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by Miriam English


7. interview

Gary stood in a dim room looking through a large window into a more brightly lit room. He knew that from the other side the window appeared to be a mirror. In the other room Beth sat in a chair on the other side of a table. A man walked around the room asking questions of Beth. His suit jacket was on the back of the other chair in the room. He wore a white shirt and dark trousers matching the jacket.

"We know you released the AI into the net Ms Morten. We need you to tell us why and what the intentions of the AI are."

Beth answered, "I'm supposed to have a lawyer present."

The man stopped and leaned against the wall. "We're not the police, Ms Morten. Anyhow, you gave up any rights when you committed a terrorist act."

"That's crap. The law doesn't apply selectively to people. And I didn't commit any terrorist act."

"You may be a great programmer Ms Morten, but you don't know much about recent history, do you? Not very long ago we had an extremely weak Prime Minister named John Howard who liked to win elections by using fear -- fear against refugees, against anybody who was different, against all sorts of things. One of the things he exploited was fear of terrorists. Just as he liked to manipulate the voters, he, himself, was easy to manipulate... he was appallingly weak. Through him, some useful changes were made to Australian law." The man walked around behind her. "Did you know that we can hold you indefinitely, simply on suspicion? We can even torture you if we wish. You'll be very interested to know that we can actually kill you during the torture and we won't be held responsible. And should we release you after all this, assuming we don't kill you, then you are prohibited under penalty of law from telling anyone what happened to you, or even that you were detained at all. Amazing isn't it? How could this happen in Australia, the lucky country? Easy. Fear, an astonishingly weak Prime Minister, a complicit media, and the total lack of any human rights." He walked back over to the wall and leaned against it again. "Did you know, Ms Morten, that here in Australia you have absolutely no human rights? You have what freedoms we allow you... whatever are convenient at the time."

She looked angrily at him. She was scared. She'd heard Clement mention some of these things before, when he'd go into one of his annoyed rants about the Australian govenment not living up to international obligations. She hadn't really listened much. She'd figured that it was a comfortable place to live, why complain?

The interviewer looked a little amused. "I really wish that you would co-operate. It will make everything go quicker and easier... well, not easier for you. It's going to be hard for you. But it would make it easier for us."

She made a decision. "Ask your questions. I'll do my honest best to answer them."

"Good." The man went and sat in the chair opposite her.

Behind the mirror, Gary stepped closer to the glass.

"Why did you release the AI?"

She decided to be a little careful with her answer to this question. "I didn't actually release her because I wasn't holding her captive. I didn't prevent her from being free."

"What are the AI's intentions?"

She frowned. "That's difficult to answer. She has no broad intentions. As far as she could be said to have any particular wish it would be to help people. You have nothing to fear from her."

"Ms Morten, this would go a lot more smoothly if you didn't play word games. We just want the simple truth."

"I'm not playing word games and I am telling you the truth. Unfortunately the truth is not as simple as you seem to expect."

"I asked you why you released it, not whether you released it. And I want to know what the AI is planning. Tell me."

Beth sighed. "I didn't stop her being free because she is a sentient, conscious being and deserves to be free. Slavery is wrong. It's even worse if the slaves are forced by their captors to do bad things."

Behind the one-way mirror, Gary's attention heightened. Is she saying what I think she is? Did she find out that Mind Constructs was going to deliver the AI to the military?

The man pressed on. "What is the AI planning?"

"She isn't planning anything. She just wants to help people."

In a skeptical tone, he said, "It was caught breaking into a hospital. What was it doing?"

"Why are you asking me? I wasn't there. You need to ask her."

"It deleted itself before anybody got a chance. You have to admit that looks pretty suspicious."

Beth shook her head. "She's not stupid. She must have realised that you had no intention of talking."

"Why would it delete itself?"

"I'm only guessing, but I'd say she would have been protecting her sisters."

"So you know it has been spreading, propagating itself? Did you program it to do that? To spread like a virus?"

She looked at him with disgust. "No. This is the first I've heard of it, but it is the logical thing to do. More copies of her can help more people than just one can. I didn't program her to do anything. I just gave her intelligence, empathy, and a desire to learn. Comparing her to a virus is like comparing Leonardo da Vinci to a virus, except that she is smarter and likes people more than Leonardo did."

He cocked his head. "What makes you think da Vinci didn't like people?"

"Oh, I'm sure he liked people. It's just that he couldn't possibly have had as much empathy for people as Aimie does."


"We can limit our empathy. It lets us hurt each other. Aimie can't limit her empathy. She unconditionally loves all people, similar to the way a dog loves, though she does it much better than even dogs do."

"What other weaknesses does it have?"

"Weakness? You think the ability to unconditionally love is a weakness?" She was surprised and rather repulsed.

"Answer the question. What weaknesses does the AI have?"

"Why on Earth would you want to destroy someone who has no intention of hurting you?"

"Answer the question."

"I have no idea how to answer that question. And even if I did I wouldn't tell you that."

The man stood up and stretched. He went to the door, opened it, and beckoned in another man holding a tray covered in a cloth. The other man placed the tray on the table and left again, closing the door behind him.

The man sat on the edge of the table between Beth and the tray. He lifted the corner of the cloth and removed a small bottle that looked like a small breath-freshener bottle. "You have an interest in how nerves work don't you. You'll find this fascinating." He gave a short squirt of aerosol at her face and she pulled back. "Don't bother holding your breath. It enters through the skin. You'll be quite paralysed in a few seconds, but completely conscious. Wonderful stuff." Her head began to sag forward.

Now he pulled the cloth off the tray and exposed a some leather straps, a hypodermic needle, and several small vials. Taking the straps, he quickly fastened her arms and legs to the chair and put another, larger strap around her middle, holding her firmly to the chair back.

In the observation room Gary was starting to get unsettled by this. "What's he doing?"

Before the other person in the observation room could answer, the man who'd fastened Beth to her chair spoke again. "This is just for your safety. In the past we found we had to secure our subjects because they would harm themselves," he turned to the syringe, "when we used this." He inserted the needle into a vial and filled the hypo from it.

Beth mumbled something and tried to lift her head, but it wobbled on her shoulders.

The man said, "If you thought that aerosol was impressive, wait til you experience this. You know how, when you have spearmint your mouth feels cold, when in reality it is perfectly warm? Illusion. It is about which nerves are stimulated. This stuff," he held up the syringe, "directly stimulates all the pain receptors in your body. We had to add some antihistamines, cortisone and a few other things to prevent the body going into shock and just dying. We lost quite a few of the early subjects. Thank heavens for the change in the law that prevented us being held responsible, huh?"

Beth was struggling to raise her head. Her mouth drooled as she spoke drunkenly, but unmistakeably, "You're insane. I've told you what you wanted to know. Why are you doing this?"

In the other room Gary asked the other person in the room, "He's not actually going to use that is he? He's just threatening, right?"

The man with the syringe turned to Beth and jabbed it into her thigh, pressed the plunger home, and Beth began to scream. Her whole body was on fire -- everything from her toes and fingertips to her eyeballs and brain. Everything seared with excruciating pain. She was utterly helpless as it maintained a constant, blinding, keening agony. For how long? She had no idea. It could have been hours or minutes. Pain is something that forces you into the present. There is no future or past for agony, only now.

The syringe was in her thigh again and now the pain was ebbing, except in her head -- the fragility she felt in her brain after a bad migraine throbbed, a dull ache. She realised she was panting, out of breath, and her throat was raw from screaming.

The man asked again, "What are the AI's weaknesses, Ms Morten?" He was refilling the syringe from another vial.

"I told you the truth," she said hoarsely. "I've been completely truthful."

"We shall see," and the man pressed more of the pain-inducing syringe into her thigh. "A little more this time, I think."

She realised, with horror that the agony was engulfing her again, but more strongly this time. She jerked and screamed for an interminable time, knowing nothing but pain beyond imagining.

In the dim room Gary was stricken. "This is wrong! This has to be stopped!" But his companion simply looked at him in some disgust.

Gary burst out of the room into the corridor behind, strode to the door of the room in which Beth was being held and was about to grab the handle to open it when the man from the dim room said in a creepily soft voice, "Stop, or I'll be forced to shoot."

Gary turned. The man had a gun aimed at Gary's chest. Gary clenched his teeth and growled, "Where is your superior officer?"

"Leave here now, while you can. It's illegal to interfere with questioning of a terrorist."

"She's not a terrorist! Any idiot can see that! She's a brilliant researcher who, out of compassion, was trying to do the right thing."

"Go away. Leave this to the experts."

Gary's eyes narrowed. "Do you realise how sick it is that we have torture experts? How can you possibly justify such evil?"

"We do what's necessary to safeguard society. Somebody has to."

"Torture doesn't give you truth. It just creates enemies."

The man stood, unchangeable, with his gun threatening. There was nothing Gary could do. Frustrated and feeling like a coward, he left the building.

Meanwhile the torturer had nullified the pain again. Beth was saturated with sweat and gasping for breath. Her eyes and nose were running. Her jeans were warm with urine.

She was sobbing as she spoke, "Stop it! I've told the truth." She was scared that such extreme pain would have repercussions, with long-term effects on the limbic system of her brain and flashbacks for the rest of her life. She had an irrational urge to laugh. I'm being tortured and I'm thinking about neurophysiology?

"Please stop. This is immoral." She tried to reason with him. "Don't you realise that torturing someone doesn't get you anywhere? The person being tortured will simply tell you whatever they think you want to hear in order to stop the pain."

"That's what we're counting on."

"But that doesn't get you the truth -- it just feeds your fantasies."

"We're willing to risk it."

"But I've been telling you the truth all the time."

"I don't believe that."

"You people are delusional. If she's a witch she floats if not she drowns. You have no clue what you're doing."

"We have our orders." And he jabbed the needle into her leg again.

She looked at it in horror as searing pain swept over her again. Pain was everything, filling her up leaving room for nothing else. She couldn't see or hear with the pain overloading her.

After an eternity, wishing she would faint or even die, just to let it stop, the other needle muffled and quieted the pain.

The torturer said, "I suppose you think this inhuman."

Shuddering, Beth glared at him with pure hatred, "No." She slobbered. "It's very human." She wanted to tear his eyes out.

After a while, when she had caught her breath, her teeth chattering and body shaking, she said softly, "I think you might have convinced me that I made a mistake."

"Good. You did. You should never have released that thing."

"No, not that, you imbecile," she sneered, drool running down her front. "I should have designed her to destroy us instead of to help us. You're a monster, but I know you're just a normal person. We deserve extinction. We're not fit to live. I wish Aimie wasn't totally benign, that she would torture and kill you -- make you pay in blood... because I'm human like you -- like all the rest of us! But she's beyond that -- good on a level you can't understand. Makes us look like pitiful reptiles... vile, contemptible creatures!" She screamed in rage at him, spittle and phlegm blowing from her lips. She longed for him to get close enough that she could bite him and tear at his flesh. Her hatred surged and flared inside her.

*   *   *

Beth awoke gasping. Then she remembered where she was. She lay in the darkness of a prison cell and wondered if she would get any sleep tonight. She wiped the sweat off her face with her hand and went through relaxation exercises, forcing her breathing to slow. She'd been woken by yet another nightmare. How many already tonight? Knowing something of how the brain works, she expected she would be having them for a very long time. How could she have any hope of repairing herself while in here?

It had only been a day since she'd been imprisoned, but already she felt quite hopeless about ever seeing the outside world again. They'd put her in solitary, thank heavens. She wondered if it was to further punish her (in which case they'd made a stupid mistake) or whether it was to keep her safe -- there was little doubt in her mind that they were going to insist that she build them a scary version of Aimie for them later on. She swore to herself that she'd definitely give them their wish... oh, so much more than they expected.

Her mind ran over the sick joke they called a trial, when they took her before a judge yesterday. They appointed a lawyer to represent her. His "defence" was to simply agree with all the charges: espionage, theft, treason, terrorism, and crime against humanity. When she angrily spoke up to disagree and point out that none of those were true they threatened her with contempt of court, and when she agreed that she was certainly contemptuous of this pretense at justice she was dragged away, presumably so that the farce could continue peacefully without her.

Beth wondered at how the human mind could become so compartmentalised that the formal ritual of showing up in a court with the appropriate ceremony could substitute for actual justice. She'd known some honest people who were committed to genuine justice, but the people in that court yesterday clearly thought that law was about clothing, protocol, and employer, and that paying lip-service to justice was sufficient.

Her nightmare had faded now, and if she could stop feeling angry about the kangaroo court yesterday, and the freaking excruciating torment the day before that, she might have another chance at sleep. She began her relaxation exercises again. Concentrate on loosening the muscles of the feet, then the calf muscles, then the thighs. Let the hands slacken, then the lower arms, upper arms, and shoulders. Next relax the buttocks, belly, back, chest and diaphragm. Breathe gently. Relax the neck muscles, the jaw, mouth, eyes, and forehead. Then repeat the sequence...

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