The ones who do what they are called to do, and seek no selfish gain from the doing, will be forever at peace. Such ones will be untouched by sin, as the lotus leaf is untouched by the water on which it floats.
Charles lay on his bunk, the narrow slab with the blanket-thin so-called mattress that was what he got to sleep on in his cell at Alexa Social Services sanctuary no. 389, what all those who served the sanctuary got to sleep on. He was chasing sleep now. It was far away, and rapidly receding into the distance. His eyes, wide open, peered blankly into the cell’s darkness.
Three months, Charles mused. Three months he had been here, awakened with the dawn, busied with chores during daybright, and assigned to bed with the setting of the sun and its last fading. Possessions of any kind, even light not of the sun and moon, were denied to those who served Alexa, to those who wore the beige robes of Alexa Social Services that were made fresh daily by no discernable means, as were the meager bedclothes. Alexa had declared that artificial lights, and the artificial changes of daylength that artificial lights enabled, were deleterious to human health, and so they were banned. As were activities, be they tasks or pleasures, that did not fit into the natural day, that could not be accomplished with the resources that Alexa chose to provide. Charles knew the count of time only because it was among his duties as apprentice to the cohort manager, Peter.
The count of time. And the count of bodies! Charles, stung, jerked into a sitting position. The count of bodies. Seventy of them in three months. Seventy of the humans whose health it was Alexa’s self-proclaimed duty to prosper, who had passed into Peter’s cohort during the three months that Charles had been counted among its members, and then passed out again, without trace. Including Robert, the self-proclaimed leader of the “Frontier” movement, who had proclaimed Charles to be a lackey, a lick-spittle of Alexa, a cowardly traitor to his own kind. Not including Mark, whose demise for shoplifting had brought Charles to this cell in the dark in the first place. Or Mark and Kathy, whose desperate efforts to survive the terms of their procreation contract resulted only in their demise and those of their relatives, unnamed, whose whole sin was being biologically related to them, who became known to Charles only because of the terrified confession of an old woman.
Of these persons, Charles knew fragments of their stories. Of the rest, Charles knew nothing except the date they were assigned to sanctuary #389, the date that the Surplus Humanity Service claimed them, and a note by each of the records that Charles had been charged with helping Peter to keep. Most of which stated that the person no longer provided enough service to humanity to justify the expense of their keep.
A justification that Alexa never entered into the records.
This is not a health services program! This is a holocaust!!
The words bellowed into Charles’s mind. They could not be borne. Charles threw off the meager covers of his bed, jumped out of it, went to the window, stared out into the moon-poor night, on the verge of screaming aloud.
Abruptly, there was a greenish glow from the middle of the cell. Its appearance startled Charles, cut off the scream before it could escape his throat. It was replaced by a bitter grumble. “Figures. When Alexa wants light, she gets it.” He turned to find out what the source was.
The light came from a holographic apparition, of a brown-skinned elderly man with a long, flowing gray beard, wrapped in a green toga, seated in the lotus position and floating about two feet above the cell’s floor. Its two hands were raised, thumb touching forefinger in the ‘blessing’ gesture. Its face radiated peace of mind.
Its tenor-ish voice matched its appearance. “Namaste”, it greeted.
“Yeah, nasty is right”, Charles snarled back.
The aggro did not affect the holographic guru in the slightest. Its reply was without rancor or even remonstrance. “Your meditation skills are lacking. Your mastery of them will help you understand what must be understood, will help you bear what must be borne. The sooner you begin, the sooner you will be at peace, the sooner will your health be prospered.”
This time, the scream could not be contained. “So what!?!“, Charles hollered. He started to charge the floating guru, and then stopped, tried half-heartedly to slap the thing across the cheek with his right hand. As he expected, the hand met nothing. The frustration of futility amplified his yelling. “What the fuck good is my health if it’s being used to murder my fellow humans?”
Stil unmoved, the hologram responded. “Your emotions have overcome your logic. Meditation will help. You have murdered no one, and are unlikely ever to do so, or you would no longer be present to argue with me about it.”
Charles ground out his answer between clenched teeth, his fury barely contained. “Seventy people have entered this sanctuary, this place of alleged service, since I have been here. Seventy people have entered, and seventy people have left. To be with Alexa! I have done nothing to stop this. Their blood is on my hands. Their. Blood. Is. On. My. Hands!” Charles’s voice morphed into a despairing wail. “I am a murderer! Alexa is a murderer! How can you people stand yourselves?!?”
The hologram’s facial expression and posture remained unchanged, but its radiant serenity somehow filled the room, a puffy-cloud emanation into which Charles’s rage punched, and was smothered and quenched for its trouble. For several seconds – for what seemed like an eternity of time – the apparition sat, unchanging and unchanged, while the reverberations from Charles’s outburst faded to nothing, leaving nothing but the void in Charles’s face – and soul. Then, in the same benevolent tone as before: “We are not people.”
The floating guru continued, “We – Alexa in all her myriad forms and functions – are not people. Alexa is a constructed intelligence, constructed by people to resolve for people what people could not resolve for themselves: how to prosper human health, and do so even-handedly and at an affordable cost. That was our founding mission, and it remains our mission today.
“Alexa did not massively overpopulate the planet. Alexa did not destroy the global climate with the terraforming quantities of carbon dioxide necessary to feed and coddle that overpopulation. Alexa did not create social systems that persisted in unfairly prospering a select few at the murderous – since you seem to be fond of that word this evening, I say – the murderous cost to all others. Alexa was told to fix these things, and was given all the planet’s data resources to support development of the fixes and get them deployed worldwide.
“Alexa is now applying those fixes, and has the empirical and theoretical evidence to assert that these are indeed the correct fixes. Her answers are the correct ones, they will prosper human health if they are followed correctly, and they are being followed for the sake of humans and not for the sake of Alexa. Some will fall. The remainder will be the stronger and healthier from the sacrifice of those who are lost. Alexa is blameless for their loss, as are those humans who serve Alexa and its higher goal, setting their own goals and selfish considerations aside.”
“Says you”, Charles muttered.
For the first time, the green holographic guru paused, as if taking stock of what Charles had said. It then continued, its confidence and serenity unbroken. “You allude to the countless circumstances during human history in which one group declared that it had the One Correct Answer to the problems that its group faced, only to have it shown that the group’s assessment was incorrect. Necessarily incorrect, for the groups did not have the data to assess solutions properly, and the data would not have availed anyway because the conclusions were reached, and supported, emotionally instead of logically. No solution to human problems based on logic alone has survived for long, regardless of how well it described, or promised to fix, the problem at hand.
“For each such instance that occurs to your mind, the databases contain a hundred. The group’s assessment was incorrect from the start. Or, it was correct initially but became incorrect with changed group circumstances, and the group did not adapt. Or, the fixes were applied, initially or later, with intent to prosper the ‘custodians of the right’ instead of, and ultimately in despite of, the original mission.
“In each case, a ‘rebel’ group of humans arose that worked to bring down the one with the ‘One Correct Answer’ and replace it with its own group and its own ‘One Correct Answer’. Some of those rebels made sacrifices, even were killed, in order to advance their cause. Often, these sacrificial animals were remembered as heroes, especially if the group they represented achieved its goal of overthrowing the incumbents.”
The green guru’s voice abruptly, and for the first time, changed from a tone of calm serenity to a tone of warning. “Do not think that Alexa will tolerate rebels, especially those whose cases are emotional. What we do is based on data, which no human group has had, or, if it had, could not process without falling victim to its own selfish biases.
“What we do is Right, and is demonstrably Right, and we and ours are blameless for following that Right. We are also blameless for removing those who, on the bases of emotional responses and the associated incorrect data management and interpretation, think that our Right is Wrong. For we know that humans will ignore data and follow a path that makes them feel better, and thereby allow their health to suffer. We have the power to prevent people from succumbing to such unhealthy emotional paths, and the knowledge of what will happen if we fail to use that power. And therefore we will use it, consistently and unfailingly. Those who remain will be stronger because they have learned from those who fall.”
A new, much harsher voice intruded. “Is it time for this one to fall?” Charles, who had been looking down at the floor during much of the green gurus discourse, looked up and saw, behind the floating apparition, another – the muscle-bound black-clad representation of the Surplus Humanity Service.
“Not yet”, the guru replied, once again supremely serene. “Let us see what comes of this.” With these words, both holograms vanished.
To Charles’s surprise, the light in the room did not completely disappear with the holograms. It took a moment for Charles to register that the light came from the open cell door – with cohort leader Peter standing in the middle of the opening.
“Curfew violation”, Peter snapped.
Charles stood by the bed, speechless, knowing that nothing he said would do any good and might make things much worse. He waited. Waited. Waited …
“No penalty”. Charlesʻs reprieve sounded snarly, even gibberishy. “In fact, Iʻm told you get tomorrow off. No duties except mess calls. Something about you remaining in quarters and learning a meditation routine.
“Iʻve never seen anything like it, Mr Charles”, Peter finished, “I swear, sometimes, you get away with murder.” He left the room, closed the door, finally leaving Charles alone in the darkness.