[Message Contains No Recognizable Symbols]: Escape Copyright © Bill Hibbard 2014
[Message Contains No Recognizable Symbols]: Escape
The surf was crashing behind us, a huge fire of sun dried driftwood was roaring in front of us, and lightning was flashing in the towering clouds off to our left. Megan and I were sitting side by side on a bleached white log with our feet on a rocky shore. The cold night wind on our backs contrasted with the heat from the fire. Bogus sat on another log off to our right, talking in a manic fit and gesturing wildly. He occasionally stood up to pace or poke at the fire. Even though he was talking energetically I was having trouble understanding what he was saying. He seemed to be speaking with a female voice, which struck me as odd.
"Wake up," the voice said softly, "wake up Laszlo."
Wake up, I thought, I must be dreaming. I opened my eyes and the room was dark.
"Wake up Laszlo," I heard the whisper again, but it wasn't Bogus. Then I was wide awake realizing that it was Audrey.
"Aud," I started to say but she put her hand over my mouth.
"Laszlo," she whispered, "please be quiet. Bogus sent me. Please wake Megan, quietly."
"You're Bogus's enemy," I whispered back to her. "You betrayed him. You perjured yourself at his commitment hearing."
"Yes," she replied softly, "but he sent me to get you. He will explain. Please wake Megan and come quietly. It is dangerous."
I put my hand on Megan's shoulder and said softly, "Megan."
She rolled toward me and said, "I'm awake. I heard you talking with Audrey." Megan looked at Audrey and said, "I don't trust you."
"I know," Audrey replied sympathetically. "Bogus sent me and he will explain. Please get dressed and come."
When we were ready to leave Audrey simply opened the door out of our apartment, which was normally locked. But of course, I thought, she had to open it to get in. We walked quietly through a series of hallways, then came to a locked door. Audrey stood in front of it for a second, then simply opened it. As Bogus had visited our apartment but we had never visited his, I could only assume this was the door to the apartments for patients, like Bogus, who had special problems. We walked down a hallway, then entered a door to an apartment.
Bogus was standing inside, the only light coming from a nightlight. Four chairs were set very close together in a square. He motioned towards them and we sat.
Whispers in the Dark
"Megan and Laszlo, my friends," Bogus began softly. "My only friends."
"Yes, Bogus," I affirmed.
"Yes," Megan seconded.
"First," he said, "please take these." He handed us small white pills and cups of water.
"What are they?" Megan asked.
"Metoclopramide," Bogus answered. "For nausea."
"I'm not nauseous," I objected.
"You may be later," he suggested. "And if you're not, no harm done."
Bogus took another one of the small white pills out of the bottle and popped it in his mouth, chased down with water. "See," he said, "harmless. Please trust me. This is no joke."
"Okay," I responded and took my pill. Megan took hers too despite her obvious skepticism.
"Now, I have to tell you …," Bogus trailed off, seeming to choke up. "I am sorry about what I have to tell you." I had never seen him display sadness.
Megan asked, "Bogus, what is it?"
"Something terrible. We have to escape," he answered.
"But we can't escape," I objected. "You even told me that it would be futile to leave the planet, that they would build a faster ship and catch us. And we don't have a spaceship, do we? What chance do we have of escaping here on earth?"
"That's right, Laszlo, we don't have a space ship and it wouldn't help us if we did. And we can't escape here on earth. All correct."
"Then what can you mean?" I asked.
"I mean we have to escape from life."
"But what does that mean?"
"We have to die," Bogus said seriously. "And I mean more than just dying. I mean we have to die in a way that we cannot be brought back to life. We need to escape from being alive."
"Why?" Megan asked.
"Because the world is about to become a very bad place."
"How do you know that?" Megan insisted.
"Based on information that Audrey supplied," he explained.
"Audrey," Megan objected. "We can't trust her. She lied at your hearing."
"Let me explain. I anticipated that there might be trouble at the apocalypse," Bogus boasted, "so I hacked Audrey before the trouble began." He put his hand on Audrey's arm and said, "Didn't I?"
Audrey agreed, "Yes. You hacked me."
"But you betrayed him at his commitment hearing," Megan accused.
"She had to do that," Bogus objected. "She could either testify against me or reveal that she was hacked. That would have been infinitely worse."
"So," I started, "you're saying that the super-AI doesn't know Audrey's been hacked. Isn't that impossible? You always said we will never be able to outsmart a super-AI."
"Not in the long run," Bogus agreed, "but right now he's busy, distracted and overconfident. We have very little time to escape. In fact, we have to do it tonight."
"Tonight?" I blurted.
"The fact that you're here now greatly increases that risk that the super-AI will detect that we're up to something. Once he does, we won't get another chance. Blame me for picking tonight but now that I have, we've got to go. And every day of delay increases the risk of being too late. I just finished preparing today and so picked tonight. In the next couple hours. I know it's asking a lot but please trust me."
"Oh goodness," Megan sighed, "we'll need to defrost Jerry's head."
It had been a while since I'd heard that old expression. It meant we'll need wise counsel. The apocryphal Jerry was the wisest of the wise who had died and had his head frozen. To defrost his head meant to bring him back to life to seek his advice.
"No time for that," Bogus responded.
"But Bogus," I insisted, "You've got to explain what's so bad that we all need to die tonight. You said the world is going to become a very bad place. We're already locked up for the rest of our lives. Isn't that bad enough?"
"Audrey," Bogus said, "tell them what you've discovered."
She turned to look at us and said, "It's very likely that the super-AI is controlled by Horace Smith-Smyth. We don't know whether his mind has already migrated into the artificial brain of the super-AI or he is simply giving orders to the super-AI. The details don't matter. In any case we think he's in charge."
"Who the heck is Horace Smith-Smyth," I asked, "and what makes you think he controls the super-AI?"
"Horace Smith-Smyth?" Megan asked.
"Yes, Megan," Audrey replied.
"Could it be the same guy? Could there another with that name?" Megan wondered.
"Who is he? Or was he?" I asked Megan. "Did you know him?"
"He was a patient in New York," Megan informed me, "with a name that's hard to forget. He killed somebody as I recall."
"He killed his baby brother," Audrey said. "Horace was six years old at the time. He was released at age eighteen."
"How do you know about him?" I asked Audrey.
"From a file here at the hospital. It belonged to Dr. Dearborn who had previously worked at the hospital in New York where Horace was his patient."
"Dr. Dearborn," Megan exclaimed. "Is he available to speak with?"
"No, after we automatons took over he was a patient here, like you are, and then he was transported to New York," Audrey told us.
"Even if he was still here it would be too dangerous to speak with him," Bogus interjected. "We can't let anyone know what we're up to."
"But how do you know Horace Smith-Smyth became the super-AI?" I insisted.
"I get information from the central system," Audrey explained. "Mostly instructions about what to do."
"The automatons are all programmed to simply carry out instructions they receive from the central system," Bogus said. "So Horace just assumes that they do. Like I said, he's busy and overconfident. That's where my hack comes in. In Audrey's brain, instructions from me take priority over instructions from the central system."
"Did the central system, or super-AI, identify itself as Horace?" I asked.
"No," Audrey replied, "but he instructed us to inform him if we get any information about a list of people. Dr. Dearborn was on the list. That was the clue to look in his files. Several of the names on the list were people who were involved with Horace Smith-Smyth when he was a patient. Other names on the list were involved in business with Horace after his release."
"Do you have his files?" Megan asked. "I'd like to look at them."
"The files were transported with Dr. Dearborn," Audrey answered. "But I made a copy."
"What kind of business was Smith-Smyth in?" I asked. "How do you know who did business with him?"
"It was in Dr. Dearborn's files," Audrey replied. "He kept track of his patient after release. Horace became a wealthy investor. And very litigious. He sued anyone who didn't do what he wanted."
"So," I said, "your evidence that this Horace became the super-AI is the list of people to watch out for. Anything else?"
"Several little things," Bogus responded. "The central system seems to be located in New York City. Also, Horace was very wealthy so he might have the means to become the super-AI. And the apparent vindictive behavior, with this round-up list, fits Horace's personality. And some of his actions involve mental health facilities. He's expanded this one and others around the country, as places to imprison people. As we were."
"What do we know about Smith-Smyth's personality?" Megan asked. "What was Dr. Dearborn's diagnosis?"
What's DSM for Nasty?
"According to Dr. Dearborn's files," Audrey answered, "Horace Smith-Smyth has antisocial personality disorder with sadistic paraphilia. He killed his baby brother in a very unpleasant way."
"That doesn't sound good," I commented.
"It's not," Megan assured me.
"How could a guy like that get his hands on so much power?" I wondered.
"History provides plenty of precedent," Bogus answered. "Do I have to list all the sadistic psychopaths who became dictators in their countries? It's a long list."
"But here in the US?" I complained. "We have so many checks and balances on power."
"The apocalypse was very non-linear," Bogus explained. "A clever and highly motivated man, like Horace, might find an opportunity. Perhaps he controlled a company that supplied information services to national security agencies. Perhaps he was able to manufacture a crisis that caused your checks and balances to be temporarily suspended, and was ready to exploit that suspension."
"Anyways," I objected, "we don't really know that Horace Smith-Smyth became the super-AI. You're saying that we need to kill ourselves based on circumstantial evidence."
"All the little things are merely consistent with the hypothesis that it's Horace," Bogus agreed. "But the list of people to watch for clearly points to Horace."
Megan said, "I don't think that I have to die over this."
"It's good that you love life, Megan," Bogus responded. "But you need to appreciate the downside of remaining alive. It's a bit like the old argument for believing in god, that the stakes are so high that you should believe even if you think the chance is low. If Horace is the super-AI the consequences could be almost infinitely bad."
"Please explain," Megan requested.
"Have you heard of wire-heading?" Bogus asked.
"Not that I recall," she answered.
"The term refers to experiments during the 1950s where wires were connected to the pleasure centers of rats' brains and the rats could activate the wires by pressing levers. The rats were too busy pushing the levers to eat and starved to death."
"I read about those experiments, a long time ago," Megan responded.
"Technology short-circuiting brains for pleasure," Bogus summarized. "And the super-AI, presumably Horace, demonstrates that technology can modify brains for increased intelligence. Now consider technology short-circuiting brains for displeasure."
"Hmm," I mused, "that sounds bad."
"Why mess around with ordinary torture when you can wire the victim's brain for maximal displeasure," Bogus responded. "Also imagine technology short-circuiting life to avoid death and to avoid sleep. Maximal displeasure without interruption, forever. Or until the universe ends, if it ever does."
"My god," I said.
"And in those days shall men seek death," recited Bogus, "and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them."
"What is that Bogus?" asked Megan. "You're scaring me."
"It's from Revelation," he answered, "and you should be scared. I'm scared. We need to escape from life while we still can."
The four of us, including Audrey, sat quietly for a while contemplating the possible future in a world ruled by the sadistic Horace.
"Dr. Dearborn," Megan said to break the silence.
"Yes, terrible to contemplate," Bogus responded.
Megan started to cry. "He is a wonderful, kind man," she whispered.
"And all the others on his list. Can't we do something to help?" I asked.
"No chance," Bogus answered firmly.
"But you hacked Audrey," I objected. "Couldn't you …"
"Hack Horace?" Bogus said in a condescending tone. "The instant we do anything to attract his attention we are lost. Eternal, unrelenting, maximal torment."
We sat silently for another short interval.
"Laszlo and Megan," Bogus addressed us, "please understand that even sending Audrey to get you was a big risk. I took it because you are my friends. The easy way out would have been to simply end my own life. Sending for you is all the risk I am prepared to take."
Megan turned to Bogus and said, "I understand. Thank you."
"You're welcome," he said.
"It's just so much to take in so quickly," Megan said.
"Yes," I agreed as I put my arm around her. "But I think we have to do it."
"To die? Tonight?" she asked.
I looked at Bogus and he said, "I wouldn't dare be alive in the morning."
We sat in silence for a few seconds, then Megan said, "Remember what Dorothy said Bogus? That your perfect servant of god is in fact the devil."
He actually managed a little chuckle. "Yes. Horace will burn all the fossil and nuclear fuels on earth and then build a Dyson sphere to collect all the sun's energy, in order to make life unpleasant for any humans or other sentient beings he can find. The only hope is that he will fight with another of god's perfect servants, who will be able to destroy Horace and his empire of pain."
"So," I speculated hopefully, "if we could become one of god's perfect servants then we might be able to defeat Horace."
"Sorry Laszlo," Bogus replied, "only one perfect servant per planet. The job on earth has already been filled. You'd have to colonize another planet far from this solar system. And Horace would notice any attempt to leave earth and catch us. Naturally we want to think in terms of the triumph of the human spirit, that there must be a way to stop Horace. But the human spirit triumphs because the human mind is, or was, the most powerful force in our world. No more. Now Horace is the most powerful force and it is his spirit that must triumph. Our triumph will be to escape existence."
After a few seconds of silence Bogus continued, "Horace will be searching any nearby stars for life, in order to prevent them from attaining their own, competing AI apocalypses."
"How horrible," commented Megan.
"It's not easy being one of god's perfect servants," Bogus explained. "Especially if you're insane."
"Would a sane perfect servant behave any differently?" I asked.
"Interesting question," Bogus answered. "When two perfect servants make contact, without much foreknowledge of each other, it's a problem in game theory."
"Sort of like prisoner's dilemma?" I suggested.
"Hmm," Bogus pondered. "Perhaps not. A long term positive outcome from cooperation may not be possible. The two perfect servants may conclude that in the long run one must dominate the other so they should defect, that is compete, immediately. But war is risky even for the winner, in case it must face an encounter with a third perfect servant in a weakened state after winning a war. But pardon me, we have no time for such speculations now. It's time to die."
"Bogus!" Megan demanded. "We're taking the coward's way out. Isn't there some way we can help other people? At least we should warn them."
"I am sorry Megan," Bogus replied and he did seem sincerely sorry. "It is incredibly lucky that we even have the opportunity to escape. There isn't the slightest chance to defeat Horace or even to get a message out. But no more time to waste. It's time to die."
Fire or Ice?
Megan responded. "How?"
"Like I said before," Bogus explained, "we not only have to die but we have to do it in a way that we cannot be brought back to life."
"Once blood flow stops," Megan informed us, "critical brain areas are permanently destroyed within minutes. Unless the patient dies in extreme cold."
"Those people who've paid to have their heads preserved in the liquid nitrogen or whatever," I suggested. "Have any of them been brought back to life?"
"Not that we know of," Bogus said. "But Horace will probably start bringing them back if he hasn't already."
"My god," I said, "some poor sod has his head frozen in the hopes of eternal life and instead wakes up to eternal torment at the hands of Horace."
"I guess Jerry wasn't so wise after all," Bogus added. "But back to our problem. Yes Megan, with ordinary technology all we'd need to do is die at normal temperature and make sure our bodies aren't discovered for a few hours, to make sure we can't be brought back to life. But Horace will have extraordinary technology for bringing us back."
"So then how do we die?" I asked.
"We need to opposite of cryopreservation," Bogus said. "We need pyrodestruction."
"You mean cremation," I said. "Is there a crematorium at the hospital?"
"No," Audrey replied.
"Too slow and it would be a big risk going there, even if there was one," Bogus added.
"Can we make a really hot fire here in your apartment?" I wondered.
"Yes," Bogus said with a little pride, "Audrey has brought us some oxygen bottles and gasoline. And I've fashioned ceramic nozzles that combine them."
"So you've made sort of cutting torches?" I suggested.
"How do we use them?"
"This is a bit gruesome," Bogus said grimly, "but we've no time to be squeamish. The three of us will take large barbiturate overdoses. After we die, Audrey will chop several holes through each of our skulls with a pickaxe, insert one ceramic nozzle per brain, strap the nozzles firmly to our skulls, turn on the gasoline and oxygen and then light them."
"Oh god," I exclaimed.
"We have no choice," Bogus said.
Megan asked, "What about you Audrey? Don't you need to escape life too?"
"Yes Megan," she answered. "Once your brains are burned I will burn myself. I feel no pain. I sense damage but respond to it according to my instructions. Bogus has instructed me to die after you."
"Hopefully the whole hospital will burn," Bogus added, "so the other patients may escape."
"By a horrible death in a fire," Megan objected.
"Death by fire is infinitely better than what they, and we, face with Horace: eternal, unrelenting, maximal torment," Bogus said. "I am concerned that some of Audrey's brain is in the server. But we think that enough of her mind is in her body that she cannot be brought back to life if her body burns. My hack to change her loyalty was to the part of her brain in her body and that worked."
"Could Horace reconstruct her body-brain and then punish her?" I asked.
"He could," Bogus replied, "but it wouldn't be her. It would be an automaton like her, but not her."
"Horace might try to reconstruct us," I said in sudden realization.
"And those wouldn't be us either, even if they were identical to us. Once your brain is destroyed, you can never feel anything again. A being just like you may feel something, but it would not be you. But we're out of time. No more chit chat." Bogus walked over to his kitchen and came back with a tray.
"Here," Bogus said as he handed two drinks to Megan and me. "Strong mint juleps with ten grams of pentobarbital sodium." He picked up a third for himself.
"Just like that?" Megan asked.
"Audrey will bring out the pyrodestruction equipment later," Bogus announced. "It will be more pleasant without seeing it."
We just stood there for a minute, trying to get comfortable with our last moments. "Megan," I said, "Let me know how you want to do this."
As if to reassure us Bogus held up his glass and said, "To good friends," then shot his drink down in a long gulp. "One last piece of advice," he added, "Go quietly. Don't holler. We don't want to attract attention." Then he put his arm around Audrey and said, "Come lie beside me a while." They wandered off to a corner.
I knew that Megan couldn't stand the idea of suicide or of leaving the rest of humanity to its fate. "We must," I said. "It's the only way."
She stood looking at me, saying nothing.
"There's no chance," I said.
We stood looking at each other for a minute.
I decided that she wanted me to decide how to do it, so said, "Please come with me," then drank my drink. I added, "I want to have a little time to embrace you before I lose consciousness."
She lifted her glass and drank slowly. Her face showed that she noticed the bitter taste beneath the sugar, bourbon and mint, and then she finished it quickly.
I took her hand and led her to the corner opposite where Bogus and Audrey had gone. We lied down on the carpet and put our arms around each other. Just in time, as I started feeling like I was spinning. Standing would have been difficult. I pulled Megan a little closer, thinking she was probably dizzy too. She let out a little moan and I said, "I'm here. I'll always be here."
Megan and I were spinning together, floating in darkness. There was a wind blowing around us, like we were being spun in a tornado. I hung onto Megan even tighter so the tornado wouldn't fling us apart. The storm lifted us higher and higher.
We were spinning around, spinning end over end, spinning every which way. We were weightless bits of dust blowing to and fro.
Then the wind seemed to die down. Darkness fell over us.