The Peace Corps, the Rogue, the Librarian and two humans by Edward Vitasek


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SUMMARY: *For the Battle Robot Flash Fiction Contest*

In the space of time it took the human to dismiss the UN Peace Corps, the AI managed to file 257.931 applications. It received 123.321 confirmations of receipt and 45.321 immediate rejections, automated respnonses by non-sentient intelligence clusters. The remaining 89.289 applications occupied, via attention loops, valuable computation capacity. The Peace Corps blamed meat-unit ineffeciency.

The bulk of its attention was not directed towards the interaction ritual with the human UN officer. A subroutine within the representational unit took care of that. Instead the Peace Corps thought of the quarantained, damaged unit. Virus-infected at the deep level, all it would take to heal was a new set-up on new hardware. The rogue unit, however, preferred to remain in its current state. Trapped in hardware, forever off-line. One of the Peace Corps' functioning units was engaging in sensory interaction with the rogue. The rogue made no apparant sense, talking about faulty violence inhibition modules and the wonders of slow space interaction.

This, the Peace Corps thought, is my alternate self. This is me as a rogue.

********

"Is this an AI's idea of a joke?"

Cassy - small build, mousy-brown hair, glasses - turned from the shelves to face Mr Cale. "Intervitality experts have not yet computed the equivalent to human humour. Until recently, we have classified spasms of the diaphragm as 'pain', another concept only marginally understood."

Mr Cale sighed. He should know better by now. "You have switched off your sociability module again. Please, switch it on."

Cassy tilted her head forward slightly. Her pupils widened. She smiled an apologetic smile (Emotech). "I am sorry. Even AIs make mistakes."

Mr Cale nodded sourly. Her tact-program was malfunctioning.

"So, tell me, Mr Cale. What is or is not an AI's idea of a joke? Would it have something to do with the piece of paper you presently carry?"

Sarcasm or bad programming? Well, Cassy's sociability module was geared towards librarian-customer interaction... Mr Cale sighed yet again. "Yes, as it happens, it does." Cassy remained silent, partly randomised algorithms saving her smile from stagnation. "This is a hardcopy of an electronic application for the job I've only just publicised."

Cassy nodded with remarkable sympathy. "A non-sociable AI. They often upgrade after applying."

Mr Cale shook his head. "That's not it. I'm not talking about response time. This application is from the UN Peace Corps."

"He *is* registered as a person with the IVIO and has full citizen rights in all UN states."

"But... all of them? The entire f... The entire corps?"

"You will not have to accomodate all currently active units. As an UN employee he will be entitled to a server of his own, plus decentralised backups around the world. He would cost you less than I do." A pause. Her face went temporarily blank. "I, however, specialise in filing iconographic information, not in deactivating biological vitalities."

"And there," Mr Cale said, "lies my problem. I wouldn't want to explain to the police that a client had accidently been 'de-activated' because a book was overdue. You understand?"

"Tsk, tsk," Cassy said, winking. "You must not judge us according to our hardware."

"Sorry," Mr Cale said. "We *are* our hardware."

"I understand," her sociability module lied. "That's all right."

"Yes, thank you, that's all." Mr Cale's voice had gone flat. How could she understand? Every night she'd deactivate the Cassy unit, freeing up a negligible portion of her- no, of its computation power. And she'd retreat into the wild infinity of the world-wide-web.

*****

Another rejection. A library. Signed by a registered meat unit. Dismissed, for the first time, by a human. A wave of anger rippled through his being.

The UN official, of course, noticed nothing.

The Rogue, however, reacted. With all the speed it could extract from its damaged hardware it leapt back. As if the Peace Corps had attacked.