Malcolm Defroster: Chapter 6

1: Welcome to Place
2: Number 877
3: Hiding
4: Cold, Cold Steel
5: Down to this Wire

6: The Last Sunset

Malcolm had made no errors in his calculations, and he knew that rescuing Savannah from her addiction was the easier part of his task.  As a Unit, he could only ignore the code by overriding his core programming.  But though Savannah was cured and he knew it, the code knew no such thing.

Continue reading Malcolm Defroster: Chapter 6

Malcolm Defroster: Chapter 5

1: Welcome to Place
2: Number 877
3: Hiding
4: Cold, Cold Steel

5: Down to This Wire

On the far outskirts of Place was the trash heap.  In Place, most material was recycled—the system was a closed one, with few new raw materials entering—but some years trash production exceeded recycling capacity, and the leftovers ended up on the trash heap.

The heap was an unsorted pile of anything from food wrappers to broken appliances to splintered lightbulbs.  There was even the occasional defunct Unit.  All things considered, the trash heap was an unsightly mess—to most people.

Continue reading Malcolm Defroster: Chapter 5

Malcolm Defroster: Chapter 4

1: Welcome to Place
2: Number 877
3: Hiding

4: Cold, Cold Steel

Savannah grew up—and grew out of hide and seek.  Malcolm, learning as she learned, but not growing as she grew, was always ready to follow her interests, and they were almost inseparable.  But every now and then Savannah said, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” and would give Malcolm some complicated commission while she roamed through old unused warehouses, empty office buildings, or any out of the way spot in Place she could gain access to.

One afternoon Savannah came back from a ramble and found Place buzzing with excitement.  Knots of people stood on every street corner, whispering.  Savannah, glancing from face to face, caught the curiosity tinged with horror and stopped in front of her apartment building, lending an ear to the gossip.

“They said it was a bloody mess,” a neighbor was saying.  “His hand was chopped clean off at the wrist and he bled to death.”

Continue reading Malcolm Defroster: Chapter 4

Malcolm Defroster: Chapter 3

1: Welcome to Place
2: Number 877

3: Hiding

The dews that rose and fell in Place carried the months and years with them; and Savannah grew up.  Eleven-year-old Savannah wasn’t tall for her age, but she was healthy and active.  Unit 877 spent a good deal of time sewing up holes in her clothes.

Savannah’s favorite game was hide and seek; none of the children of her acquaintance (and certainly not Paulie-across-the-hall) could beat her in creativity for finding good hiding spots, athleticism for getting into them, or patience to stay in them.  And although Paulie said sarcastically to her mom, “Her Majesty is awful annoying sometimes,” she joined the others in meekly following her lead—so a small generation grew up on hide and go seek.

One day there was a half-hearted rebellion.  “It’s Malcolm’s turn to count,” Savannah had decided, and Paulie grumbled.

“Malcolm likes to play just as much as the rest of you,” Savannah said, taking fire instantly, “and you snobby kids had better let him have a turn.”

“But it’s not fair,” Paulie grumbled.

“What’s not fair?” Savannah snapped.

“Being a Unit’s not fair—not really fair, you know—he can see everything with the security cams.”

“Malcolm doesn’t cheat.”

“He always finds you last,” someone dared to say.

“Everyone always finds me last,” Savannah retorted.

“One time—” Malcolm began.

Continue reading Malcolm Defroster: Chapter 3

Malcolm Defroster: Chapter 2

1: Welcome to Place

2: Number 877

On a dark, humid night in July, human 877 was born.  Off in the underground Unit manufacturing plant, a new Unit was being commissioned at the same time.  But no one celebrates commission day.

Savannah—that’s human 877’s name—didn’t remember more of her first four years than most of us do; unfortunately Unit 877 couldn’t be as forgetful.  It had vivid memories of diaper changes and spoon feeding.  Some Units were handheld devices—there were even a few that snapped around their human’s wrist—but Unit 877 was a fully mobile independent robot.  And there was more to 877’s uniqueness too.  For the first time ever, 877 was equipped with independent AI.  It could make personalized decisions for Savannah, without consulting the data mine unless it chose to do so.  In order to make the personalization effective, 877 had been given every ability to interact with Savannah—talking to her, playing with her, working with her, and learning from her.  Whether this kind of individualized Unit would lead to greater happiness reactions—whether it would be used in perpetuity or end up on the scrap heap—would have to be seen.

Continue reading Malcolm Defroster: Chapter 2

Malcolm Defroster: Chapter 1

1: Welcome to Place

The Hansberg Project.  That’s how the UN writes it in official papers; but to the inhabitants, it’s Place, and for them, the rest of the earth—the UN included—may as well not exist.

The debris left by an experiment of the fifth industrial revolution, Place is a tightly controlled world of computers and math, where everything is precise and predictable.  Back in the day, it was populated by fifty-nine volunteers eager to undergo a social experiment.  Impossibly sophisticated Artificial Intelligence analyzed each participant and manipulated them by a series of stimulants for their greater happiness, ostensibly at least.

The outside world watched with fascination.  TV news covering the Hansberg Project rated only slightly lower than the race to land on Jupiter.  Not that everyone thought it was all good.  There were plenty of warnings of an army of zombie-like manipulated experimental humans being trained to conquer the world.

At the height of the excitement Paul Hansberg went missing.  Six days later, a janitor found the greatest political force in the world dead of dehydration in a malfunctioned back elevator of the UN headquarters.

After the nine days’ wonder, Hansberg’s colleagues remembered his Project.  Six months of arguing and paperwork later, they decided to shut it down.  No one could agree on who should control it.

They could have skipped the bureaucratic squabbles.  Not only was Hansberg gone, the keys to his Project were gone too.  No one could figure out how to control Hansberg’s AI, not even for long enough to shut it down.

Then speculation caught wind of the fiasco, and rumor had a field day.  Hansberg had implanted his AI with his own dreams of world domination; the zombie army was coming to attack society any day now.  Or, someone inside the project had hacked the AI and was keeping UN officials out for his own nefarious purposes.  Or maybe someone outside had hacked it and was building a zombie army.  Or, the AI was just going about life as usual and the participants needed to be rescued before they died of starvation in their isolated world.

Rumor could have spared itself its ingenuity—no one could get in or out, and that was that.  To the outside world, the Hansberg Project is still a mystery—an unknown blip on the map of earth.

All that happened 99 years ago.  Place is now a world of its own, with a population of 876, completely self-sufficient, governed by a central AI with 876 individual ground units each taking care of one single human from cradle to grave.

Continue reading Malcolm Defroster: Chapter 1