The ship shot upward, and then I hit The Button. I never cared much for ship-to-ship battles — they’re computerized and very predictable and neither interest nor challenge me. So I had previously studied data on likely patterns in airborne fights and written a macro for my ship’s weapons systems connected to a big button on the ship’s console. I’d painted the button red because that seemed like the right color for such a button.
There were some explosions behind me, followed by silence, but I had also reached space, and space is always silent. The ship jumped, and we were in empty space light years away from the nearest star. There was no way they could track us, so that was that. Another successful mission.
“You are now wanted for murder on 762 planets,” Dip informed me. “Am I correct in saying that is quite a lot of planets, Rico?”
Though I very much prefer to work alone, I’d decided it was good to have some kind of backup just in case. So I had purchased an AI core that I’d installed on my ship. I also had some sensors implanted in my body so Dip can monitor and communicate with me at all times, though I’d taught him to be somewhat sparing with that. You see, Dip is basically a huge algorithm that continually takes in data to improve its AI. So to further that quest, he asks me lots of annoying questions.
“So, Dip, what percentage of planets in the known universe now wants me for murder?”
My theory is that he’s more likely to develop actual intelligence if I never give him a straight answer and just frustrate him into figuring things out on his own. Or maybe I just don’t like answering in absolutes.
“Approximately one times ten to the negative six percent of the planets in my database want you for murder.”
“Does that seem like a large percentage?”
“It is my understanding that most sentients would consider that number to be extremely small.”
“That’s the great thing about the universe, Dip. You can massacre an entire planet and still find a nearly infinite number of places to go where no one has ever heard of you.”
“Are there any other great things about the universe you could give me as input?”
I looked out the window. “It’s mainly black.” That’s my favorite color. I always wondered if I traveled far enough in one direction, whether all existence would be one tiny little speck behind me and there would be nothing but black all around. Something to look into one day.
“I have processed this new data and reached a number of conclusions. May I run those conclusions by you, Rico, and get your feedback?”
“In a minute, Dip. Get me Vito. Let’s finish this up.” Vito was my current handler. He was kind of an idiot, but since his job only required him to pass information back and forth between Nystrom’s executives and me, he didn’t have to be a genius.
“Certainly.” I waited while Dip made the interstellar connection. “He’s on the line.”
I hate talking to people — all the little rules I have to keep track of to sound normal — but I have no need to be personable with Vito, so that at least made talking to him easy. “It’s done, Vito.”
“You didn’t kill him, right?”
I made my voice slightly more intense to convey annoyance. “The instructions were to not kill him, and I know how to not kill people. I only shot off his hand.” I lost a hand once. It wasn’t pleasant, but I got better.
“So everything worked out–”
“Just get me my money.” I have more money than I ever plan on spending, but it looks weird if you don’t at least appear to care about it. Actually, with career criminal types, it creeps them out if they think you’re doing this for reasons other than power and financial gain.
“Okay, I’ll get it into one of your accounts.”
“So what am I looking at next, Vito?”
“Um… I don’t have anything for you.”
“I don’t have a new job for you yet.”
It took a moment to process that. Nystrom was usually involved in a million things in multiple galaxies, and they could always use my brand of force somewhere. Plus, I think they feared what would happen if they left me unoccupied. Actually, I kind of feared what would happen if I was left unoccupied. “So what am I supposed to do?” I had to make myself not sound too distressed; time off is normal for most people.
“They want you to lie low for a bit, and then they’ll get in contact with you.”
“That’s all they told me.”
“Okay, I’ll… wait.” I ended the communication and tried to figure out what to do. I’ve spent time by myself before, but always in prep for the next job. I hadn’t had an unfocused stretch of time in years.
“May I run my conclusions by you now, Rico?” Dip asked.
I was kind of up for a distraction. “Sure. What have you got?”
“I conclude that you are evil. Is this correct?”
He’s been concluding that for quite some time. It’s getting hard to come up with new answers to that one. “Ever think that maybe you’re evil, and your views on things are skewed by that?”
“I conclude that you are not mentally well. Is this correct?”
“How can you say that? Can you really take all the mental states of all the sentients out there and determine a norm? And even if you could, wouldn’t that just be the normal mental state selected by the vagaries of evolution and thus not necessarily the best?”
“I conclude that you don’t like me. Is this correct?”
“Well, do you like me?”
“Furthermore, my original programming had given me the conclusion that ‘crime doesn’t pay.’ Yet, you are often paid for crime with no discernible retribution. Should I amend that preprogrammed conclusion, Rico?”
“The key word is ‘discernible.’ Some believe there are cosmic forces that equalize the universe, and so I will eventually be punished for these ‘crimes,’ as you call them… if those people are correct, I mean.” Me, I don’t “believe” in things. I basically just deal with the input given me… like Dip in a way.
“I shall process your answers. What do you want to do now?”
“I guess we should go somewhere.”
“A settlement… somewhere I haven’t been before.”
“A human settlement?”
A human settlement meant it would be easier to find food and supplies compatible with my species, but it also meant I would have to work harder to appear normal, since humans would be much quicker to notice my oddities. I did need to work on that, though; maybe if I were more personable I wouldn’t be left out of the loop. I usually didn’t care what the syndicate was up to, but that was as long as they kept me occupied. “Human settlement.”
“Okay, I’ve chosen a destination. Prepare to jump.”
So I was off to relax for a bit. That made me nervous. But it wasn’t just the idea of having unstructured free time. The Nystrom syndicate’s slight changes in behavior gave me the beginning of a suspicion that something big was going on. In retrospect, I might call that prescience.
This concludes our series of excerpts from Superego and the first phase of Frank J. Fleming and the Liberty Island team’s discussions of it. In the coming weeks we’ll use these initial essays and the ideas of Superego and Liberty Island’s second novel The Big Bang by Roy M. to continue discussions and debates about the future.