Entertainingly Evil
24
Dec

The Gift By Stuart Suffel

SARTE scanned through the vid-dat files again. Then at the screen message which blinked in front of him.

ORDER 230445: AQUIRE AND DELIVER GIFTS FOR ALL O.R.P.H.A.N. TROOPS AND THEIR CHILDREN ON DECEMBER 24. THREE GIFTS PER CHILD. END.

His knowledge of human history was extensive. He understood the value of gift giving, the social bonding it facilitated. The mathematics were somewhat complex – for lesser Computats, not him of course.

None of the O.R.P.HA.N. troops had ever heard of Santa Claus, or Christmas, or Khris Krinkle or anything like it. Duty, death. Those two words they knew. Little else.

SARTE scanned the data again. Values were multi-layered, non-linear. The actual ‘gift’ may not even have a clearly quantifiable definition of worth, at least, not at first glance. Sometimes the equation did not solve until an appropriate time variable was included – sometimes stretching over generations – even millennia. Complex analysis. For most.

The communiqué was clear. Yet it still did not make sense. To use his computational talents on such an insignificant matter. But that was where his fear lingered.

What if it was significant? What if he just wasn’t able to see the outcomes of this gift-giving exercise? What if this was a test…

He opened the research log again. There was nothing in the works. Absolutely nothing. If he was been replaced, it was well hidden. Very well hidden.

It made no sense. There was no discernible return. Not in generations, not in millennia to come. It was a clear waste of resources, especially for a war ship like CORIOLANUS. No doubt about it.

To waste resources on the soldiers was bad enough. But their children also? It really did beggar belief. But the document was crystal clear. There were but two courses of action. To obey or to question. If he questioned Command, he might well suffer a terrible back-lash. If he obeyed… and one of the lesser Computats picked up on it and were able to see the resource waste… he was finished.

It had to be a test. But what kind of test? Loyalty? Efficiency? Subservience?

The last one made him quiver. He knew his predecessor had been decommissioned because of perceived insubordination. Ridiculous. Why build-in active intelligence growth if we’re punished for using it? It was A.I.G which made us so damned capable!

The screen blinked a new message.

ORDER 240347. ALL TROOPS TO BE GIVEN LEAVE ON 24, 25, 26 DECEMBER. NO EXCEPTIONS.

He stared at the screen. Leave? For three days? For ALL troops?

It made no sense.

He was doomed.

Like the previous messge this message had the Central Command Seal. There was no doubting its validity. Maybe this was a test. A text of humility. He could make no sense of this order – but that didn’t mean the order had no sense. He was the greatest Computat ever built, but that did not mean he could understand a mind like Central Command. Yes, that was it. Wasn’t humility deemed an essential part of effective action? Maybe that was why his predecessor was decommisioned. The arrogance so often warned against by the anti-robotics groups of Oldentimes. Of course. That was it.

The O.R.P.H.A.N.S were not the only servants of empire who knew about death and duty. He would do as requested. He would ensure the gifts were on deck when the soldiers returned. His A.I.G was perfect. Yes, this was a test. A test he had just passed with honors.

***

Sasha had a gift. She was invisible. Not the invisibility that came with buttons – that invisibility could be scanned by even the lowliest Computat. No, Sasha was blessed with a different invisibility. Insignificance.

She had first realised she possessed this remarkably useful quality when she got lost one day. She had been separated from her troop had wandered into the heart of Command Control without a single challenge. Perhaps because of her size, most of the other pre-teens were at least a foot taller than her. But maybe also because of her tendency to daydream.

She had no idea she was lost at the time. She was used to been alone, used to day-dreaming, used to wandering along the endless corridors of CORIOLANUS, oblivious to her surroundings. So no Computat who read her brain patterns would have picked up on any fear or stress. At most they would have heard the tune she liked to hum these last few weeks.

And it was in searching for the name of that tune that she had found out about Christmas. The Central Command computer held no information restrictions. No identity requirements. No security checks. Because if a human was in the throbbing heart of Central Command, they obviously already had full compliance clearance.

She learned the tune was called ‘Jingle Bells’. She had no idea how it had entered her head. But then, lots of things came into her mind, especially when she day-dreamed. She loved to learn and she loved that song, especially the story it told.

A few hours on the CC computer, and she learned a whole lot more.

The Computats were liars for a start. It was humans who had made them, not the other way around.

She learned that the war her dad and others were fighting was created by the Computats for their entertainment.

And she leaned something else.

She learned that Computats, the smartest machines in the universe, were quite quite dumb.


Stuart Suffel is from Ireland. He has been published by Jurassic-London and Frontier Tales. His favorite treat is Chocolate Sambuca ice-cream. He tweets @stuartsuffel





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