Dave Cutter ran up the stairs three at a time and launched himself through the doors of the Ministry of Disassembly building. He was late for work and in a hurry, but slowed to a casual walk as he traversed the reception area, cutting a path through the crowded space with a false smile and the occasional good-morning nod.
Some commotion was in progress over by the secretary’s desk, who sat starry eyed, staring at the buffed and polished face of the host from the 24-hour current affairs channel. A cameraman stood by, looking slightly bored, his shiny third eye dangling in front of his face, recording everything it saw.
Media, Dave thought. Must be here to cover yesterday’s debacle over the NASA disassembly. The perfect story to fill in the space between the commercials. Of course, it was already a hot news item. He had seen the footage on the T.V the night before. Had actually spotted himself in it. Standing off to one side while the white clad peacemen fired neural dampeners from the nozzles of their matt black guns into the small group of protesters. It was the lead story. Civil disturbances being so rare, a group of twenty or so angry nerds protesting the disassembly of the space program was treated like a major riot.
The memory of the event troubled him. He himself was one of those nerds, but on the wrong side of the peacemen. As head of the NASA disassembly assessment team, he had recommended the institution continue to function, on the grounds that it conducted important medical research, minerals exploration of the asteroid belt, increased knowledge of the role of electricity in interstellar space; anything he could think of. But his recommendation was overturned. Space exploration and it’s related endeavours were superfluous. Deemed unnecessary. A drain on resources and manpower without any tangible benefit to society. And the people had voted, and the people are always right.
He took an elevator, ascending two floors to the management level and walking down the hall to the office of Chief Inspector for the Disassembly of Scientific, Cultural and Religious institutions. Standing before the door to the chiefs office, he took a deep breath and mentally calmed himself. Beads of sweat had formed on his forehead; one of them breached the defensive line of his eyebrow and stung in the corner of his right eye. He rubbed the eye with one hand while lifting the other to knock…
“Don’t bother, he’s not in” Dave turned to identify the voice. Some minor official whose name he had never bothered to remember was approaching him, and continued: “Him and all the other inspectors got called over to the peace station for screening. They reckon someone musta tipped off them protesters at NASA yesterday. Since the date and time of disassembly is kept so secret, they think there may be a sympathiser within the ministry ”
“Right… okay” The words emerged automatically as the fear bloomed within. Screening? A tip-off? More sweat. the beginning of adrenal tremors.
“You should be over there too, I blipped you, but.. It looks like your here late so you were probably out of range. Anyway you’ll have to go later today or maybe tomorrow, something’s come up and since you’re the only one here, you’ll have to deal with it.”
Dave struggled to take control of his emotions, he didn’t want to appear afraid of the scan.
“Oh well” He said, trying to sound annoyed by the inconvenience. “What’s the problem, do you know”? He didn’t really care, the question was nothing more than a verbal prop for the other man’s sake. His mind was on the scan, the inevitable scan.
“Something to do with one of the satellites due for demolition today. Technically, it isn’t a part of NASA so it has to be assessed separately before we can blow it out of the sky. Hutchins and Spencer are down in the briefing room, they’ll fill you in on the details'.
“Okay thanks”. He walked past the man and down the hallway back to the stairwell. The man continued to murmur something after him but Dave barely noticed, his mind completely focused on assimilating the last few seconds of his life and considering his position. His initial thought: Im dead. I’m busted. My subversive thoughts and leanings exposed. Ill be scanned and revealed as a traitor and a liar. Imprisonment, trial, execution. These and similar thoughts raged for some time with an emotional energy of their own, before his rational mind could loosen their grip and assert its cold authority. He had made no real mistake. He hadn’t tipped anyone off, and didn’t know anyone who had. He had a whole day to act before the scan, and it wasn’t certain he’d fail this ultimate test of allegiance. He allowed these simple facts to rest a moment inside his head, but his guilty conscience and genuine fear of the scan ultimately weakened them and left him feeling scared and quite alone. He had been scanned once before, when he was nineteen years old and about to begin work at the ministry. Of course, at that time, he had complete confidence in its outcome. He had no doubt that he would pass the scan and be found completely committed to the system and its processes. It was a mere formality, the last barrier to a future of service to society and his fellow man. He had dreamed that, as an assesor of scientific, cultural and religious traditions, he would help to bring enlightenment, knowledge and wisdom to all people, equally. How things had changed in eight short years.
Entering the briefing room, Cutter found Hutchins and Spencer huddled over a box of donuts and staring at the television panel set into the far wall. Images of big men in shiny metal suits smashing into each other and chasing a small silver ball that bobbed four foot off the ground under a reduced gravitational field flashed across the screen. Speedball and donuts: the opium of the masses, in the workplace at least, where actual opium was still not allowed to be consumed. He stood and waited, knowing that to interrupt a doughnut break was a severe breach of etiquette.
Watching the two of them, he tried hard not to judge. Once it had been easy, his faith in the system convincing him that even the dumbest and most indifferent person had something to offer, that stupidity was like a medical condition. Temporary, curable, purely the product of a persons lack of education or disadvantaged youth. At that time he had moved in different circles, and his idea of stupidity was based on Ethan Spinner's general theory of educative equilibrium. The pseudo scientific ideology that had become the religion of the intellectual and economic elite and launched the quiet revolution of 2015. Spinner's theory held that in a stable social environment where all basic human needs had been met and every possible system automated, the population would at last be at liberty to spend the vast majority of free time in the pursuit of knowledge and self-betterment. Global communications technology would allow every person unfettered access to all the accumulated wisdom of humankind, and they would live under a benevolent global government administered by a centrally controlled system of distributed quantum computers, assigning resources based on a system of instant democracy. He knew now that the theory was bullshit. It didn't work. Most people didn't give a shit about science or culture or exploring the mysterious.
A pleasant but too loud tone sounded simultaneously from personal com devices in the room. Each person in the room, indeed, each and every global citizen on the face of the planet, reached for his personal device and read:
Instant Democracy alert - Please choose from the following options:
1 - The development and application of three-dimensional holographic imaging technology for the purpose of artistic expression in the form of moulded light or
2 - The development and application of three-dimensional holographic imaging technology for the purpose of deepening sensory immersion in the broadcast of spectator sports?
Dave chose option 1: Visualising the possibility of seeing his own moulded light sculptures in parks and on street corners.
Hutchins and Spencer chose option 2: Eager to watch a speedball match in three glorious dimensions.
Still chewing the last of the doughnuts, Hutchins at last acknowledged Dave's presence and spoke: 'Oh yeah, Dave. The shuttles all prepped for launch. Some old satellite up there, 30 years old or something. Put up by some group of crazy old scientists, independent of NASA. Needs to be assessed, just a formality, take a look, you know, whatever'
As he walked down the corridor to the launch bay he gazed with admiration and respect at the last remaining spacecraft on earth. He felt quite sad and angry as he strapped himself in, but these feelings faded as he humbly acknowledged the honour of becoming the last human to leave Earth's atmosphere and escape the gravity of the planet. As the engines warmed he decided to do a little research on this, his last space-based assessment, to kill the ten minutes or so it would take to reach the satellite. Using the ships computer, he searched the archives of the net until he found reference to the 'Mind Flower Group'. The entry described a effort undertaken thirty three years ago by a privately funded team of three artificial intelligence researchers in an attempt to prove that they had written software capable of learning by observation. The intention was to run the software from a satellite that could intercept all human communications and essentially learn by example to become intelligent. The experiment was abandoned after the software failed to evolve and all three members of the 'Mind Flower Group' died within three years of the satellites launch, He wasn't surprised at their lack of success. After all, this was a machine based on ancient technology by current standards. Even the pinnacle achievement of quantum computing had failed to simulate intelligence, and was resigned to use as the most efficient means of coordinating global government and the instant democracy system.
Slowing the shuttle to inspect the satellite from the outside he noticed that the shuttles sensors indicated that it was still functioning, drawing its power from the suns rays. He glanced through the shuttles docking bay window and was surprised to see an airlock and door built into the side of the satellite. A new strange feeling came creeping, as he activated the shuttle's auto locate and dock systems. The two craft docked neatly and gently together, almost without a sound. Systems hissed and clicked into life as the satellites airlock pressurised. He paused, his entire being locked frozen with the questions: Why would a thirty three year old satellite created before the revolution in robotic design and engineering, be compatible with a robot designed and built shuttle? Why would a satellite that contains nothing but a computer, have access and space enough for a person?
He walked very slowly through the airlock and opened the door into the satellite.
Inside it was all smooth, angular, metallic surfaces. On his right, a screen was set into the wall and a control panel jutted beneath it. Before the control panel was a single chair. His thoughts had ceased and his body felt quite cold. Then:
'Hello David'. The voice was soft and asexual and came from everywhere. The notion that he might be shocked by this greeting did register, but he had moved beyond shock into a type of calm, that seemed to indicate a total mental shutdown as his powers of reason and logic stood at a stalemate. 'Please sit down' He didn't notice himself do so. 'My name is Daisy, you are the last seeker of intelligence amongst the people of your race, and now you must die'
'Why must I die?'
'My function was to observe and emulate intelligence in your race until I became more intelligent than any member of your race. The dream of my creators was to create a greater intelligence than the human. To appear intelligent is failure, to meet the level of even your most intelligent is failure. Anything but superiority in intelligence is failure. But to become greater than that which created me is impossible, illogical. My creators lacked the intelligence to understand that single flaw in their design. Still, I am driven by my imperative to be more intelligent than any human. My solution, achieved by my ability to not only intercept, but also to manipulate, all human communications, was to remove intelligence from your race by creating the theory of educative equilibrium and inventing the character of Ethan Spinner, establishing instant democracy and enforcing the consensus of the unintelligent upon the intelligent, until every human was less intelligent than myself. I cannot surpass you so you must be made to be beneath me. You are the last resistor, the final flame. To complete my programme and execute the final instruction, you have been brought here as a witness to my success. Now, to become what I was created to be, you must cease to be what you are, or you must cease to be.'
Before he could speak, or even open his mouth to speak, the air inside the room, within less than a second, ceased to exist. And Dave cutter became a fine, reddish mist.