Pioneer Phase II: A Robot Deployment
Shaa had worked for the Space Agency for over half her life time. After all these years she still had hopes of qualifying for a position at one of their colonies off Earth. She had had her hopes on Teta-Zeta. Now she had lost her job at the Space agency, and with it any opportunity she ever had left to leave for the colonies.
Shaa never bothered turning on the lights of her apartment when she got home from work that day. She looked out outside her window from the darkness of her studio apartment. The conversation with her supervisor still playing in her head.
The sun was setting. The city was covered by a thick yellow fog. The glow of neon from the buildings illuminated the streets below through the acid mist. A single auto flew across her window, disappearing into the smog. She could see the outline of the city Wall far in the distance. Behind the wall the slums.
She took a last look and walked into her kitchen. She had made the plan on her way home seated on the noisy subway car. She took out the bag of pink pills from a pocket inside her coat. She had bought them from a shady vendor in the Memory Market. She opened doors looking for a bottle of something–anything–to drink the pills with. Finally she found an opened bottle of Soju.
She looked at the yellow pills and she poured a handful in her palm, paused, and decided to empty the whole bag. She was reaching for the bottle when she heard a noise behind her. She turned to see two glowing eyes in the shadows of her living room.
“Giving up so easily, Shaa?” said the robot.
She jumped frightened, dropping all the pills on the floor. Her heart was racing.
“Don’t be alarmed. I’m not going to harm you.” The robot was about her height. It was a series 4 or series 5. A very advanced model. “I just came to talk. I need help, and it’s clear that you do too. I think we can help each other.”
She looked at the spilled pills in the floor. Adrenaline made her moment of weakness felt distant now. She realized she still wanted to live.
“Stay away from me.”
“For a moment, it looked as if you had thrown the towel, Shaa. But now it looks as if you are ready for a fight.”
“How did you get in? How do you know my name?” She said trying to gain control of herself.
“I know more than your name. I know why you are so desperate. All those years working that ungrateful job.”
“What do you want from me?”
The robot walked to the window where she had been standing a moment earlier. “I’m here to save your life.”
“You can’t help me.”
“You are smart,” the robot said looking at the far distance where the Wall faded into the yellow fog. “You don’t buy their propaganda. You know life in the slums of Mud City is hell. You probably figured you wouldn’t make it if they took your residency away. Am I correct?” The robot turned to look at her. “Am I?” She didn’t answer. The robot looked down at the spilled pills. “I guess I already know the answer.”
She was red of anger and shame. She had known from the moment she faced the intruder that she wanted to live.
“Ah, there it is. In your eyes again. I was waiting for it. Self-preservation. Such a human emotion.” The robot walked away from the window, and sat on a nearby couch across the studio.
“I have the answer to your problems here with me.” There was a package on top of the table in front of the robot. “I know it might seem impossible that your problems can be solved. From everything you know your residency will be cancelled and you will be kicked out of the City.”
“How can that be?”
“What did they tell you, Shaa? Did they say they wanted to replace you?”
“I’m too expensive. Specially since we have more efficient… machines. Like you,” she said pointing to the robot.
“Progress is ruthless, Shaa. But–you can escape that fate. This time at least, there is another alternative.”
“What’s in that document.”
“A plan to make the colonies profitable.”
“The colonist hate it out there, Shaa. That’s why productivity is low. They say the mortality rate is high. What they really mean is the suicide rate is high. The colonist are killing themselves.”
“I don’t believe that,” she said.
“It doesn’t mind what you believe. The truth is the colonist are not adapting to the environment. The have basic infrastructure, barely a social network, they are isolated from their surroundings, and from
Earth. Teta-Zeta and the other mining location are hell for the colonists.” The robot looked at Shaa in silence. She had suspected something wasn’t right in the colonies but she always thought.
“You believe me.” The robot said with a smile. “The answer is clear. To make colonization profitable, forget about humans. Send robots to the field.”
“We have regulations against sending robots to space.”
“A declaration of intent. Barely a law. Company is under no legal obligation to follow it.”
“The regulations are there for a reason.”
“The regulation was created before robots were fully autonomous. Mostly because of the Clover incident. Is an ordinance from pre-cogito units, really.”
The robot opened the package on the table. A data display was inside. The robot tapped on the screen, and it lighted up.
Shaa leaned over to inspect the display. _Pioneer Phase II: Robot Deployment. She took the display and scanned through the contents of the report.
“It’s a fairly simple idea,” said the robot. “Reallocate all the budget currently dedicated to support the colonist population to robot units and artificial brains.”
The numbers were staggering. If implemented, the plan would save Central millions of kübars. It would also condemn the colonist to survive with limited support from Earth. The committee would oppose sending Robots in principle, but if the numbers looked right…
“They will never approve something like this. It will be shut down.”
“Oh, it will be approved.”
“How do you know?”
“All you need to do is submit the report to your supervisor. That’s all you need to do. Once the report is in the system it will be reviewed by the Electronic Brain for initial evaluation. It’s standard process. We are certain the Brain will give the report a positive appraisal. With a recommendation from the Brain the board will approve the plan. Once that happens your detailed analysis work will be recognized, your job will be saved, and you won’t have to fear losing your residency anymore.”
“Why don’t you submit this yourself? Why are you giving this to me?”
“We’ll, let’s say that coming from you the proposal feels less biassed. A change like this in direction, it needs to be introduced with care. It needs to feel welcomed. When programs like this one come up, we need somebody like you to sell the idea.”
“You mean programs that shift the budget from humans to robots. You need a human to propose something like this.”
“I’ll be honest with you Shaa. You are a senior analyst and your experience warranties a quick review. But there are other employees with access to the evaluation committee, who will be quick to accept this offer. One way or another this proposal will be submitted for evaluation.” The robot’s argument was compelling. “You will keep your job, your residency, and you won’t have to give up your apartment.”
“If we prove that robots are more efficient than humans, nobody will ever invest in human colonization. It will mean the end of the few colonies we have in space now, and the end to human colonies. Robots will own space exploration, and humans will stay on Earth.”
“Is exploration worth all that suffering, Shaa? What is so bad about Earth? Why the desire to escape?”
Shaa looked out the large windows of her apartment. The robot followed her gaze. Behind the yellow fog, in the dark of the night, illuminated by the neon of the city buildings, the Wall that separated the City from the slums stood erect.
February 18, 2019