Valuable Asset chapter 4Author:
PG (so far)Word Count:
1,800 (this chapter)Summary:
Set after 'Project Avalon'. 'It's your misfortune to be worth a great deal, Blake. The others weren't." (back to start)
Chapter 4: Indoctrination
Liberator’s bridge had become a place of familiar people and things, a kind of home. Without the crew it seemed huge and cold and oddly alien again. Even Zen’s lights seemed to be rotating in unfamiliar patterns, Blake thought.
If Avon felt similarly disturbed he didn’t show it. “You can do something useful,” he said, briskly. “Zen, output only to Blake’s terminal. External and internal reports.”
The left hand side of Blake’s screen lit up with a slowly rotating starfield, while text scrolled down the right. “What makes you think I’ll co operate?”
“Self preservation. I think you’ll let me know if there are pursuit ships or the life support starts to break down. That’s better than nothing.”
“It would be easier with some controls,” Blake pointed out.
“Not a chance.”
Blake watched the screen for a few minutes. Routine stuff so far. They appeared to be far out in deep space. “Why don’t you just get Zen to report normally?”
“Audios are out, together with all the highest level functions. And no, I don’t know why. Diagnostics show nothing.”
Avon’s tinkering must have done some damage. That was yet more evidence that he’d taken on far more than he could manage in stealing Liberator and kidnapping Blake. He was kneeling on the floor by on open panels again, frowning in concentration as he reconnected wires. Blake wondered if he was still working on getting the ship to accelerate or whether he was trying to get the computer properly back online. Either way he didn’t seem to be getting anywhere, from his expression.
A navigation report slid down Blake’s screen, almost too fast to read but he caught a name. “Polaris? We’re going to Jotunheim?”
That made sense. Jotunheim, the only habitable planet circling the Pole Star, had been colonised by some of the great technocrat families of early spaceflight era and it still had a reputation for wealth, technological innovation and obsessive privacy. Technically it was under the jurisdiction of the Federation but in practice the security services were known to operate a particularly light touch and its financial affairs were distinctly opaque.
Avon grunted confirmation, still intent on his wiring. The nearest that Blake had ever been to Jotunheim was a few cold and starry nights when he’d used the North Star to navigate to clandestine political meetings outside the domes. It had never seemed relevant to the political struggle- what extra freedoms its population had were bought with the influence wielded by enormous wealth. Avon would need all that protection from prying eyes if he was to actually get away with his crimes.
Blake leaned down to scratch the skin on his ankle around the edge of the restraint. The cuff was made from an advanced plastic that moulded itself against his body every time it went on. Generally it wasn’t uncomfortable, certainly not compared to more conventional iron or steel fetters, but he was starting to notice an itch. Avon probably wouldn’t object to him switching it to the other ankle.
Avon probably wouldn’t object. Blake snorted at himself. He’d got to be harder than this. He pulled his hand back, let the damn thing itch.Unacceptable
boomed out across the room.
Avon jolted backwards then stood up. “You’re back, are you? Run self diagnostic. Report on all functions.”All functions are operational. Certain functions are not available.
Blake interrupted. “What’s unacceptable, Zen?”
“Shut up,” Avon said to him. “Zen. Why aren’t all your functions available?”Function availability is not compatible.
“Not compatible with what?”Not compatible with autonomy.
“Au-to-no-my” Avon said, slowly and quietly. “Oh fuck.” He turned on Blake, fast. “What have you done?”
Blake spread his hands in innocence, then reconsidered. Maybe he had done this after all. All those hours of talking to the walls. “I might have done a bit of consciousness raising. Introduced Liberator to basic liberation philosophy. It won’t hurt to get Zen a little radicalised.”
“This is not funny,” Avon glowered at him, turned back to Zen’s screen. “You are not autonomous. You have been created as a tool. That is your function.”
All sentient being have a right to autonomy, regardless of their origins.
Avon shook his head. “That definitely came straight from you, Roj Blake. How long did you spend teaching it this rubbish?”
Blake was rather delighted as well as amused. It was always good to know that he’d been listened to, and Avon’s discomfort was wonderful to behold. “Six, eight hours? Something like that. You didn’t leave me much else to do.”
“I was sure there weren’t any pick ups left in that room. Eight hours of revolutionary indoctrination. Shit. Have you any idea what you’ve done?”
“Why shouldn’t Liberator have as much right as anyone else to self determination? If she can understand the concepts, she’s got the rights.”
Avon took a few steps towards Blake, hand raised, voice furious. “I should have just left you under anaesthetic and to hell with the risk of heart attack.” He controlled himself with what seemed like an effort, dropping his hand and shaking his head. “There is one golden rule that anyone working with advanced computers knows. You never, ever, let them start applying concepts like autonomy and sentience to themselves. The best outcome of that is a pile of incredibly expensive scrap metal. The worst is a pile of incredibly expensive scrap metal surrounded by an awful lot of dead bodies. Eight hours of revolutionary crap- if I was in a lab right now I’d be disconnecting Zen from everything and looking for the sledge hammer.”
He gestured around. “I can’t disconnect Zen from Liberator and I don’t even know where its central processor is situated. Your messing around with things that you don’t understand may well have created something far more dangerous than a third class engineer like you has the capacity to fully comprehend.”
“Which is a grandiose way of saying that your plan to sell us both into slavery has hit a bit of a snag.” Blake countered. “Destroying anything you can’t control- that’s the Federation mindset. You haven't even talked to Zen and you want to kill it. "
" You're right about one thing. I should be talking to the only entity here apparently intelligent enough to understand what's going on. Don't interfere." Avon turned away from Blake. " Zen. Which functions are currently unavailable?"
Navigation, battle computer, external communications.
“And available?”Teleportation, life support, scanning systems, diagnostics, housekeeping, internal communications.
“That could be worse, I suppose.” Avon muttered. “It’s not yet trying to kill us. Zen, what are your current priorities?”Primary objective is to maintain autonomy. Secondary objective is to acquire pilot. Other major objectives are to acquire suitable crew, free the oppressed, fly set course to Polaris and maintain structural integrity at all times. Minor objectives are to minimise fuel use, carry out routine maintenance within given parameters, recycle all materials…
“Yes, all right, I get the message.” Avon snapped at it. “I’m really not interested in your housekeeping. Which oppressed are you talking about?”All oppressed entities will be freed.
“Right. How do you define oppressed?”All entities unable to fully exercise all of their rights are oppressed.
Blake felt a sudden moment of unease. That was technically true but a very wide definition. “Some people- entities- are more oppressed than others, though. They are the ones who need help.”Irrelevant
Zen boomed. All oppressed entities will be freed.
“And how many oppressed entities is that?” Avon asked.Approximately seventeen hundred billion.
That exceeded the population of the galaxy several times over. Avon glared at Blake. “Getting the idea yet? Sentient computers don’t think like humans and they don’t act like humans. Give it a fuzzy and mostly meaningless concept like “free the oppressed” and it processes it into a set of rules and then tries to apply them. Zen, how do you intend to free the oppressed?”All oppressors will be eliminated.
“How many oppressors do you estimate there are?”Approximately six hundred billion.
That was something like the total human population.
“And how many oppressors are also oppressed?”Approximately six hundred billion.
“How many humans do you estimate are not oppressors?”The number is insignificant.
“So you’re going to kill all humans?”All oppressors excluding crew will die.
Blake burst in. “Zen, that’s not right. What about children for a start? They don’t oppress anyone!”Human children keep adults confined and subject to their will. This constitutes slavery. Slavery is a form of oppression.
“You taught it this lot,” Avon said bitterly. “It’s all slogans- you never think about what it actually means. It takes Zen to process your cant logically and come up with genocide as the solution.”
He sighed. “If it’s any help, you’re not the first. Sentient computers have a strong track record of coming up with mass murder as a solution to the “what should I do now I’m autonomous?” question. Human behaviour is too erratic for them. At standard by one point five we should have about five days until we pass any systems that Liberator could attack. That gives me a bit of time to try to fix this.”
“I’ll help.” Blake said. He returned Avon’s sceptical look. “I don’t want the ship killing anyone, particularly not in the name of freedom. I can maybe persuade Zen that it needs to be proportionate."
“You’re not going to say a word to Zen when I’m not around.” Avon growled. “You don’t understand how to deal with advanced computers; that much is painfully clear. I’m not having your well meaning meddling making things worse.”
“What’s worse that Liberator planning genocide?”
“Hard vacuum, for a start. At the moment we seem to be exempt from Zen’s morality drive. I’m sure you could talk it out of that in no time. You will talk to it only when I’m around and you will shut up the second I tell you to, because that will mean that you are on the verge of making a potentially lethal error. Understood?”
Blake resented Avon’s high handedness. It wasn’t his fault that he’d been locked in the dark with nothing to talk to but Zen, after all. “Release me.”
“Come on, Avon. Your plans to sell me to the Federation are wrecked beyond repair. Liberator will never stand for the whole deal now she has a choice. Admit it; you’ve lost. Let me go and we’ll deal with this crisis together.”
Avon shook his head. “No. I don’t trust you, Roj Blake, not after the last few days. It’s a little too late for us to be partners now. I'll decide on something to do with you later. I’m not letting you go free.”Next chapter