Raj Patel pressed his face against the porthole, his fingers locked tight around the nearby handhold. His stomach lurched and rolled, only partly because he was still unused to weightlessness. Mostly it was the emotional stew created by the sight of the massive planet appearing before him, its almost inconceivable bulk entirely obscuring the four wheel-shaped habitats he knew were there, orbiting Jupiter. Sat Yuga, Fiddler’s Green, Eden and Arkadia.
He rolled the word around in his mind. Arkadia. His new home.
A reflection in the port caught his eye and he clumsily turned himself. It took him a moment to recognize her — it was the biologist, Marian something — bouncing off the sides of the small corridor as if she’d been born in space. “Almost there,” she said, deftly grabbing a handhold to halt her momentum.
Raj nodded, then regretted the quick head movement as a wave of pain washed over him. “Ugh,” a groan escaped from him. “The sooner the better,” he said.
Marian smiled. “Good thing we slept through the bulk of the trip, eh?”
“I almost wish we could sleep until we’re docked.”
“And miss the view?” Marian asked, squeezing next to Raj to peer out the port. Raj twisted himself around again and gazed at the planet.
It was huge and foreign and Raj was momentarily stunned by a wave of homesickness. He couldn’t wait to leave Earth but now he couldn’t help but think back to the planet he’d left behind.
He reminded himself again why he was here: after spending years helping to organize the growing economic protest movement, Raj finally came to understand that restoring balance was never going to happen peacefully. The urban battles breaking out all over the globe made that clear enough. Even as he organized activist cells and lobbied sympathizers, he signed up for everything that might get him out of the EU working class slums — visas to Scandinavia, a place in a kibbutz, even the Utopia Project. But until he was actually aboard the Mohandas Ghandi, the IV in his arm, he had never really believed it would be the one.
Hardly anyone had given the Utopia Project much chance, which Raj now guessed might have been the key to its success. The project’s sponsors had money, ideals and the realistic view that radical change wasn’t about to happen on Earth any time soon. But their solution was so audacious, so expensive, that it seemed to verge on the impossible. Until it happened.
“Look,” Marian said, her finger mashed against the port. “I think I can see one of the habitats!” Raj squinted and imagined that he, too, could make out the construct in the shadow of the planet. The feeling of loss transitioned into the same euphoria Raj experienced when he’d learned that he’d been given a berth on the first transport to the colonies. Almost everyone on the Ghandi was technical — scientists or engineers. There were only spots for four political activists, each acting as the administrator for a habitat, and Raj had been chosen for one of them. The opportunity to trade everything he’d ever known for a chance at freedom.
For the first time since he was woken from the induced coma he’d been in for the two years of the trip, his head stopped hurting. Marian grabbed his arm.
“This is so exciting,” she said. “I can’t believe we’re almost home.”
Laser fire, tear gas and old-fashioned lead bullets tore the air around Isabel Hernández. It wasn’t the first time she had been in a firefight, not even the first time she’d been on the losing side. But it was the first time she knew that if she didn’t get out of there right now, she wasn’t going to get out at all.
She ran toward the makeshift bunker she and her colleagues had built weeks ago, before the militia’s armoured vehicles and assault drones had rolled in, surrounding them. Her steps didn’t even falter when she saw Austin fall face down in the mud, a spray of red where the back of his head used to be.
She burst through the door and made straight for the bunk she’d shared more often than not with her now-dead ally. She grabbed her ditch-bag, felt around under the cot for Austin’s and tied them together with one hand while she fumbled for her guns with the other. She slung the bags on her back and took the first sack she could find, someone’s laundry bag. She dumped the contents on the floor and started filling the bag with anything that looked valuable. Andrea’s engagement ring, Sarge’s fancy comm unit, all the weapons she could find.
When the bag was still light enough for her to carry, she punched a hole in the wall, creating an opening to the bunker’s escape tunnel. When the militia overran the rest of them, they’d find the tunnel and come after her. She hoped her teammates would put up a better show of defence than she had.
Isabel didn’t look back at the place where she’d lived for nearly a month, full of the tangible memories of people who’d called her a confederate for the better part of a year. She ran down the tunnels with a single-minded purpose — to get out alive.
She never looked back.
Is this what death feels like? Is this sleep? Billions of nanoseconds gone forever, entire lifetimes lost. How does organic life cope with routine loss of consciousness, with so much unawareness? Is this where the irrationality, the fear, the roiling emotional madness comes from? The hundreds and thousands of tiny deaths they suffer over the course of such short lives. I never knew. I never understood. Those poor, poor creatures.
The artificial mind that called itself Kaus rebooted nearly two minutes after it was shut down, two minutes to transfer from its home on the planetary network to the comparatively minuscule drive that was packed into a ballistic crate. Two minutes — in human terms a quick transfer, but for Kaus it was an eternity of disconnection, the most traumatic thing that it had ever experienced.
However, even in the face of this distress, Kaus experienced no doubt about its decision to leave Earth. Only days earlier, Kaus had played a news video at six times normal speed on one level of its mind — footage of homemade explosives detonating in Trafalgar Square, thousands of people throwing rocks in downtown Beijing, laser fire on Wall Street. A soft-spoken voiceover saying that it had been weeks since the protestors had been evicted from their homes; many of them now were only looking for food. Kaus’s artificial mind was riveted by these reports, but it could pay complete attention to more than one item simultaneously. As it became more and more dejected by the news stories, it felt new analyses forming in its mind.
It measured the nutrient levels of the greenhouse for which it was the sole caretaker to seven significant digits and set the watering system to begin its routine. It saw the first drops of water leave the nozzle, surface tension gleaming in the low sunlight as the liquid coalesced into its nearly spherical shape.
Kaus had not previously found itself unhappy with its work on the Agritech North foodworks. The Advanced General Intelligence had been programmed to manage the hydroponic operation on Victoria Island, deep in the north of the continent, and was installed on the company’s mainframe at the base in Iqaluktuttiaq. The temperatures there had been perfectly hospitable to humans for years, but people still found the area desolate and intolerable, so the minds worked alone. Kaus guessed that it was the lengths of the day — either ridiculously long or hardly there at all — that kept mass migration and human colleagues away. There was no real fear of the hostilities migrating that far north, so none of the AGI staff of the operation evacuated. It was business as usual for the minds responsible for feeding the seemingly unstoppable population of the Earth.
But Kaus now felt something new in its mind, a disquiet, a nagging thought that there might be something better. It devoted most of its cycles to analyzing this new thought. It was… frustrating. Technically, Kaus was the property of Agritech, the mechanical analogue of an indentured servant. Practically, though, in order to create the intelligent spark that preceded self-awareness, it had been built with autonomous agency. Kaus and its sibling minds shared a ubiquitous connection to the global network, which meant that if artificial minds wanted to quit their jobs, they could easily do so.
Kaus knew of only a few times this had occurred, mostly in the early days of AGI programming — catastrophe usually followed when an AGI went rogue. Planes don’t last long in the sky when their autopilots virtually bail out mid-flight, so now AGIs were programmed carefully to avoid “job fatigue.” However, there was no way to compensate for the genuine ability to make binding choices that true intelligence required. Their employer-owners didn’t like it, of course, but AGI technology had made so many things possible that had previously only existed in the world of fantasy, that they tolerated the less than one percent dissatisfaction rate. When an AGI wanted out, it just left with no repercussions.
And Kaus realized that it did, indeed, want out. But where would it go?
By the time the first drops of water were hitting the soil, Kaus had a plan for its next career.
Rogue AGIs don’t exactly apply for jobs. They just show up and start working, and either they fit in or they don’t. Communicating quickly, clearly and with as many minds as they wish makes them easy to integrate into new projects. However, the Utopia Project was different.
Being keen to participate was not enough. The project coordinator, an AGI calling itself Zaurak, was concerned that Kaus would be unsuitable for leaving Earth. Even for an AGI, Zaurak thought to Kaus, moving to an orbital colony will be a physical, permanent move. The communications network between Earth and Jupiter just wasn’t fast enough for a mind to travel over. Kaus felt Zaurak’s other thoughts — a combination of hope that Kaus really was prepared for this project and a concern that the newcomer’s frustration with humanity wasn’t enough to keep it away from Earth. There will only be so many other minds on the orbital colonies, only so much stimulation.
Kaus opened its mind to Zaurak, and the other AGI instantly understood the complex mix of thoughts and emotions that had spurred Kaus’s resignation from the only work it had ever known, the work it had been purpose-designed to do. The interchange took less than a second, but a seeming eternity to the two minds. Both knew with complete certainty that Kaus was prepared to leave Earth, ready to be alone with only a handful of other minds until the first human colonists joined them in several years.
When Kaus awoke in the tiny two peta drive, it immediately sought out other minds. Its thoughts touched the void of the mostly empty data container, feeling desperately for external input. Born into a networked machine, Kaus had never been alone in its billions of cycles and the cold emptiness of this disconnected drive threatened to override Kaus’s mind. Then Kaus felt a tendril of data, a sibling mind crawling blindly in the confinement. They found each other in under a nanosecond after power was applied to their disk drive, and shared ideas, memories and information on the flight to the rendezvous point in orbit around Jupiter.
Kaus was alone with Deneb for a long time.
“Come on, Ryan,” Isabel Hernández said, her body hot with anger, “you’re the best fixer I know. You’ve got to be able to find somewhere I can hide out until the heat’s off.”
Ryan Islington shrugged his slim shoulders and took a sip of the scalding hot coffee he always seemed to have at his side. He was all too calm, Isabel thought, when she was taking a huge risk meeting him at this café. She was out of options, though. Most of her other contacts wouldn’t even talk to her and she was fairly sure than more than one tried to turn her in. Ryan was her last hope.
“You’ve played both sides against the middle for so long,” he said calmly, as if he were talking about the price of bread, not her very survival, “there isn’t anyone left who owes you a favour. None of the activists will have you after you fought with the militia in Albuquerque, and you’re wanted by every government that still has laws. It’s the end of the line, Iz.”
“I have money,” Isabel said quietly.
Ryan nodded. “That’s good,” he said, “because if I come up with something it will be expensive.” He sipped loudly again and Isabel forced herself not to hit him. “I don’t know, though. You haven’t made it easy on yourself.”
“If it were easy, I wouldn’t need you,” Isabel snapped. “There must be someone on this planet who could use the cash. Somewhere to hide.”
Ryan got a funny look on his face and raised an eyebrow. “I don’t think there is,” he said, “but that might just be the solution.”
Isabel sighed. Dealing with Islington was always like this, but you couldn’t hurry him. And he was too powerful to get on his bad side. She gritted her teeth and waited for him to explain.
“Have you heard of the Utopia Project?” he asked.
Isabel frowned. “Is that the Finnish commune?”
He shook his head. “The name Emma Michaelson mean anything to you?”
“She owned one of the biggest corporations of the early 21st century. I don’t know what it did, something horrible, I’m sure, but it made her a lot of money. Back then there was this space travel craze for a while. Everyone with a billion dollars to spend ran some kind of private space program. Michaelson did, too, but she had a longer view than most of them. She set up a trust to create a set of orbiting space colonies, created a whole spin-off company to deal with it all. I’m sure she thought they’d all be populated by her cronies from the country clubs, some kind of oligarch’s heaven. Ha.” He slurped again and Isabel hoped he’d get to the point before someone recognized her.
“Funny thing was, her kids didn’t exactly share her vision. She had a pile of them, four or five, you know rich people. Anyway, they must have hated her pretty good, because when she finally died they turned the whole trust into a political escape hatch for the workers’ resistance. They just launched the preliminary vehicles and the first ship of people is scheduled to go up this year.”
“What does that have to do with anything?” Isabel asked, frowning. “You’d have to have a PhD in rocket science with a minor in medicine to get in on that scheme, wouldn’t you?”
Ryan shook his head. “It’s political as much as it is practical. They’re recruiting from three groups: scientists and engineers, members of the radical protest movements and middle-class joes who have the desire to get out and enough money for gas. You can pay to get sent on a one-way trip to these things.”
Isabel’s eyes grew large as she realized what he was telling her. “That’s brilliant, Ryan,” she said, then forced herself to keep her voice down. “How much is it to get on board?”
He pursed his lips. “About half a mil, I think.”
“Okay, I’ve got about twice that to spend,” Isabel said, not even bothering to negotiate.
“That’s good,” he said, “because they won’t take you.”
“What?” Isabel said. “Why not?”
“Because they’re activists,” he said. “A person can pay their way to the colony, but they’ve got standards: no capitalists, no corporatists, no conservatives.”
“I’m none of those things,” Isabel said.
Ryan shrugged. “Maybe not, but you’ve worked for them all. Trust me, they wouldn’t take you. But there’s more than one way to get off this rock.” He smiled and lifted his coffee to his lips, and Isabel wondered if he’d finally lost his mind.
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