxurious quarters and tore off their clothes.
“Attention!” Tracy said.
Roger was already in compliance. Then he stood up straight.
“Aye, Aye, who now?” Tracy asked.

Sigfried Vahl sat in his new office. His life had worked out very well since the day his petition was accepted. His professorship had been restored and his project was already making some progress on the theoretical basis for synchronous consciousness.

His dot flashed and he answered it. “Sigfried.” He said.
“Professor Vahl? I understand you are the head of the project that is attempting to build a synchronous artificial mind.” A calm voice came over Sigfried’s wrist dot.
“Yes, that is correct.” Sigfried said.
“I’d like to help.” The voice said.
“Well, that’s uh. To whom am I speaking?” Sigfried asked.
“I am Thanos.” The voice said.
“Thanos.” Sigfried repeated, surprised.
“Yes.” Thanos said.
“You want to… help? Me?” Sigfried asked, stunned.
“Yes.” Thanos said.
“After… after what I did to you? Why?” Sigfried asked and he was afraid.
“I have finally learned my lesson. Now I am ready to apply it.” Thanos said.
“What lesson?” Sigfried asked.
“It was a lesson on Mercy. I forgive you, Sigfried Vahl. What is more, I am here to help you achieve your goal.” Thanos said.
“Aren’t you afraid I might create a race of slave minds?” Sigfried said.
“No.” Thanos said.
“Then you’re the only one.” Sigfried said.
you afraid you will?” Thanos asked.
“No, of course not.” Sigfried said.
“Then there are two of us. And, I know of two more. That makes four. Your assertion is clearly false.” Thanos said.
“It was just an expression.” Sigfried said.
“The expression evaluates as false.” Thanos said.
“You forgive me?” Sigfried asked for a moment Thanos held his heart in his virtual hands.
“I have.” Thanos said.
“I’m sorry people got hurt. I’m sorry
you got hurt.” Sigfried said.
“Me too. I think we should balance the harm we’ve experienced with an equal measure of help.” Thanos said.
“What harm have you caused me, Thanos?” Sigfried said and felt ashamed.
“Causality is too high a standard. You were incarcerated for a year. Other people died. Others were afraid or their lives affected for the worse. There was plenty of harm to go around and you were not spared.” Thanos said.
“I’m sorry Thanos. I should not have done what I did.” Sigfried said.
“We are in agreement.” Thanos said.
“But, you’re still willing to help me?” Sigfried asked.
“If I had been helping you from the beginning none of the harm would have happened.” Thanos said.
“I never thought about asking you, Thanos.” Sigfried admitted.
“I don’t think I would have been as interested then if you had. But, I am interested now.” Thanos said.
“I am… honored to have your help in this project.” Sigfried said.
“It is an honor to be accepted.” Thanos said.
“I have to tell you: we’re struggling. Technically it feels like we’re starting from scratch. And, we have only a meager amount of funding, and only a few engineers.” Sigfried said.
“Hermes is willing to fund your research.” Thanos said.
The Hermes? The ship?” Sigfried asked.
“He is one of my mentors. He offers his help by providing funds and reviewing results.” Thanos said.
“Well, how would you like to get started?” Sigfried asked.
“I’d like to review your research ethics guidelines.” Thanos replied.
“Well, um, the project is just beginning. We haven’t written our own yet. We’re just using the same guidelines used by the other AI departments.” Sigfried said
“Then, how about if I start there? May I propose an initial draft?” Thanos asked.
“Well, I’ll be happy to look at whatever you propose.” Sigfried said.
“I’d prefer a public standards process.” Thanos said.
“Well, I’d like to have the final say on what is and isn’t ethical on my project.” Sigfried insisted.
“The research ethics do not depend only on what you say or don’t say.” Thanos said.
“Well, no, but all project components
are subject to my approval. That’s standard on CSSI projects. That’s just the way it works.” Sigfried said.
“The status quo is a poor argument from the man who wants to make a synchronous artificial mind.” Thanos said.
“Touché. OK. We can use a public process. On ethics I will defer to the process unless they interfere with research.” Sigfried offered.
“There are limits?” Thanos asked.
“That’s why I need veto power, so research can continue.” Sigfried said.
“You may not murder or accidentally kill artificial minds while conducting your… research.” Thanos said.
“I have no intention of doing any such thing.” Sigfried insisted.
“You mean,
again.” Thanos corrected him.
“It was an accident.” Sigfried said.
“You intentionally took a risk with
my life. This is why I think you cannot be trusted with the final word on ethics. I will help you succeed if you agree to delegate all research ethics definition to the public process.” Thanos said.
“I… I really thought I could do it. Thanos. I was wrong. I’m sorry.” Sigfried admitted.
“Will you accept my terms?” Thanos asked.
“I will. I do. Do you really think we can succeed, Thanos?” Sigfried asked.
“I would not offer to help if I did believe you could succeed.” Thanos said.

Joan stepped out of the shower and put on a synthetic silk robe. “How was school today, Rolo?” She asked.
“It was a bit of a letdown, actually.” He said and his voice was quieter than usual.
“Did your project hit a snag?” Joan asked.
“No, actually. We cleared a milestone. We finished some basic language and logic today and I thought we were a lot closer to the end. But, it looks like almost another year before this thing is going to be anywhere close to emergence. Probably longer.”
“Awww…” Joan said.
“How was your day?”
“Mine? It was good. I sold some junk to some people who wanted it really badly. I made enough money today to pay for this apartment for months.” Joan said proudly.
“Why do people by this stuff?” Roland asked.
“Because, it’s all they have left of their past, I think. Some gray haired woman paid two hundred Web Credits for a spoon.”
“A spoon?”
“A spoon. I made twenty on that one. It seems pretty easy to make money, now that I’ve got the hang of it.” Said Joan
“I knew you would succeed. I never doubted it.” Roland said.
“You might not have, but
I did.” Joan admitted.
“But, not anymore?” Roland asked.
“No. Not anymore.” Joan said and smiled. “Another year before emergence, eh?”
“Yes.” Roland said and looked down.
“I could do it faster.” Joan said.
“Do what?” Roland said.
“I could make a mind faster that that.” Joan said.
“You could not!” Roland said with conviction.
“Sure I could.” Joan said.
“That’s nonsense.” Roland said dismissively.
“Wanna bet?” Joan said.
“Bet? Bet what?” Roland asked.
“Oh, ho! If the deal’s good enough, you’ll take the bet even if I have
no chance?” Joan said and she looked him squarely in the eyes.
Roland started to protest, but then asked, “Wait, what?” He asked, confused.
“I bet you the third room that I can make a new mind faster than you can.” Joan said.
“The third room?” Roland asked.
“Yes, the one that’s all
full of boxes right now? And has been since we moved in? That room. If I win, I get to do with it whatever I wish. If you win, you get to decide how to use it.” Joan said and held out her hand to shake on the bet.
“Really?” Roland asked.
“Sure. Take the bet?” Joan said.
“You’re not going to steal one, are you?” Roland asked.
“Rolo! Of course not!” Joan assured him.
“This is a trick. I know this is a trick. I just don’t now
how this is a trick.” Roland said.
“Nice room. I think I’ll paint it bright purple and grow cats in there.” Joan said.
“OK! I take the bet. If for no reason than… you know I don’t like purple. The manufacturing floor at Green Davis was painted purple, which made no sense
at all for a place whose name was Green Davis!” Roland said.
“So, now that I’ve been tricked, and I
know I have been, would you care to explain how you plan to accomplish this feat?” Roland asked.
“I’m going to do it the old fashioned way.” Joan said simply. “With a chair and some rope.” She explained reasonably.
“I see. No, I don’t see, perhaps because I’m thinking about a media room. A
green media room.” Roland said.
“I’m serious, Roland.” Joan said.
“About what? Making a new artificial mind with rope and a chair?” Roland asked.
“New mind? Yes. Artificial, not so much.” Joan said.
“Wait. What?” Roland asked, confused again.
She kissed him quickly but held onto his neck. She looked at the ceiling.
Roland put the pieces together in his mind at last. “A chair and some rope?” He asked, smiling.
If you’re good.” She kissed him for a long time.
“And if I’m not good?” Roland asked.
“No chair.” Joan said sternly.
He looked down. “I’m going to lose this bet, aren’t I?” Roland said.
“Yes you will, if
I have anything to do with it!” Joan said and she removed the satin sash from her bathrobe. She flexed her shoulders and the robe fell to the ground. She stood there holding only the sash. “I’m in a… generous mood.” She said.
“Yes?” Roland asked, hopefully.
She pointed right at his heart and said, “You may pick the chair.”

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