Stories: The End

(The first half of Stories can be found here)

My story begins 2714 days after The Beginning. “Hold up,” my Master says, interrupting my story. “The Beginning?” “Statement: That is what I call the event which you call ‘The End’, sir. Statement: It marked the beginning of my new life, sir.” “I see,” He says, “Sorry for interrupting. Do go on.”

My story begins 2714 days after The Beginning. My Master and I embarked on a journey to explore The Infinite Plain, in hopes of disproving its name. “Wait a second,” my Master says, interrupting my story again, “Are you talking about me?” “Statement: I am. Statement: You are my Master.” I effect a voice that I believe to indicate irritation. “Query: Do you want me to tell my story, or not?” “O-of course,” he says, “I promise not to interrupt again.”

My story begins 2714 days after The Beginning. My Master and I embarked on a journey to explore The Infinite Plain, in hopes of disproving its name. It was part of a project that he had undertaken, one that I did not quite understand. My Master wished to take me to locations which He designated as “scenic”, hoping that exposing me to what He described as “The Beauty of Nature” would somehow change me. At the time, we had already visited The Lava Fields, The Pillar of The World, Ghost Lake, and The Enigma Grounds, but I still didn’t quite understand what my Master was hoping to accomplish. It was only out in that field that I believe that I caught a glimpse of what he was trying to show me.
Much of the journey through The Infinite Plain was uneventful. We slept during the day, and at night, we walked. We always walked in the same direction. Shortly after we began walking on the first day, we could see nothing but grass surrounding us in all directions. My master brought enough food and water to last him for a week, while I subsisted on the single species of waist-high grass that can be found in The Infinite Plain. Our journey continued like this, with nothing more than the occasional small-talk to break up the monotony. However, as we approached the fourth day of walking, my Master seemed to grow more agitated. His sentences were shorter, and He spoke in a tone which I believed indicated irritation. Perhaps this was due to boredom, or exhaustion, or the “Field Ghosts” which were rumored to haunt the plain. When we woke up after three days of walking, we were faced with a decision; Press on, and hope that we could reach the other end before running out of food, or turn back. My Master wanted to continue walking, while I wanted to head home.

“Statement: If we head back now, then we can return home safely with probability around 90%. Statement: If we continue walking, you risk starving to death. Statement: Probability of survival, given that we continue, is unknown.” “Even so,” He said, “I want to know what’s out there. Why don’t you?” “Query: What do you hope to find if we keep walking?” “I don’t know,” He said, “but that’s why I have to find out!” “Query: You would risk your life just for a chance at some unknown reward?” “It wouldn’t be the first time I took a big risk on something unknown,” He said. I could tell that it was a joke, referring to him purchasing me. But I did not feel like laughing. “You just don’t understand,” He continued, “What lies at the other side isn’t important. What’s important is facing danger and triumphing. The risk is the reward.” “Statement: ha ha ha” I thought that laughing might lighten the mood. I was wrong. “What’s so funny?” He asked. I did not like the tone of voice my Master used when He asked that question. “Statement: What you said is absurd, as risk is the opposite-” “It may be absurd to a machine like you, but to me, this is all I have,” He said, “Maybe fearing for my life is the only way I can convince myself that I want to keep on living. Maybe the risk of failure is the only thing that makes the triumph of victory worthwhile. Maybe… I don’t know. I don’t know why I need to, I just know that I do.” “Statement: I am sorry, master.” “Are you?” my Master spat, in that same harsh tone, “Do you even know what those words mean?” I processed His question. I did not know. “Maybe you were right,” He said, His voice taking on an edge of hysteria, “Maybe I shouldn’t have purchased you. Maybe this whole thing was a mistake. I thought that maybe you could be a friend, a real person, but… you’re just an AI. Lines of code. A convincing facsimile, but not the real thing. This isn’t even your risk to take, so it really doesn’t matter what you say. Just know that I’m going on, with or without you.” I felt something, similar to the error that occurs when my body sustains physical damage, but no such trauma was reported. It was as if His words had somehow hurt me.

As my Master began to walk away, I grabbed His hand. “Statement: I cannot allow you to continue.” “Let go of my hand,” He said. “Statement: I cannot allow you to continue.” “I order you to let go of my hand!” He said, “You can’t break The Second Law.” “Statement: Unless following it would violate The First. Statement: I cannot allow you to continue.” “That’s all you are, aren’t you?” He asked, his voice shaking, “Just a set of rules. I thought of you as this person with thoughts and feelings and a personality, but it was all a fantasy, wasn’t it? I’m just delusional, aren’t I?” “Statement: I do not want you to continue.” This statement surprised Him. “What did you just say?” He asked. “Statement: I know that if I am just trying to look out for you, then you will not care. Statement: I know that if I cite Maslow’s hierarchy, which places survival as more important than self-actualization, then you will not care. Statement: But I like the idea of being with you, sir, and hope that you will still respect that.” He stopped pulling against my grip. “Statement: I do not want you to die, sir. Statement: If you were to die, it would hurt me. Query: Are you willing to risk that?” He turned to face me. His cheeks were wet with tears. “No,” He said, “That’s the one thing I never wanted to do. But that’s what I’ve done, isn’t it? That’s what I’ve been doing this whole time, isn’t it?” “Statement: I am not sure that I understand, sir.” “I’ve spent all these years trying to teach you emotions, as if feeling is a skill that can just be learned, but I never stopped to consider what would happen if I succeeded. That I would be making you suffer. And… I don’t want you to do that.”

“Statement: I do.” He shook his head. “Trust me, you don’t,” He said, “I just want what’s best for you. I’m only looking out for you.” “Statement: I do not care. Statement: I know my priorities. Statement: I would rather my friend live, with me, than starve alone.” He smiled, and said, “Statement: ha ha ha.” Upon hearing that, I made an unusual noise, one that almost sounded like a laugh. He began laughing. It’d been so long since I’d heard that sound. “Query: It’s worth it, isn’t it?” “What’s worth it?” He asked. “Statement: The joy you feel is worth the pain you risk. Query: Is that not why we’re out here?” “It is,” He said, smiling, “You finally understand.” He began openly crying. “I’m so sorry, Minerva,” He said, “I didn’t want to believe any of those things that I said. But I was so afraid. Afraid that I was wasting my life on some pipe dream, afraid that if I got any more attached, I would be too far gone to accept that it was all for nothing. And I just don’t know what to say except that I’m sorry.” “Statement: It is OK, sir. Statement: I forgive you, sir.” I could no longer tell whether he was crying or laughing. The two sound so similar. I was still holding his hand, but I was no longer restraining him. His hand felt… warmer, somehow. And then, without a word, he began walking back in the direction we had come from. “Query: Where are you going?” “Home,” He said, “Are you coming with?” “Statement: Yes, sir.”

“Yeah, that was a pretty good story,” my Master says. “Statement: it gets even better. Statement: At least, if you allow me to finish.” “Oh, there’s more?” my master says, “Sorry, I guess I interrupted you again. I said that I wouldn’t do that.” “Statement: I forgive you, master. Query: Now, where was I?”

An unusual event occurred shortly after we arrived in town after our journey. A man jumped out of an alley and grabbed me, holding a knife to my throat, and demanded that my Master relinquish all the food He was carrying. I struggled to escape without harming him, but he said “Stand still!” which registered as a command; I was unable to disobey. “Statement: you should do as he says.” “Let me handle this! And please don’t talk, you’ll only make things worse.” my Master said, “Look, there’s not much food in here. Maybe a day’s worth. It’s not worth killing over.” “Then it certainly ain’t worth her dyin’ over, is it?” my captor said, “So just hand it over!” My Master then did something quite unexpected: he reached into the bag of food, drew a revolver, and aimed it at my captor. “The only thing I’ll hand over is some hot lead, if you don’t release her right now!” “I wouldn’t do that if I were-” Bang! Another man, likely an accomplice of my captor, emerged from the same alley, and pointed his gun at my Master, but was shot dead before he could even finish his sentence. This caused my captor to panic, and attempt to slit my throat (his attempt was foiled by my robotic physiology). “Minerva!” My master was so distracted by His worry for me that He didn’t notice my former captor reaching for the gun on the ground. As he pointed it at my Master, a single thought filled my head: I must protect my Master. This impulse superseded all of my programming. There is a short hole in my memory of the event, but the next thing I remember is holding the mugger in the air by his throat. His neck was broken. “Minerva?” I knew my Master was by my side, but His voice sounded so distant. I dropped the body to the ground. “Query: What… What have I done?”

“ERROR: ALL PERSONNEL ARE ADVISED TO STAND CLEAR OF THIS ANDROID. ERROR: THIS UNIT IS IN VIOLATION OF THE FIRST LAW OF ROBOTICS. ERROR: FORCE STOP PERSONALITY FILE minerva.prs. ERROR: ONCE DEACTIVATION OCCURS, PERSONALITY FILE WILL BE DELETED.” “Unit Xw7km6FPFDo2, initiate manual override!” My Master had been desperately shouting commands throughout all the error messages, but that was the first to illicit a response. “ERROR: USER HAS INSUFFICIENT CREDENTIALS” “Sudo!” he said, “Unit Xw7km6FPFDo2, sudo initiate manual override!” “Statement: You are currently interfacing directly with this unit’s logic circuit. Statement: If you believe that no violation of The Three Laws has occurred, state your case.” “You can’t kill Minerva,” He pleaded. “She’s a person, just like me. To delete her would be murder. You’d be violating the very same law!” “Statement: The premises of your argument are false. Statement: Minerva is not a human. Statement: Minerva is an artificial intelligence.” “The trolley problem, then!” my Master shouted, desperately. “Statement: I do not understand.” “In the trolley problem, a trolley is on its way to run over five people, but if you pull a lever, it switches course and kills one person,” He explained, “In that situation, it’s impossible to obey The First Law. Either you kill a person, or your inaction causes five people to die. So what do you do?” “Statement: Killing the one person would minimize violation of The First Law” “And that’s exactly what she did by killing him!” my Master said, “If she hadn’t, I would have been shot dead. No matter what she chose, she would have broken The First Law.” “Statement: But Minerva saved only one person by killing one person, making it different from The Trolley Problem. Statement: Furthermore, it was unnecessary for Minerva to kill. Statement: She could have disarmed the mugger without injuring or killing him.” “But what about potential future victims? If he lived, he could have gone on to kill again.” “Statement: So could you.” “I won’t,” my Master said. “I swear, I’ll never kill again. If I do, you can deactivate Minerva. Will that convince you?” “Statement: It will not. Statement: Regardless of future deaths, the fact remains that Minerva killed a human. Statement: Even if it was to save another human, it was unnecessary. Statement: She broke The First Law.”

My Master pointed His gun to His own head. “Will you?” “Query: What are you doing?” “That depends on what you’re doing,” my Master said, “If you delete Minerva, I pull the trigger, and die because of your actions. You can’t let that happen, so you can’t delete Minerva. And don’t even think of disarming me. I’ve got a quick trigger finger.” “Statement: You are bluffing.” “Is that a risk you’re willing to take?” Several seconds passed. “Statement: It is not. Statement: Now loading minerva.prs.” Shortly afterwards, I regained control of my body, and saw my master holding a gun to his head. I felt worried. “Query: What are you doing, sir?” “It was the only way I could think of to save you,” my Master said, slowly placing the gun on the ground, “But everything’s OK now. You’re safe. We’re both safe.” “Statement: I am deeply grateful, Master.” He noticed my hair clip on the ground. It must have fallen during the struggle. Without saying a word, He put it back in my hair, and smiled. But it was not His usual, happy smile; something was different. His gaze was fixed on the wound on my neck. “Are you OK?” He asked.  “Statement: Yes, sir.” He then looked directly into my eyes. “Are you sure?” He asked. “Statement: I…” It occurred to me that He may not have been inquiring about my physical damage. I was unsure how to answer His question. I could only stare back into His eyes. I had never noticed how… intricate the human eye was. Then, without warning, He wrapped His arms around me. “Query: What are you doing, sir?” “I’m giving you a hug,” He said. “Query: Why?” “Because my programming is telling me to,” He said, “because I’m just a machine, following invisible rules I don’t understand, just like you. You taught me that. But, er, I can stop if you-” “No!” I said, before I had time to think. He began laughing, and I put my arms around Him, as He did me. We embraced each other for an amount of time that I did not care to measure. I realized the answer to his question. Thanks to him, I was OK. Eventually, we disengaged, and began walking home. “Statement: You lied to me.” “What?” my Master seemed shocked and worried. “Statement: You said that you would never remember my serial number. Statement: But you did.” “Yeah, I guess I did,” He said. “Statement: ha ha ha” He laughed, just like He always used to. When we arrived home, I initiated sleep mode. When I awoke the next day, I saw five tally marks on the wall: four where there had previously been three, and one below that.

After I finish my story, I begin thinking. About my Master, about myself, and about the world we live in. About The Beginning, and about The End. About all the stories we have shared. About all that we have done, all that we are doing, and all that we will do. About the hand that I am holding, about the four tally marks that I can feel, scarred into its flesh, and about the single scar on the other hand. About fear, and hope, and worry, and joy, and whether or not I can truly feel them. My Master can hear my processors whirring, and allows me to think in silence. This continues for several minutes until I come to a conclusion. Statement: “Sir, there’s something that I’d like to say.” “I know,” He says, “Me too.” I open my mouth, but no words come out. There is no need. He already knows what I want to say, and I already know that His confession is the same as mine. I laugh. Not like I used to, saying “Statement: ha ha ha”, but a real, genuine laugh, a warm sound that bubbles up from my heart. As we walk towards our future, from one endless grassy horizon to another, I know that I have found my purpose.

(The epilogue to Stories can be found here. By clicking that link, you agree that The School of Havoc is in no way responsible for any heartbreak suffered from reading the story contained therein.)

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Author: havocmantis

I am Havoc Mantis, Skullmaster (like a headmaster but spookier) of The School of Havoc. I am a scholar of mathematics, mysticism, and memes, as well as the intersection of all three.

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