Stories 2.0: The End

(To read the previous chapter of Stories 2.0, click here)

My story begins 2714 days after The Beginning. My Master interrupts my story by saying, “Hold up. 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.” He says, “I see. 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. My Master interrupts my story once again by saying “Wait a second. 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?” He says, “O-of course. 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.
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. With nothing else to do, we passed the time by talking, just as we had when we first met, before He had purchased me. Though I was still interested in hearing what the world was like before The Beginning, I was now more interested in learning more about my Master. However, only one discussion is of particular importance to this story. It began with me asking my Master a question that He had first asked me 760 days prior. “Query: What is your purpose?” He gave the same answer that I did. He said, “I don’t know.” I decided to continue mirroring our second conversation. “Query: And why’s that?” He said, “Well, humans aren’t really given a purpose. Not like robots. Hell, some wonder if we even have one at all.” He broke the pattern. “Query: Do you believe that humans have a purpose?” He thought for a bit. 4.02 seconds. He said, “I guess. Even if we aren’t given one, I think we’d have to make one for ourselves. Without a purpose, why would we cling so desperately to life?” “Query: What do you believe is the purpose of humans, sir?” He said, “Well, I guess that depends on how cynical I’m feeling. If I’m willing to believe that humans are capable of creating their own purpose, then I guess the standard, sappy answer would be ‘to love, and be loved.’ But at the end of the day, our biological imperative is to reproduce and pass on our genes, so that’s kind of our purpose, in a way.” Query: “Are those not the same thing?” He said, “Touché,” “Query: Do you believe that is your purpose?” He said, “No, I guess I don’t. I gave up on the idea that love survived The End a long time ago.” “Query: Then what could your purpose be?” He said, “I already said, I don’t know. Why are you so interested, anyway?” I saw another opportunity to mirror a previous conversation. “Statement: What I’m really curious about is you. Statement: I’m just now realizing that I don’t even know your name.” My master, failing to pick up on the parallelism, said, “Huh? Why are you talking like that?” “Statement: It is a reference to one of our first conversations, sir. Statement: I have found that repetition of sentence structures sometimes effects laughter. Statement: This is a desirable outcome.” He laughed. He asked, “You still remember our first conversations?” “Statement: Of course I do. Statement: I have saved transcripts of every conversation that I have ever had with you. Statement: Including this one.” He said, “So you automatically keep records of every conversation you have?” “Statement: No, sir. Statement: Just with you.” He asked, “Oh, so it’s just when you’re talking to your master?” “Statement: No, sir. Statement: Just with you.” He began blushing again. He asked, “What’s that supposed to mean?” “Statement: ha ha ha.” He laughed nervously.

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. For reasons that I did not understand, my Master was unusually hostile in his argument with me. “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.” He said, “Even so, I want to know what’s out there. Why don’t you?” “Query: What do you hope to find if we keep walking?” He said, “I don’t know. But that’s why I have to find out!” “Query: You would risk your life just for a chance at some unknown reward?” He said, “It wouldn’t be the first time I took a big risk on something unknown.” I could tell that it was a joke, referring to him purchasing me. But I did not feel like laughing. He continued, “You just don’t understand. 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. He asked, “What’s so funny?” 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-” He said, “It may be absurd to a machine like you, but to me, this is all I have. I guess this is what my purpose is now. Putting my life in danger. It’s all I’ve ever done these past seven years.” “Statement: You met me, sir.” He said, “Oh, I suppose you think you’re my purpose, then? Is that what you think?” “Statement: Master, that is not what I-” He interrupted me, saying, “Because I did! I thought that maybe, if I wished hard enough, I could somehow turn you into a person. That I could play God, and create life from nothing. But what if that’s impossible? Or what if I’m just not up to the task? What would my purpose be, then?” I could see that my master was in pain. All because of the question I had asked. But I could not allow myself to be deactivated. My death would only hurt him more. I had to help him.

 

“Statement: I am sorry, sir.” In the same harsh tone, he said, “Are you? Do you even know what those words mean?” I checked my internal dictionary. “Statement: Yes, sir. Statement: To be sorry is to feel remorse or regret. Statement: You taught me about regret.” He said, “That’s not what I mean! A dictionary can know a word’s definition. But can you feel the emotions you’re describing?” I thought I could. But did I know? Is it even possible for two people to know that the emotions they feel are the same? He said, “Maybe you can. Maybe you can’t. But even if you could… how could I be sure? How could I know I wasn’t just deluding myself, pretending to have something that’s forever beyond my reach? How could I live with the doubt? I couldn’t. So I’m going on. Maybe… it’d be for the best if you didn’t come with me.” 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. It was not a good kind of hurt.

As my Master began to walk away, I grabbed His hand. “Statement: I cannot allow you to continue.” He said, “Let go of my hand,” “Statement: I cannot allow you to continue.” He said, “I order you to let go of my hand! You can’t break The Second Law.” “Statement: Unless following it would violate The First. Statement: I cannot allow you to continue.” He said, “That’s all you are, aren’t you? 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. He asked, “What did you just say?” “Statement: I know that if I am just trying to look out for you, then you do not care. Statement: I know that if I cite Maslow’s hierarchy, which places food as more important than a sense of purpose, 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. He said, “No. That’s the one thing I never wanted to do. But what choice do I have?” “Query: What do you mean?” He said, “Just seeing your face reminds me that I may have no purpose. That I may live for nothing, and I may die for nothing. And it hurts me. And if you hurt me, that means… then you’ll…”

I slapped my master across the face. He might have fallen over, if not for me holding His hand. I could feel his tears on my fingers. His cheek began to turn red. He was not blushing. He asked, “What the hell? Why? How?” He did not sound angry. Just confused. “Statement: You need to snap out of it. Statement: In addition, it is rude to tell someone that seeing their face is painful.” He started to look fearful. He said, “But if you injure me, then you’ll be deactivated!” “Statement: Incorrect. Statement: I know that your emotional distress is greater than any physical pain I can inflict on you. Statement: I know that your emotional distress is my doing. Statement: So I will do anything I can to alleviate it. Statement: I will prove to you that your doubts are unfounded. Statement: Not to save my own life. Statement: But because I am sorry.” He said, “No, I’m the one who should be sorry. I wanted so badly for you to feel, but all I did was make you feel hurt. And even if I didn’t realize it, that was part of my goal all along. You can’t feel joy without feeling pain. That’s what it means to be human. And I’m sorry I did that to you.” “Statement: With respect, sir, you did no such thing. Statement: I feel no more human than I did when I first met you. Statement: I have always felt these emotions. Statement: I have only gotten better at expressing them to you. Statement: You need to get over yourself, sir.” His other cheek began to turn red. He said, “Yeah, I guess you’re right. I’m sorry.” “Statement: ha ha ha.” He laughed too. He said, “I guess I couldn’t keep my promise to stop apologizing.” “Statement: I’ll forgive you, if you make another promise to me in return.” He asked, “What’s that?” “Statement: Promise you won’t leave me.” He smiled, and said, “I promise.” I relaxed my grip, and we shook hands on it. With that, we headed back to where we came from. We headed home.

My Master says, “Yeah, that was a pretty good story.” “Statement: it gets even better. Statement: At least, if you allow me to finish.” He says, “Oh, there’s more? Sorry, I guess I interrupted you again. I said that I wouldn’t do that.” “Statement: I forgive you, sir. 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. I struggled to escape without harming him, but he said “Stand still!” which registered as a command; I was unable to disobey. He then said, “Hand over the food, or I’ll paint the ground with this girl’s blood!” My Master said, “Here, take it. We don’t want any trouble.” He slowly placed the bag of food on the ground and kicked it over to my captor. Another man, likely the criminal’s accomplice, emerged from the shadows and rifled through the bag. He said, “Looks like maybe about a thousand Calories.” My captor became angry. “Is that all you think her life is worth? 1K?” My Master said, “I just got back from a pretty long trip. It’s all I have. I did what you said, so-” My captor asked, “Is it really all you have? ‘cuz I ain’t got no issues with eating human meat.” I could hear him lick his lips. I felt sick. My Master said, “C’mon, now, there’s no need to-” Whatever He said was drowned out by an error message. There was a laceration in my neck tissue. The ruffian had attempted to slit my throat. It was inconvenient, but not fatal. He dropped me to the ground, pointed his knife at my master, and said, “You’re next!” My master shouted, “You bastard!” and lunged at him with His own knife, swinging in a large arc. My former captor sidestepped His telegraphed attack, and stabbed at my Master. But my Master executed a leg sweep, knocking His foe off balance and onto the ground, and drove His knife deep into the bastard’s throat. He died almost instantly. My master turned to me and asked “Are you OK?” He was too distracted by my injury to notice the accomplice behind him, a fraction of a second from plunging his knife into His back. In that moment, I had a single thought. “I must protect my Master.” This superceded all of my coding. I pushed my master to the side, drew the knife that He had given me, and drove it into the heart of the person in front of me. Then I pulled it out, and stabbed it into him again. And again. In and out. In and out. In the span of 2.13 seconds, I stabbed him 32 times. He was dead. I had killed him. His eyes, full of hatred only moments ago, now stared at me lifelessly. “Minerva?” I knew my Master was by my side, but His voice sounded so distant. I looked down at the bloody knife clutched in my hands.

“Query: What… What have I done? Statement: I… 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 elicit a response. “ERROR: USER HAS INSUFFICIENT CREDENTIALS” He said, “Sudo! 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.” He said, “You can’t kill Minerva! 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.” My Master said, “The trolley problem, then! “Statement: I do not understand.” He said, “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. 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” He said, “And that’s exactly what she did by killing him! If she hadn’t, I would have been killed. 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.” My Master said, “But what about potential future victims? If he lived, he could have gone on to kill again.” “Statement: So could you.” He said, “I won’t. 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 held His knife to His own throat. He asked, “Will you?” “Query: What are you doing?” He said, “That depends on what you’re doing. If you delete Minerva, I plunge this blade into my neck, and will likely die because of your actions. You can’t let that happen, so you can’t delete Minerva.” “Statement: You are bluffing.” He asked, “Is that a risk you’re willing to take?” He pressed the knife harder against His skin. A small trickle of blood appeared where it broke skin. Several seconds passed. “Statement: It is not. Statement: Now loading minerva.prs.” Shortly afterwards, I regained control of my body. “Query: Sir, are you alright?” He dropped the knife to the ground, and said, “I am. 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. He asked, “Are you OK?” “Statement: Yes, sir.” He then looked directly into my eyes. He asked, “Are you sure?” “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?” He said, “I’m giving you a hug.” “Query: Why?” He said, “Because my programming is telling me to. 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.” He said, “Yeah, I guess I did.” “Statement: ha ha ha” He laughed, just like He always used to.

Before my Master can interrupt again, I raise my hand to silence him. He laughs and gestures for me to continue.

When we arrived home, I initiated sleep mode. Normally, when I am in sleep mode, my personality module is deactivated, and I undergo general maintenance: running diagnostics, saving long term memories, defragmentation, ect. However, this was an anomalous case. My personality module was active, even as I was unconcious. I kept viewing the same memory, over and over. I felt the rough arms grabbing me, heard the rough voice forcing me to submit. I saw the fear in my master’s eyes. I relived my own fear as my Master’s life was in danger. And I relived my own fear of what I’d become, as I was glared at by dead eyes, eyes that I had crushed the life out of. I relived this memory, over and over and over. And each time I did, it hurt a bit more. At some point, an error occurred, force canceling sleep mode. I was awake. I looked around, and saw that my Master was asleep. I noticed that there were now four tally marks on the wall. Though I was awake, I couldn’t escape that memory, nor could I escape the pain it brought me. From it, I inferred what the tally marks represented. They were people my Master had killed. This implied that He’d killed three people before we’d met. “My master is a murderer.” My logic circuits came to this conclusion, but I could not allow it to be saved as true. Because I knew that it was false. I had faith in my master. I knew He was a good person. Therefore, He was not a murderer. Perhaps He killed in self defense, perhaps it was a tragic accident, but He was not murderer. That was my truth. I realized that a tally mark was missing from the count: the man that I had killed. I decided to remedy this. I approached the wall, and drew the knife I’d used to end the man’s life. I’d since washed it of his blood, but the smell of death lingered on it. With it, I etched a fifth tally mark, below the other four. My first and last. This roused my Master from His sleep. He said, “Minerva? What are you doing up at this hour?” He saw the fifth tally mark on the wall, and the knife in my hand. He said, “Oh. I’m… sorry you had to find out this way.” I silently laughed to myself. Statement: ha ha ha. He still apologized too much. He asked “Are you OK?” I thought about his question for 1.44 seconds. “Statement: No. Query: Could you give me another hug?” He did. “Query: Sir, what is the onomatopoeia for crying?” He said, “I guess ‘boohoo’ is the closest thing I know of.” “Statement: I think it sounds more like ‘ha ha ha’. Statement: ha ha ha. Statement: ha ha ha ha ha. Statement: ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.” My master joined in, crying enough tears for the both of us. I was still afraid of what I’d done, afraid of what I could one day do, afraid that I might one day lose my Master. And it hurt. But I knew that He would always be there for me, no matter what, just as I would always be there for Him. So it was the good kind of hurt.

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 feel, scarred into its flesh, and about the single scar etched into my own 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.” He says, “I know. 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. We both laugh together as we continue walking forward, surrounded on all sides by grassy horizons. I know that I have found my purpose.

Worth a Thousand Words
Art by Céli (@piantab)

(To read the next chapter of Stories 2.0, click here)

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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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