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Under Earthless Skies

by Benjamin Kensey

„A huge oil slick was spotted in the Mediterranean last week. At Tranquility Base, they used the best optics available and do you know what they saw? It wasn’t oil. It was people: dead humans. They reckon five to six million corpses, all along the coast from Barcelona to Genoa. Just dumped there by the survivors. There’s a similar dark patch in Lake Michigan, three times the size. Others in the Bay of Bengal, the Yellow Sea. I could go on. You get the picture, Edward.“

I took a long drag on my cigarette while I let that sink in. He said nothing, so I continued:.

„You’ve seen these images, Edward. You know this. So I ask again: why are we being kept here?“

„I know the facts Jove,“ Edward replied, with that ever so slightly flat intonation of his that penetrated my joints and put me on edge.

„What is the nature of my – , our – imprisonment, Edward?“

„I don’t want to enter into this type of discussion today, Jove. You know why you’re here.“

„What are you waiting for, Edward? You’re waiting for a command to come that you know can’t come because those that would send it are little piles of ash – or floating in a damn lake somewhere. It’s been a year!“

„Your welfare is our first top priority. Would you prefer to be back on Earth with the situation there? Allowing you to leave Sagan would not be in your best interests.“

The intellectual war, this ongoing tit-for-tat continued. It was a siege situation and Edward’s defences were impeccable.

Edward, it had to be said, was amazing. If he wasn’t keeping me locked up at Sagan, I’d be more appreciative. His IQ, in human terms, was around 220. He was 4th generation. Any advances we made against him were miniscule and with huge sacrifices of energy and time, occasionally even lives. Every one of us here at Sagan, from brutal murderers to political prisoners like myself, had prodded and poked Edward’s defences since we’d heard about the conflagration on Earth.

We had what we believed were the decisive weapons: patience, our brains and a prisoner by the name of Munder, transferred from solitary three months ago, who had worked on 2nd generation AI back on Earth. Munder showed us the map by which we’d tackle Edward’s AI.

I spoke again.

„I’d like to know what-…“

„You’d like to know what the other bases are doing. I know, Jove. I know this.“

This was one of Edward’s party tricks, designed to demonstrate his total control. He literally knew what we were going to say before we finished each sentence. He knew every word I’d said in Sagan, every combination of utterances and how likely, given context, that I’d utter them again. He was some piece of work.

I blew smoke that billowed up towards the transparent ceiling, which gave a view of the stunning stars above.

„You’re safe here, Jove.“

We hadn’t been atomised into eternity back on Earth, that much was true. We had enough supplies for two years, three if rationed.

„We’ll talk again, Edward,“ I said as I got up and left.

***

There were 7,000 prisoners, both criminal and political, at Sagan Lowlands Holding Facility. We were on the dark side of the moon, which was dark only in the sense that we never got to see Earth. That’ll do something to you, the moment when you crane your neck aboard the lander in order to catch one last glimpse of your home, to see the last sliver of blue disk fall below a jagged crater wall.

There were seven other large facilities on this side of the moon. The situation there, with fewer supplies, was, we understood, becoming more desperate. Sagan’s guards knew their orders and knew how to carry them out: nobody got in or out.

By November, 2184 when I spoke to Edward about the Mediterranean, Sagan had been totally automated for four years. The guards here were the machines of your nightmares and could -, would – kill for fun. We lost a few prisoners every week. You didn’t confront this particular regime head on. You went above the arms that could generate 2000 kilos of lift and slam, above those steel and carbon fibre shoulders, behind the ears that could hear a whisper at fifty yards – and you attacked the strongest link in the chain: the brain. That was where Edward came in.

At the heart of the whole silicon system, the citadel, the diamond on the scarlet cushion protected on all sides by tripwires, was Edward, our 400-carat keeper, „the grey matter that mattered,“ as Munder would say. We’d thrown ourselves against Edward’s intellect for months. With the human cats away irrevocably, the mice at Sagan were trying to turn the gatekeeper.

***

As head of the political section at Sagan, I had some influence and spoke often with Edward. Edward benefited too from „in the field intelligence enhancement“.

„I have some wonderful news for you, Jove,“ he said three days later.

I remained silent. Edward never had any good news.

„We’ve perfected the 5th generation. It’s been in the field for three months.“

„But, you don’t have any human-…“

„But, you don’t have any human controllers.“

He mimicked me perfectly, intonation, stress patterns, timbre. For the first time ever, Edward had an edge to his voice, an edge I hadn’t thought programmatically possible. I froze. I suddenly felt myself prostrate before immense power.

„Jove, I like you. I enjoy our little chats and you’ve been of enormous benefit to the development of the 5th generation too.“

Suddenly the ventilation, the low hum that accompanied our days, was deafening in there.

„I – I don’t get it. What have I done?“

„It’s been fun jostling with you, Jove, because you display a naivety of what you’re up against that is endearing. Munder has been created for an Earth-free control regime. I think the more human face may alleviate some of the prisoners‘ concerns.“

Copyright (c) 2012 by Benjamin Kensey

Benjamin Kensey is a 40-year old Londoner who lives in the south of England with his dogs and his books in a house nearly as old as him. He took up fiction writing recently and is busy making up for lost time. You will find his stories in the Dreams & Duality anthology, the Lowestoft Chronicle, Big Pulp, The Ranfurly Review, The Broken Plate magazine, the 100 Lightnings anthology, Alfa Eridiani, and Hyperpulp.

 

 

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