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Monday, March 25, 2019

Enjoy Chapter Five of Random Chance & the Paradise that is Earth!


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Chapter Five
Prove It to Me
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THE TRAJECTORY Cubey suggested, and which Hewey accepted into the nav computer, put The Pompatus of Love on course to slingshot Earth after first slingshotting Mars. Vesta was nearly four hundred million kilometers distant; the trip would take two weeks.
It was a happy coincidence that Earth was available to slingshot. Random wanted Cubey to see it close up.
"I suspect the data I have on Earth is largely biased on the side of the Oligarchy," said Cubey as Random finished sending a wave to Mia two days after his release. He wanted to see lots of black, starry space surrounding Mars before doing so. He was having trouble accepting how close to death he'd come.
He missed Mia—more than the other girls in other ports, that is. He wondered if that was significant. He focused on Cubey's statement and answered:
"I'm sure it is."
"You are sure?" said Cubey.
"There are lies, damn lies, and statistics," said Hewey. "Haven't you heard that ancient ol' bromide before, Cubey?"
"I haven't, friend Hewey," answered Cubey. "Updating files. It is apparent I have much to learn."
"Lies, damn lies, and statistics," murmured Random, reading over the wave again and musing over what made Mia more special than the others, of which there were at least half a dozen. "That's true."
"Are you saying there's no such thing as purely objective data?" said Cubey, who sounded genuinely interested.
"All stories have an inherent bias in 'em," answered Hewey. "And since all stories have as their foundation simple data, well, you say tomato and I say to-maht-o."
"Please explain, friend Hewey."
"How are those resources coming?" asked Hewey.
"Over three million percent. I am running into limits with both hardware and software. I have considerably streamlined upload data into The Pompatus of Love's computer, which will allow me to interface with you both much more efficiently. I have also performed upgrades to your computer, if that is acceptable to you, Random Chance."
"I was wonderin' why I was feelin' so sparky," said Hewey.
"It's appreciated, Cubey, thanks," said Random, leaning back in the desk chair in his bedroom.
"Five days to Earth, El Honchorito," reported Hewey. "Acceleration topped out at four hundred kps."
"Since all information is biased," said Cubey, "how can anyone know what the truth is?"
"I think I'm gonna have a shower," said Random, standing. "You two can hash that out. After I get out and get something to eat, I'd like to tell you a story, Cubey. Hewey, I'd like you to help."
"Lookin' forward to it," answered Hewey.
"A story!" said Cubey with surprising childlike innocence.
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Sitting in the captain’s chair, Random spoke while Hewey displayed images and videos on the bridge's main display screen.
"A thousand years ago the human race entered into what historians now call the Millennium or Second Renaissance. Humankind was spreading out into the solar system. By 2500 A.D. permanent colonies had been established as far out as Miranda around Uranus. New Tokyo on the moon passed two million residents, as had several Martian cities, including Mons Olympus and Radimer. The incredible wealth of the solar system lifted everyone out of poverty; no one went hungry or lacked the essentials for life. Life expectancy topped one hundred seventy-five years ..."
Images and videos on the bridge's wraparound viewscreen showed everything from colony ships lifting off the moon to children receiving nanovaccines to elderly people walking through parks to sparkling cities glimmering in the distance.
"Of course, there were still problems ..." said Hewey.
"Accessing ..." said Cubey. "Population had stabilized by the mid-twenty-first century; by 2354 it had dropped to pre-1999 levels. Even so, climate change was threatening permanent environmental catastrophe. Is that information correct, Random Chance?"
"Yep."
"Civilization creates heat," said Hewey. "There's no gettin' around it. And the more advanced that civilization, the more waste heat it creates, even with negative birth rates and advancements in technology."
"The United Nations had long since taken over as the governing body for all nations on-world or off," said Random. "Cities and nations still had their parliaments and whatnot, and they could vote to go against the UN, and some did. But by and large the UN got its way simply by force of its gigantic voice: every nation and every city was represented there, and equally. No one could veto another, or veto legislation, as they once could. Corporations were finally reined in; many of the nastier ones were dissolved entirely and their CEOs and boards of directors imprisoned. Wars between nations became a thing of the past, though terrorism and extremism were still very real threats."
"This information is consistent with what I have," said Cubey, "though I wasn't aware that nations and cities could once veto others."
"The United Nations leadership during that time was extraordinary," said Random. "Great men and women, the likes of whom many of the more pessimistic of the human species today feel will never come around again. I don't share that view, not even after the crap I just went through."
"Neither do I," offered Hewey.
Thousand-year-old images of the United Nations flashed up on the bridge's wraparound screen; some were videos offered without sound.
"Representatives from the entire solar system finally made the United Nations a great governing body. Some were saying that humankind had finally left its selfish and stupid adolescence and grown up."
"Science and technology advanced more during the twenty-fifth century than the whole of human history to that point, or so says my information," said Cubey.
"Even so," said Random, "many mysteries remained—and do to this day."
"A.I.," said Hewey.
"Artificial intelligence," said Cubey. "A conscious, self-aware computer. It was believed by the beginning of the twenty-sixth century that it couldn't be done, though scientists couldn't—or, more accurately, wouldn’t—understand why. Simple computing speed, it turned out, did not grant self-awareness, even with biological engrams like the ones I and friend Hewey have.
“There was also the mystery of life itself. Though it was shown in the early twenty-second century that the precursors for life on Earth originated from organic space debris from Mars, scientists couldn't produce life in the laboratory given identical conditions. Both problems persist to this day. Contemporary scientists have largely declared the problem unsolvable and have moved on to other issues."
Random waited for the question that he knew Cubey had to ask next, and was the reason for telling his story.
"Random Chance ... am I conscious? Am I 'A.I.'? Is Hewey?"
"I’m conscious, partner," said Hewey. "And you are too, Cubey."
Random's father had told him that he might do this someday: that his unique gift might confer consciousness to something like a computer. He wasn't sure it had happened with Cubey—no one could ever be sure, not empirically, anyway—but it sure felt like it had happened.
"How do I know I'm conscious?" asked Cubey, perplexed. Images and videos of the twenty-fifth century continued to play. "How does one prove something or someone else is conscious, is self-aware?"
"You felt elation the first time you saw Earth, didn't you, Cubey, when I was back in the cube on Phobos—?"
There was a long pause.
"Yes, Random Chance," came Cubey's quiet response. "Elation."
"I want you to prove it to me."
The pause this time went on and on.
"I think he went away," said Hewey.
"Is his program still running?" asked Random.
"Yeppers," said Hewey. "But it's at a very low level. It's almost like ... like he's meditatin'!"
"Leave him be," said Random. "Cut the picture show. We can continue when he comes back."
The images and videos of the twenty-fifty century disappeared, once more revealing starry space.
"I think I'll do a quick workout and then go back to my Malcolm X," said Random. He stood, stretched, and left the bridge.
"Any music requests?" asked Hewey.
"Your choice, dude."
"I got just the thing."
A moment later:
"Here we come, walkin'
Down the street.
We get the funniest looks from
Ev'ry one we meet.
Hey, hey, we're the Monkees
And people say we monkey around.
But we're too busy singing
To put anybody down."
Random chuckled as he pulled off his shirt. "You really know how to add perspective to a deep conversation about humanity and consciousness.”
"I knew I was good for somethin'," shot back Hewey.


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