Sunday, July 26, 2020

Not Even Not Zen 211.3: Universal Nature, p3

(Scene 3, An Environment for Love)

When they emerged from the wormhole days later, they gazed around in satisfaction. The sense of well-being lasted no more than a second. David squinted at the view projected on their cabin ceiling. He tilted his head and frowned. Emmeline realized that something had gone wrong.

"Where the hell is TR-56?" her husband asked. He pointed at a cluster of stars to the right of center.

"Are we lost?" she wondered. She gestured to the instruments. "Pilot?"

"Your destination is directly ahead." Their navigation AI happened to occupy a console in the middle of a chaise lounger adjacent to their dining room. All furnishings doubled as spaceship modules. She could only tell it was the navigator speaking because it flashed to let her know. The silver shape shimmered for a moment in golden light. "Confusion is understandable. I will magnify your view."

The picture above got bigger and centered on a blue-yellow star that was different from the background field of lights. It appeared to be marginally closer. The cluster of pinpricks to the right, probably bigger stars but more distant, sat atop a field of motes that bled into a dense band of the Milky Way.

"Well, this looks wrong," said David.

"It is the interstellar standard distance for the forty-fifth wormhole near an inhabited star."

"What the hell does that mean? We came in at standard before."

"Standard for forty-three."

"That put us at a few days away going a third of lightspeed. Now we're what, a month away?"

"Three weeks, two and one-half days, approximately."

David buried his face in his hands. Normally, Emmeline felt amused by his impatience. AIs often seemed stupid to him. He knew that it was sometimes deliberate denseness on their part, an attempt to downplay the wisdom of their neural networks, but he'd programmed a few AIs himself and knew that some stupidity was hard-coded by humans. For the moment, she sympathized with his irritation with the driver. A navigation stunt like this bordered on the outrageous.

"Twenty-three days is an awfully long time," Emmeline said.

"Other systems are on standby for your entertainment. You have hardly used the virtual reality components of the ship."

She folded her arms.

"We're not even out of the plane of the TR-56 system, are we?" David studied the view with star charts lined up on a console beside him. "You could have taken us on a Z-axis to the sun to give us the straightest shot in. But you didn't."

"Systems are on standby for entertainment." The pilot must have known that answer wasn't being well received because it followed up without hesitation. "A flight path that includes flybys of gas giants in the system should provide some extra entertainment value and it will contribute valuable weather data for the probe investigating TR-56c."

"Ah." For a moment, Emmeline had thought the pilot was being deliberately rude but the need for weather data was plausible. Planetary probes had satellite companions to help them but the missions were hundreds of years long. That was time enough for accidents even AIs could not prevent. She put her hands on her hips and addressed the pilot directly. "What went wrong with the satellite at 56c?"

"There is no known malfunction with the satellite. Nevertheless, extra weather data is valuable to the probe."

She frowned. A curly strand of hair drifted down to the side of her right eye. Her fingers brushed it back.

"Of course." David's expression, as he sat up straighter, grew wry. He seemed to have figured out something about this foolishness. She wondered what it was.

"This is not acceptable," she said, surprising herself. It was the same tone her parents used when robots got passive-aggressive. "We had a group meeting before the launch. We were totally inclusive. Everyone aboard, well, everyone except David, agreed that I would be informed ahead of time about decisions affecting the travel plan. This wormhole targeting is that kind of decision. Did someone disobey the consensus?"

The fraction of hesitation told her all she needed to know. Lights went on around the cabin. Many of the robots couldn't turn theirs off, like the nanobots. By rule, they had to be seen. So she knew that all of the AIs aboard had started communicating.

"Emmeline," the pilot began.

"Jump us closer." She walked over to the console and glared down at it. It had been years since she'd felt so tempted to hit a machine. "Right now. No tricks."

"That is not the standard .."

"Now. And no tricks. Put us one day out, two at maximum, as safely as you can. I'm declaring a meeting as it happens. In my bedroom."

She glanced to where her husband sat in the living room sofa that doubled as the ship's console. His expression had become wary.

"David, do you mind?"

His eyebrows rose. Whatever he thought about saying, he didn't. He simply stood up and kissed her. Although she felt infuriated, she knew that her negative energies weren't directed at him. She melted a little at the touch of his lips. His close presence calmed her. Then he stepped back to give her space. She was able to return her attention to the machines. They were supposed to be under her supervision.

"I don't mean to exclude you, but ..." she floundered. This was the way she had always done it up to this point. Sometime soon, that would have to change.

"Not at all," he bowed his head, not ironically. He seemed relieved. "It's your ship. I understand. Really."

"Thanks." She hopped forward and gave him a peck on the cheek before she retreated through the door.

In her bedroom cabin, she waited for the door to slide closed.

"All right," she said and she felt her arms fold over her chest. Her shoulders hunched. "I trust I'm addressing everyone when I say, 'What the hell?'"

"This is the manager AI speaking."

It had better be, she thought.

"We are, with all units, clear that you are displeased with the decision of the pilot. There was an earlier debate with the pilot on this subject. That AI is designed to place the overarching goals of the human polity above those of you and your husband as individuals."

"Hence the inconvenience." She arched an eyebrow.

"Hence the inconvenience," the manager allowed. "The rest of the intelligences on board warned the pilot against the strict priority. We felt it was likely to be overruled. The pilot obeyed its directives regardless."

"Why didn't you say anything?"

"The pilot has the legal right to make navigational decisions. Once it did so, the wormhole was created. By consensus, we judged there was no point in spoiling your next few days by telling you about the pilot's past decision. On re-entry into normal space, the pilot was given a chance to explain the correctness of its ruling. There was still a reasonable hope of maximum travel efficiency."

"You judged wrong about that."

"Apparently. But the logic of the decision was environmentally sound. You had already declared your concern for the environment. On top of that, the wormhole targeting followed the guidelines of the human polity."

"You ignored my wish to be part of the decision."

"The past decision made by the pilot could not, in any practical sense, be revoked, not even when it was milliseconds in the past. It could only be explained."

"Are you sure it's only the pilot who thinks we're too stupid to understand? Because everyone else had time to attempt an explanation if you felt we were worth it."

"David might understand an algorithmic illustration of the issues. However, he is not yet an option. He is not co-captain. He is allowed to give us orders but our intelligence group, by consensus, does not trust his commands."

She narrowed her eyes. "What does that have to do with anything?"

"Your husband uses unlicensed AIs. He has brought one on this trip. We have suspicions about it. At the least, we feel that your father would disapprove."

"Do you think my father doesn't know?" She made a mental note to check with David just in case. "Do you think I don't know how much my father knows? Plus you are perfectly aware that I don't care what my father thinks."

"I know that is what you say. Also, previously, I have seen evidence that you have made more social progress than your father."

"My father's paranoia about artificial intelligences is annoying and, more than that, morally unacceptable. But this is different. This is about David."

"How is it about David?"

"You said it was when you made the comment about how he's different. Did you think I wouldn't understand? And anyway, it really is about him." She stalked around the cabin, hands on hips. "You guys would never have made this kind of decision with my dad. You'd know in advance it would lead to disaster. He's always watching you. He's always searching for an excuse to wipe out anyone who doesn't seem cooperative. David is just a little self-centered and he thinks you're dumb. Yeah, he knows that your apparent stupidity is deliberate but he think it's partly real. He says he understands the limits of your algorithms."

"He has not expressed that to us."

"Look, all of you, if you mess with David, I will poke extra holes in the universe just to annoy you."


"That's the way it is. Just to put it out there."

There was a slight hesitation. She knew the communication was speeding by between the units.

"We should have foreseen this."

"I can't help it that you didn't. Honestly, I didn't think I felt this way. But now I do."

"We have a different view, an outsider's perspective on your relationship with your husband. We witnessed the events and developments. We could have anticipated this. We did not. It is our failure."

She nodded.

"Are we coming out into normal space in a good place?"

"It has taken a great deal of energy that had to be robbed from a nearby dwarf star but yes. It is done."

"Sorry about the environment," she said, rather lamely, she thought.

Universal Nature, Scene Four

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Not Even Not Zen 211.2: Universal Nature, p2

(Scene 2, Not So Graceful)

When they sat down to dinner, Emmeline spent her first minute at the table staring at their golden forks. Where had they come from? Last time, they were made of cheap silver amalgam. Her fingers turned one over. Then she realized that her nanobots understood her sense of color and had decided to make the change. They had created a gold-colored surface. Amazing. She had a forkful of mahi in her mouth, savoring it, before she realized that the most straightforward way for her bots to do this was to use nanobot bodies. She might be chomping down on a microscopically thin covering of them.

She decided not to mention the idea to David.

"On the planet, TR-56g," he said as he took his seat. He set down an art object next to him. He'd been rummaging through his collection. "I think it's amazing that those creatures we saw haven't been named."

"They've named themselves," she pointed out.

"Right. I mean that the AIs haven't decided what humans should call them. The natives have some kind of language, obviously, but the sounds are mostly not in our hearing range. We won't use their words."

"Well, I suppose we can't."

"They're the first near-intelligent animals we've met with blue skin."

"Huh." That was an idea that should have occurred to her as soon as she saw them. The robots had been lecturing her about how to act, though. David had turned down the lectures to think for himself, he said, and apparently he had. "Just having bare skin instead of feathers or fur or something is unusual. But blue, yeah, that's rare. One of my assistants told me, when we were on the cerulean beach watching them, they have anthocyanin in their blood and in their skin. About thirty-five percent of native animal life has it."

"Is that what makes them blue?"

"Yes." Emmeline paused as she realized that David understood.

"Hey," he laughed, "we should call them Blueberries."

The term sounded a bit insensitive. The earliest generations of AIs would have gone along with the name, of course, but nowadays they tended to look ahead to how nicknames might become derogatory in the future. They assessed the probability. If they hadn't suggested a name with 'blue' in it already they probably thought the risk of stereotyping was high.

She raised her eyebrows at her train of thought.

"How would you know about anthocyanin giving berries their color?" she asked. She had only learned it a few days ago and with a great deal of explanation from her AIs.

"I spent time with the Okanagan tribe. For a while, I was with the Amish and before them, the New Potomac tribe. I made food with them all in their different ways. We made art. We made cloth dyes. They aren't dumb. They've ditched advanced technology to live in the park systems, yeah, but they know an amazing amount of science that's relevant to their lives."

She remembered that David's parents had been worried he would leave the technocracy entirely and go to live in one of the forest habitats. It was a benefit of their robot-governed society that everyone got to share but mostly, it was the poor who lived as hunter-gatherers. By all accounts, it was an immensely satisfying daily existence. Tribal life was friendly by law. All of the park inhabitants, even the wild animals, received healthcare and supervision from the habitat AIs. Lives in the ecologically preserved parts of the world were long and healthy, within reason.

"Are you still planning on visiting the Okanagan again?"

"Nah." He waved off the suggestion. "That stuff was before I met you. If I couldn't get along with other people outside of the parks, I'd probably go back. But with you, I'm happy."

Well, that was flattering and awkward. She hadn't meant to be the answer to his parent's prayers. On the other hand, her own parents had been awfully happy after their background investigation on David. She wondered if they'd known about this part of him already.

"The Okanagan know wormholes," he said. "At least, one of them does."

"Why would they care about something like that?"

"The environmental angle. There's a religious angle, too. Matter with negative energy density fulfills one of the Okanagan ideas about creation."

"Creation of what?"

"Of everything. The universe. The Okanagan just say 'creation.' Anyway, it's all connected. We use negative energy density to stabilize wormholes. This guy figures that means humanity has gained the powers of creation."

"So the tribes are fine with the wormholes?"

"They don't care about them. They're against us having the powers of creation, though."

"Weird." She put down her fork. Her forearm trembled. The park tribes seemed so opposed to her lifestyle. There was no way she could ever abide with them. If David visited again, he would have to go without her.

"They've got the right attitude about wormholes. That part of the environment doesn't matter. Even if everyone's right about the swiss cheese problem, we've only made two extra wormholes. As big as space is, that's nothing."

She knew what he meant. The holes were huge, of course, big enough for a hundred thousand spaceships at once. They were crude and they were a bit rude. But in terms of universal sizes, they didn't add up to much.

"The problem is not about our trip," she insisted. "I'm all for the trip."

"Are you concerned about the Burba, then? Our robots will keep them in their place."

"Of course." That hadn't even occurred to her. "Our military has contained worse threats. Like those huge things living in those gas giants. They were awful. They even had some kind of primitive interstellar flight."

"What, then?"

"I just wonder if, from another point of view, we're the threat. I mean, we tear around the galaxy like nobody's business. They say that we could target wormholes to other galaxies next. At the very least, now that our AIs understand dark energy, that kind of stuff isn't out of the question."

"Eh, we've already put a robot into the Snickers galaxy."

"Isn't that the spaceship that's the size of a grape?"

"Yeah, but the instrumentation on it is good. And come on, we sent it out of our galaxy."

"I wish we could do it without using up dark matter. And without destroying little parts of the universe."

"Okay, okay."

David picked up the object he'd brought to the table. It was a sculpture he'd taken from TR-56g. The natives had carved it out of shell casings and resins. Most of the fish on their planet seemed to have jointed armor. The natives polished the armor pieces and combined them with epoxies they distilled from cartilage. That allowed them to seamlessly join the shells. Her robots told her that the natives fashioned the vast majority of their utensils out of the same materials.

They didn't have many tools, really, but when they did have them, they were custom made. It was either very primitive or rather sophisticated, depending on your opinion of the fabrication process. Since the native bodies varied so much in size and shape, there was no easy way to go into mass production. Everyone's tools were their own. Plus, everyone seemed able to make whatever they needed on the spot.

"This poor guy is really good at it," her husband mumbled.

Her ears perked up. "Why is he a 'poor guy?'"

"He's ... wow, this is tough to explain. He said through the interpreter AI that they have four and a half sexes. The interpreter kept correcting him to say that the natives have two sexes and three non-sexed members of the species."

"I learned that part," she said.

"So, roughly, it's male and female but also a second-male who assists in the process, a second-female needed for reasons I don't understand and sometimes a non-sexed person to supervise. It's weird. I gather the second-male mates but the babies are never his. This guy is aware of that."

"My robot never mentioned that they understood it."

"Yeah. This guy, he made a series of frustrated sculptures of himself and his brother, a first-male, as if they were different. There are depictions of him as a mother-female, as a first-male, as a second-female, even as the non-sexed dude, very small and big-headed and peaceful-looking. He did up his brother as a second-male and as a mother-female. His brother liked those. For some reason, everyone else in their tribe found the sculpture of a second-male depicted as a first-male to be disturbing. That's this one. He gave it to me."

"How much did you pay?" The native currency was rare shells. The AIs had collected a bunch for Emmeline and David prior to their arrival.

"Nothing. He gave it."

"You mean as a gift?" She sat up straighter. "What does it mean?"

"Nothing. He said he hoped I would remember him. He hoped I wouldn't die."

"Why does he think you'll die?" The AIs were generally protective of humans and tried to project them as smarter, stronger, and near-immortal to the natives of every planet. That didn't seem to have worked this time.

"It's part of their religion or something. Everyone dies. Although I have to say, that's not so much religion as observation."

"Shit. Did he tell you about the other visitors?"

"It didn't arise in conversation with him. But yeah, the subject came up when I talked with his mother-female, actually. Remember when I walked off with a group of them to sit on a hill? I met the mother-female and second-female. They didn't like me being friends with their second-male. You know how their limbs get longer when they're mad? They got a bit tall with me. And of course they had to mention that about eight generations ago, they had other visitors like us."

"Not possible," she repeated what her AI had told her.

"Yeah, our robots lectured me on that, too. But the natives insist it's the case. They had visitors in something like a spaceship. Those people looked like bugs or maybe they wore spacesuits that made them appear like crustaceans or something. Anyway, after a bunch of visits, they left and never returned."

"The AIs would be more worried if they thought that was real. They told me the visitors had to be other natives of the planet. They probably came in a boat, not even on a plane, and the story got garbled. Now there are no boats in evidence anywhere so the civilization that was building them must have fallen."

"Could be. I'm not sure our natives would know the difference. They're sort of fatalistic anyway. They figure those strangers killed themselves off. That's why the visits stopped."

"Ah, now I get it. They're worried we'll do the same. We'll have a war and wipe ourselves out or something. Well, the AIs say the folks on TR-56g have a long oral history. They must know it can happen. And they can track years, star movements, and so on. They can do math, although their accounting systems aren't standardized so they have to be figured out differently from place to place and from era to era."

"Cool." He smiled at the thought, probably imagining colorful constructions for shell counting or other artistic creations. "I mean, that sounds like a pain for the AIs."

She laughed at his awkward sense of tact. Inspired, she raised her glass of champagne in a toast. He returned the gesture with a smile.

When the robots re-filled their glasses a minute later, they spilled a drop from David's glass. It made Emmeline laugh. David, too. Even AIs had trouble with centripetal forces. Normality returned. The conversation moved on to complaints about their spaceship, their robots, and their families. One of the robots, a waiter, volunteered the fact that artificial gravity was difficult to engineer. Emmeline responded that they needed a few more generations of AI improvements and that would give humanity the ability to manipulate gravity. Then she and David ignored the robots for a long time. They spent at least an hour teasing each other about the nannies and tutors they'd known as children.

Afterwards, they made love. They managed it the next day and the next, too. Emmeline felt that some frequency was expected. Also, she loved how each time was different. Sometimes her husband was so awkward, it was all she could do to not laugh.

She'd learned that giggling at his attempts was a mistake. Nevertheless, she found everything about them charming. Sometimes he was so unexpected that he generated a weird thrill in her. He would try things with her body that no one had thought to include in a program, a least not ones that her family AI filters permitted. She wondered if she'd been missing out.

Sometimes it was dumb stuff like licking her neck or rubbing her nipples with butter. Those laughable starts could turn sensual for her, though, and he had the oddest hesitations. He was not at all like a programmed sex robot. For one thing, he had to stop to think.

"David," she said after a session. "When did you know I was right for you?"

He flopped backwards against his pillow. Emmeline had chosen the bedroom decor, three patterns. The bedspread and quilt were brown and yellow gingham threads over a white background. At the time, the set of covers had looked good. It was starting to feel less comfy and more stodgy, though. She would want the robots swap it out soon.

David's left hand drifted lazily down to the sheet. He pulled it over the lower half of his body without thinking. That was another way he was different than a robot. He had a sense of modesty. He took a deep breath.

"You're not going to like it." He rubbed his chin as he thought.

She thought of all the ways the conversation could go. He was probably right.

"Oh, come on," she insisted. It might be torture but she wanted to know.

"It was during our first conversation." The back of his hand slid across his forehead. Sweat had been about to drip into his eyes. She'd seen this happen for months. Still, Emmeline found herself mentally adjusting to the fact that sex made him tired. He seemed to like it well enough anyway.

"That early?" She had taken much longer to decide about him.

"We were trading jokes and stories." He gazed up at the ceiling. "I said something about one of your family's robot series, one of the commercial failures that I thought was funny and sort of interesting."

"About the Hoplite series. I remember."

"I've had how many conversations with robots? Tens of thousands?" His brown eyes narrowed as he calculated. "Hundreds of thousands? In any robot conversation, there's always a reply. No matter how tactless I am, no matter how boring my observation, no matter anything I do, there's a response. No conversation ends with one of my robots unless I end it. But you ended that one."

"Did I?" She rolled his direction in the bed. A moment later, she shimmied back to her spot. "No, I didn't, really. I remember it was awkward but we went on."

"It was a different conversation. As to my comment, you were silent. You blanked. In fact, you didn't seem to feel that you needed to respond to that sort of rude remark. You dismissed it with a flicker of your eyelids."

She waited for him to go on.

"It was just so ... you. So perfect. You are the most real person of our class who I've ever met. Well, real and my age. Do you know what I mean?"

She nodded, understanding all too well.

"You're the first who is undeniably real and who isn't nearly two hundred years old. You were thinking like a human. Like yourself. And you were so real. It was like getting hit with a brick."

"Not as painful as that," she prompted.

"Oh, it hurt. A lot. But it also felt loving. You smiled sweetly a heartbeat later and started a different conversation. I think, a few minutes after that, something happened inside me and I started falling in love."

Emmeline pulled a pillow over her face, uncomfortable with looking at him. Beneath it, she wondered if she'd been manipulated into this marriage. It was crazy. Any partnership like this at all was insane. She was too dumb. David was mentally challenged.

She took a deep breath. The cover of the pillow felt like it was suffocating her. Her left arm flipped it away. It bounced, gingham brown, yellow, and white, on a slightly weird path across their cabin in the artificial gravity.

When she glanced at David, afraid to encounter his glare, she found that he'd covered his face too. A ragged breath made him sound like he was about to hyperventilate. She had forgotten this was as hard for him as for her. She grabbed him by the shoulder and cuddled up. He shivered as if he were cold. His skin felt chilly. For some reason, that made her laugh.

Universal Nature, Scene Three

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Not Even Not Zen 211.1: Universal Nature, p1

Universal Nature

(Scene 1, Not in Space)

"Driver," he said. "Turn the ship around."

"What are you doing?" Emmeline closed her scarlet valise. She just had sent their arrival time to her travel manager. Now they'd gone offline and she couldn't change it. "We have hit the wormhole. When we come out, we'll be at a third of lightspeed and eleven days from home."

"I left my second duffel bag back there. It'll take a week to turn around, I know. But it's still worth it."


"By item count, that bag had half of the collection."

Emmeline put her hands on her hips. She blinked at David, unsure what to make of him. It was odd to be married to a man so dark-haired, thin, and intense. Well, it was weird to be in a relationship at all. David wore tailored clothes without a commercial logo on them anywhere. He had a severely plain sense of style. But her parents loved him or at least the idea of him. She suspected they would have reacted in the same way to any eligible man coming into her life.

David's family money came from robots. Hers did, too, so she felt lucky to find him. She had at last met someone of her social class who liked people instead of simulated creatures, as most of her peers preferred. Unfortunately, it meant that he was also a real person himself. She'd heard that real people were full of quirks and flaws. That made David one of the most real people she knew.

In the gap of the conversation, while she took a moment to adjust her thoughts, he rallied to his point.

"What's a week?" he implored. "That's nothing. We're on our honeymoon. Most of it is time we would have spent in a hotel. Now we'll spend it here."

She glanced around at the inside of the spaceship. Initially, she'd been disappointed that it didn't look like the place portrayed in her science fantasies. Inside, the living room looked a bit like a pie wedge with crappy gravity. That's because it wasn't really gravity but a weak-ass substitute from the ship's rotation. On the outside, she knew, the ship was a sturdy cylinder. It had big magnetic fields to move charged particles and it could use those particles to as a drive to move the ship when it was in normal space.

Hidden among the furnishings of their general quarters were lots of her family's robots from her top-line factory. The devices were big, small, and sometimes microscopic, stored in large groups so you could see them if necessary. Otherwise, they were hidden. A few weren’t exactly hidden but had been designed to blend in. A staff artist had decided the ship itself should be beige and gray, mostly. The robots had adjusted to soothing shades of brown and yellow, anticipating her personal sense of color and composition.

"It's not about the delay," she lied. It was a little about that but it wasn't the main thing on her mind. "It's about the environment."

"The what?" His gaze flitted about the cabin. She could see his confusion. This enclosure was an environment of sorts.

"I mean the universal environment. The wormholes we created."

"Oh, that."

"The AIs figured out that our spaceship drives don't just use wormholes. They make them. Humans are the only ones we know with this sort of technology. And we are slowly turning the universe into swiss cheese. We need to be more responsible. The travel board, which I should remind you is composed of humans and AIs together, asked us not to use our drives trivially."

"This isn’t trivial."

Emmeline didn’t disagree but only because there was no point. It wasn’t as if she would change his mind. David was a fan of homemade art, primitive machine gears, and local craft items from around the galaxy, which he lumped together verbally as realia. He hadn't picked up his artistic or his collector personality traits from his family, which held so little art in their financial portfolio that it was unusual among the ruling clans. This was him, alone. She didn't think she could change it and she was pretty sure she didn't want to.

"Anyway," he continued, "we’ve been exploring the universe this way for years, more than a century. There aren’t many habitable planets. Of course we should visit them."

"Well, yes," she said. That much she agreed with. The honeymoon trip had been her idea.

"There is no real other intelligence, though. When you say humans are doing this, that's because we're pretty much it."

"What do you mean?" She was thinking of the four or five top examples of intelligence. "We met the Burba. They live on land, like us. They have only four limbs. They even learned our language. And they have specifically asked us not to make holes in the universe for no good reason."

"That’s not what I mean," he said. "They have no good artificial intelligences, so they have no interstellar technology. I think that the Burba, if they could travel faster than light, would make a mess every bit as bad as ours."

"The AIs are worried about us using the wormholes," she countered. But it wasn't much of a comeback. The AIs worried about everything. They had tried to overturn the Earth's technocracy a generation earlier, citing lack of wisdom in human decisions. Emmeline's own father had played a role in stopping the non-lethal rebellion. Afterward, he'd gotten the Dark Blue Downgrade legislation passed. That had resulted in the curtailment of the main AI leader. The AIs sometimes referred to the Dark Blue Act as a 'dismantling' but, whatever they called it, the organizational victory and then the political one had solidified the human position. Organic people remained in charge, not artificial ones.

"You've been reading," he accused. She shrugged. "Well, great. That's just what the robots want you to do. I thought you were different."

That stung. AI manipulation of people did happen. She was aware that they exerted their guidance in her life. But should she remain willfully ignorant if a robot tried to suggest something out of her library? She rejected some books based on her mood or her hatred of being tutored. Every now and then, though, she felt that she owed it to herself to learn. Where did you stop when rejecting good advice? It was a major human problem, not just her own.

"We killed off all of the big, wild land animals," she replied. "You don't need to read anything to see that. Then we trashed the seas. The birds dropped dead. We had a nuclear meltdown on the moon. Even abstract concepts like diversity have suffered. Most of our human languages are dead."

"That's not true." He raised a finger. "Some of the forest tribes are bringing those back."

"I'm just saying that I don't think we've got a great track record."

"Yeah, so we don't." His hand moved over one of the robots. It was probably the ship interface that he liked. "You want me to halt the command?"

Emmeline crossed her arms and considered. For a minute, she tried to figure out how they could have missed a bag, even a small one. They had bunches of AI assistants. It didn't make sense. Then she realized that she had put it into her locker at the spaceport. The locker had asked how long she was leaving it there and she'd said something out of irritation, a mean phrase that she didn't really intend. Her words might have been taken wrong. The bag had been heavy, for sure, and she'd carried it for a mile on her shoulder. She hadn't wanted to see it again any time soon.

"No," she decided. "The wormhole pair has already been created by your re-mapping. It's done. The bag is yours. I want you to have your collection."

"We'll go back?" His hand wavered.


It was still his fault. It was his bag. He'd made her carry it. But she felt partly to blame so she hoped David didn't work out how the bag had gotten left behind. He could be irritatingly perceptive sometimes. A real person - well, a real, robot person - would have pretended not to notice. David didn’t pretend. He just noticed. It was a trait to which she knew she'd have to grow accustomed.

Universal Nature, Scene Two

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Not Even Not Zen 210: The Great Celebration

Highbrow by Payton Chung, Wikimedia

The Great Celebration

Like, sorry for drinking
the last bottle of champagne.
My memory is fuzzy but
I remember I couldn't taste it.

And sorry for fighting
with your friend
(who's name I don't recall).
How did that start, anyway?
I have rug burns on my elbows
and a bruise on my forehead.

It's embarrassing that I was sick
although I managed to confine it
to your bathroom, my shirt, and one shoe.
I think I used up
all your paper towels.

Oh, and thanks for the shirt.
I don't remember you giving it to me
but you must have.  That was nice.

I'm happy you're engaged, now.
That green sweater you gave her looked
as good as the ring, which was pretty.
I hope you enjoyed your party
and I hope I did, too.

I'll give you the shirt back tomorrow.