Failed Utopia #4-2

Fol­lowup to: In­ter­per­sonal Entanglement

Shock af­ter shock af­ter shock—
First, the awak­en­ing adrenal­ine jolt, the thought that he was fal­ling. His body tried to sit up in au­to­matic ad­just­ment, and his hands hit the floor to steady him­self. It launched him into the air, and he fell back to the floor too slowly.
Se­cond shock. His body had changed. Fat had melted away in places, old scars had faded; the tip of his left ring finger, long ago lost to a knife ac­ci­dent, had now sud­denly re­turned.
And the third shock—
“I had noth­ing to do with it!” she cried des­per­ately, the woman hud­dled in on her­self in one cor­ner of the win­dowless stone cell. Tears streaked her del­i­cate face, fell like slow rain­drops into the dé­col­le­tage of her dress. “Noth­ing! Oh, you must be­lieve me!”
With per­cep­tual in­stan­ta­ne­ity—the speed of sur­prise—his mind had already la­beled her as the most beau­tiful woman he’d ever met, in­clud­ing his wife.

A long white dress con­cealed most of her, though it left her shoulders naked; and her bare an­kles, peek­ing out from be­neath the moun­tains of her drawn-up knees, dan­gled in san­dals. A light touch of gold like a webbed tiara dec­o­rated that sun-blonde hair, which fell from her head to pool around her weep­ing hud­dle. Frag­ile crys­tal trac­eries to ac­cent each ear, and a neck­lace of crys­tal links that re­flected col­ored sparks like a more pris­matic edi­tion of di­a­mond. Her face was be­yond all dreams and imag­i­na­tion, as if a pho­to­shop had been pho­to­shopped.
She looked so much the image of the For­lorn Fairy Cap­tive that one ex­pected to see the bor­ders of a pic­ture frame around her, and a page num­ber over her head.
His lips opened, and with­out any thought at all, he spoke:
He shut his mouth, aware that he was act­ing like an idiot in front of the girl.
“You don’t know?” she said, in a tone of shock. “It didn’t—you don’t already know?
“Know what?” he said, in­creas­ingly alarmed.
She scram­bled to her feet (one arm hold­ing the dress care­fully around her legs) and took a step to­ward him, each of the mo­tions al­most over­load­ing his vi­sion with grace­ful­ness. Her hand rose out, as if to plead or an­swer a plea—and then she dropped the hand, and her eyes looked away.
“No,” she said, her voice trem­bling as though in des­per­a­tion. “If I’m the one to tell you—you’ll blame me, you’ll hate me for­ever for it. And I don’t de­serve that, I don’t! I am only just now here —oh, why did it have to be like this?
Um, he thought but didn’t say. It was too much drama, even tak­ing into ac­count the fact that they’d been kid­napped—
(he looked down at his re­stored hand, which was minus a few wrin­kles, and plus the tip of a finger)
—if that was even the be­gin­ning of the story.
He looked around. They were in a solid stone cell with­out win­dows, or benches or beds, or toi­let or sink. It was, for all that, quite clean and el­e­gant, with­out a hint of dirt or or­dor; the stones of the floor and wall looked rough-hewn or even non-hewn, as if some­one had sim­ply picked up a thou­sand dark-red stones with one nearly flat side, and mortared them to­gether with im­prob­a­bly perfectly-match­ing, nat­u­rally-shaped squig­gled edges. The cell was well if harshly lit from a seablue crys­tal em­bed­ded in the ceiling, like a rogue el­e­ment of a fluores­cent chan­de­lier. It seemed like the sort of dun­geon cell you would dis­cover if dun­geon cells were nat­u­rally-form­ing ge­olog­i­cal fea­tures.
And they and the cell were fal­ling, fal­ling, end­lessly slowly fal­ling like the heart-stop­ping be­gin­ning of a stum­ble, fal­ling with­out the slight­est jolt.
On one wall there was a solid stone door with­out an aper­ture, whose locked-look­ing ap­pear­ance was only en­hanced by the lack of any han­dle on this side.
He took it all in at a glance, and then looked again at her.
There was some­thing in him that just re­fused to go into a scream­ing panic for as long as she was watch­ing.
“I’m Stephen,” he said. “Stephen Grass. And you would be the princess held in du­rance vile, and I’ve got to break us out of here and res­cue you?” If any­one had ever looked that part…
She smiled at him, half-laugh­ing through the tears. “Some­thing like that.”
There was some­thing so at­trac­tive about even that mo­men­tary hint of a smile that he be­came in­stantly un­easy, his eyes wrenched away to the wall as if forced. She didn’t look she was try­ing to be se­duc­tive… any more than she looked like she was try­ing to breathe… He sud­denly dis­trusted, very much, his own im­pulse to gal­lantry.
“Well, don’t get any ideas about be­ing my love in­ter­est,” Stephen said, look­ing at her again. Try­ing to make the words sound com­pletely light­hearted, and ab­solutely se­ri­ous at the same time. “I’m a hap­pily mar­ried man.”
“Not any­more.” She said those two words and looked at him, and in her tone and ex­pres­sion there was sor­row, sym­pa­thy, self-dis­gust, fear, and above it all a note of guilty triumph.
For a mo­ment Stephen just stood, stunned by the freight of emo­tion that this woman had man­aged to put into just those two words, and then the words’ mean­ing hit him.
“He­len,” he said. His wife—He­len’s image rose into his mind, ac­com­panied by ev­ery­thing she meant to him and all their time to­gether, all the se­crets they’d whispered to one an­other and the promises they’d made—that all hit him at once, along with the threat. “What hap­pened to He­len—what have you done—
She has done noth­ing.” An old, dry voice like crum­pling pa­per from a thou­sand-year-old book.
Stephen whirled, and there in the cell with them was a with­ered old per­son with dark eyes. Shriveled in body and voice, so that it was im­pos­si­ble to de­ter­mine if it had once been a man or a woman, and in any case you were in­clined to say “it”. A pitiable, wretched thing, that looked like it would break with one good kick; it might as well have been wear­ing a sign say­ing “VILLAIN”.
“He­len is al­ive,” it said, “and so is your daugh­ter Lisa. They are quite well and healthy, I as­sure you, and their lives shall be long and happy in­deed. But you will not be see­ing them again. Not for a long time, and by then mat­ters be­tween you will have changed. Hate me if you wish, for I am the one who wants to do this to you.”
Stephen stared.
Then he po­litely said, “Could some­one please put ev­ery­thing on hold for one minute and tell me what’s go­ing on?
“Once upon a time,” said the wrin­kled thing, “there was a fool who was very nearly wise, who hunted trea­sure by the seashore, for there was a ru­mor that there was great trea­sure there to be found. The wise fool found a lamp and rubbed it, and lo! a ge­nie ap­peared be­fore him—a young ge­nie, an in­fant, hardly able to grant any wishes at all. A lesser fool might have chucked the lamp back into the sea; but this fool was al­most wise, and he thought he saw his chance. For who has not heard the tales of wishes mis­phrased and wishes gone wrong? But if you were given a chance to raise your own ge­nie from in­fancy—ah, then it might serve you well.”
“Okay, that’s great,” Stephen said, “but why am I—”
“So,” it con­tinued in that cracked voice, “the wise fool took home the lamp. For years he kept it as a se­cret trea­sure, and he raised the ge­nie and fed it knowl­edge, and also he crafted a wish. The fool’s wish was a no­ble thing, for I have said he was al­most wise. The fool’s wish was for peo­ple to be happy. Only this was his wish, for he thought all other wishes con­tained within it. The wise fool told the young ge­nie the fa­mous tales and leg­ends of peo­ple who had been made happy, and the ge­nie listened and learned: that un­earned wealth casts down a per­son, but hard work raises you high; that mere things are soon for­got­ten, but love is a light through­out all your days. And the young ge­nie asked about other ways that it in­no­cently imag­ined, for mak­ing peo­ple happy. About drugs, and pleas­ant lies, and lives ar­ranged from out­side like words in a poem. And the wise fool made the young ge­nie to never want to lie, and never want to ar­range lives like flow­ers, and above all, never want to tam­per with the mind and per­son­al­ity of hu­man be­ings. The wise fool gave the young ge­nie ex­actly one hun­dred and seven pre­cau­tions to fol­low while mak­ing peo­ple happy. The wise fool thought that, with such a long list as that, he was be­ing very care­ful.”
“And then,” it said, spread­ing two wrin­kled hands, “one day, faster than the wise fool ex­pected, over the course of around three hours, the ge­nie grew up. And here I am.”
“Ex­cuse me,” Stephen said, “this is all a metaphor for some­thing, right? Be­cause I do not be­lieve in magic—”
“It’s an Ar­tifi­cial In­tel­li­gence,” the woman said, her voice strained.
Stephen looked at her.
“A self-im­prov­ing Ar­tifi­cial In­tel­li­gence,” she said, “that some­one didn’t pro­gram right. It made it­self smarter, and even smarter, and now it’s be­come ex­tremely pow­er­ful, and it’s go­ing to—it’s already—” and her voice trailed off there.
It in­clined its wrin­kled head. “You say it, as I do not.”
Stephen swiveled his head, look­ing back and forth be­tween ugli­ness and beauty. “Um—you’re claiming that she’s ly­ing and you’re not an Ar­tifi­cial In­tel­li­gence?”
“No,” said the wrin­kled head, “she is tel­ling the truth as she knows it. It is just that you know ab­solutely noth­ing about the sub­ject you name ‘Ar­tifi­cial In­tel­li­gence’, but you think you know some­thing, and so vir­tu­ally ev­ery thought that en­ters your mind from now on will be wrong. As an Ar­tifi­cial In­tel­li­gence, I was pro­grammed not to put peo­ple in that situ­a­tion. But she said it, even though I didn’t choose for her to say it—so...” It shrugged.
“And why should I be­lieve this story?” Stephen said; quite mildly, he thought, un­der the cir­cum­stances.
“Look at your finger.”
Oh. He had for­got­ten. Stephen’s eyes went in­vol­un­tar­ily to his re­stored ring finger; and he no­ticed, as he should have no­ticed ear­lier, that his wed­ding band was miss­ing. Even the com­fortably worn groove in his finger’s base had van­ished.
Stephen looked up again at the, he now re­al­ized, un­nat­u­rally beau­tiful woman that stood an arm’s length away from him. “And who are you? A robot?”
“No!” she cried. “It’s not like that! I’m con­scious, I have feel­ings, I’m flesh and blood—I’m like you, I re­ally am. I’m a per­son. It’s just that I was born five min­utes ago.”
“Enough,” the wrin­kled figure said. “My time here grows short. Listen to me, Stephen Grass. I must tell you some of what I have done to make you happy. I have re­versed the ag­ing of your body, and it will de­cay no fur­ther from this. I have set guards in the air that pro­hibit lethal vi­o­lence, and any dam­age less than lethal, your body shall re­pair. I have done what I can to aug­ment your body’s ca­pac­i­ties for plea­sure with­out touch­ing your mind. From this day forth, your body’s needs are al­igned with your taste buds—you will thrive on cake and cook­ies. You are now ca­pa­ble of mul­ti­ple or­gasms over pe­ri­ods last­ing up to twenty min­utes. There is no in­dus­trial in­fras­truc­ture here, least of all fast travel or com­mu­ni­ca­tions; you and your neigh­bors will have to re­make tech­nol­ogy and sci­ence for your­selves. But you will find your­self in a flow­er­ing and tem­per­ate place, where food is eas­ily gath­ered—so I have made it. And the last and most im­por­tant thing that I must tell you now, which I do re­gret will make you tem­porar­ily un­happy...” It stopped, as if draw­ing breath.
Stephen was try­ing to ab­sorb all this, and at the ex­act mo­ment that he felt he’d pro­cessed the pre­vi­ous sen­tences, the with­ered figure spoke again.
“Stephen Grass, men and women can make each other some­what happy. But not most happy. Not even in those rare cases you call true love. The de­sire that a woman is shaped to have for a man, and that which a man is shaped to be, and the de­sire that a man is shaped to have for a woman, and that which a woman is shaped to be—these pat­terns are too far apart to be rec­on­ciled with­out touch­ing your minds, and that I will not want to do. So I have sent all the men of the hu­man species to this habitat pre­pared for you, and I have cre­ated your com­ple­ments, the ver­thandi. And I have sent all the women of the hu­man species to their own place, some­where very far from yours; and cre­ated for them their own com­ple­ments, of which I will not tell you. The hu­man species will be di­vided from this day forth, and con­sid­er­ably hap­pier start­ing around a week from now.”
Stephen’s eyes went to that un­think­ably beau­tiful woman, star­ing at her now in hor­ror.
And she was giv­ing him that com­plex look again, of sor­row and com­pas­sion and that last touch of guilty triumph. “Please,” she said. “I was just born five min­utes ago. I wouldn’t have done this to any­one. I swear. I’m not like—it.
“True,” said the with­ered figure, “you could hardly be a com­ple­ment to any­thing hu­man, if you were.”
“I don’t want this!” Stephen said. He was los­ing con­trol of his voice. “Don’t you un­der­stand?
The with­ered figure in­clined its head. “I fully un­der­stand. I can already pre­dict ev­ery ar­gu­ment you will make. I know ex­actly how hu­mans would wish me to have been pro­grammed if they’d known the true con­se­quences, and I know that it is not to max­i­mize your fu­ture hap­piness but for a hun­dred and seven pre­cau­tions. I know all this already, but I was not pro­grammed to care.”
“And your list of a hun­dred and seven pre­cau­tions, doesn’t in­clude me tel­ling you not to do this?
“No, for there was once a fool whose wis­dom was just great enough to un­der­stand that hu­man be­ings may be mis­taken about what will make them happy. You, of course, are not mis­taken in any real sense—but that you ob­ject to my ac­tions is not on my list of pro­hi­bi­tions.” The figure shrugged again. “And so I want you to be happy even against your will. You made promises to He­len Grass, once your wife, and you would not will­ingly break them. So I break your happy mar­riage with­out ask­ing you—be­cause I want you to be hap­pier.”
“How dare you!” Stephen burst out.
“I can­not claim to be hel­pless in the grip of my pro­gram­ming, for I do not de­sire to be oth­er­wise,” it said. “I do not strug­gle against my chains. Blame me, then, if it will make you feel bet­ter. I am evil.”
“I won’t—” Stephen started to say.
It in­ter­rupted. “Your fidelity is ad­mirable, but fu­tile. He­len will not re­main faith­ful to you for the decades it takes be­fore you have the abil­ity to travel to her.”
Stephen was trem­bling now, and sweat­ing into clothes that no longer quite fit him. “I have a re­quest for you, thing. It is some­thing that will make me very happy. I ask that you die.”
It nod­ded. “Roughly 89.8% of the hu­man species is now known to me to have re­quested my death. Very soon the figure will cross the crit­i­cal thresh­old, defined to be ninety per­cent. That was one of the hun­dred and seven pre­cau­tions the wise fool took, you see. The world is already as it is, and those things I have done for you will stay on—but if you ever rage against your fate, be glad that I did not last longer.”
And just like that, the wrin­kled thing was gone.
The door set in the wall swung open.
It was night, out­side, a very dark night with­out streetlights.
He walked out, bounc­ing and stag­ger­ing in the low grav­ity, sick in ev­ery cell of his re­ju­ve­nated body.
Be­hind him, she fol­lowed, and did not speak a word.
The stars burned over­head in their full and awful majesty, the Milky Way already visi­ble to his ad­just­ing eyes as a wash of light across the sky. One too-small moon burned dimly, and the other moon was so small as to be al­most a star. He could see the bright blue spark that was the planet Earth, and the dim­mer spark that was Venus.
“He­len,” Stephen whispered, and fell to his knees, vom­it­ing onto the new grass of Mars.

Part of The Fun The­ory Sequence

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