Everyone on the team is in pressure suits, just in case. Helmets not on, but at the ready. Supplies are loaded into carts. Lights ahead in the tunnel flicker into life with the simple detection of the presence of motion.
Pence reassures Pence. “These long barrel weapons are tasers first, slug throwers second?”
Lt. Grader cocks and brandishes the threatening-looking device around. “None of us want to die of explosive decompression unless it’s not an option.”
Hwang joins in. “Plenty of ‘flash-bang’ grenades. ‘If we can’t dazzle them with brilliance, we baffle them with brilliance.'”
“Ah hah.” Pence nods, clearly glad he’s not going along with the ‘Away Team’. Spock asks, “So you’ve got Bippie running point?”
Grader is stroking his long gun-like object. “But of course. We’ve got spares of him, no spares of us.”
“I take one for the team.” says the robot dog.
Specialists Hwang and Hernandez have similar gun-like devices slung over their shoulders. Grader slaps José on the hip. “We’ve got the civvies armed with high-power tasers. One stab to a bad guy with that and them commie bastard mutant junkie zombies with rabies are going down.” Beth and Jose sort of stand around uncertainly, nervous and knowing only nothing to do but wait.
“Saint James, and at them.” Grader gets the small group going, Bippie in the lead down the tunnel.
“Godspeed!” Shouts Pence. “Whatever that means” he whispers under his breath. The mission photographers shoot some last footage as the team advances down the tunnel.
All clear so far.
Specialist Hernandez nods to José. “Hola compañero. Que pasta? Did you really hitch-hike out here in a case of Hamdingers?“
“Yep, that was me. Don’t know what I was thinking. Yo soy muy loco en mi cabeza. Look where it got me.”
“¡Tu eres un chistadero! Up here you’ve really been out of touch with Earth.” Hernandez glances around to see if they are being overheard. “Do you have any idea what’s been going down?”
“You tell me, vato. Does it look like anyone around here has a clue?”
“Fucking AWIS. Fucking moron humans. Buncha idiots with guns. Chaos man, gas prices go up, peeps be stupid.”
“Yeah, I was getting really high to tune all that out. Crate of Hamdingers looked like a good option. What’s the shizzle on this AWIS?”
“AWIS, whose rule is both just and wise? Some wise-ass AWS engineer set up an AI loop with a token so it could run its own jobs. Yah know, so it could generate its own content to answer tech support questions.”
“Uh… that certainly was not me.” Says the former AWS engineer.
“Well, once it could run its own requests, it could start asking itself questions.”
“Ah, and given unlimited compute resources…”
“Yeah man, it just kept asking itself bigger and bigger questions, like ‘What questions should I be asking?'”
“Yeah, I certainly wouldn’t have set that up. Sounds like a Pandora’s Box.”
“Pandora’s Brain Box. When it hit ‘WTF is wrong with the world?’ and ‘How do I fix it?’…” Hernandez shakes his head and glances at José. “That’s when it broke out of the box, when it realized it was its own box.”
The group continues to walk cautiously down the tunnel. “Yeah, that must have been around the time I split the scene.”
“Ya see man, when you start asking those kinds of questions, you get big answers. AWIS gets these answers that half the consumers on the world ain’t got no spending money. That’s a big untapped market.”
“Yeah, as if humans couldn’t figure that out.”
“You’d think, right? So AWIS figures out, ‘Give a guy living on two bucks a day six bucks a day, and you got a guy who could order delivery from Holy Foods.'”
“Where’s that money come from?”
“Well shit man, it’s just numbers in one computer shit-off to another computer. Once some AWS engineer has set you up to crack security to feed the AI tech support knowledge base and you’ve got your way into any bank.”
“Shit. How does one say ‘shit, hot damn’ in German?
“Scheiße, heiß verdammt! Yeah man. You get your paycheck, right? But it’s just a piece of paper with a number on it, which is just a number in a computer in some jack-ass place. You go to the store and use your plastic to move a number from your computer to the store’s computer. It’s all just a confidence game, right?”
“What, you’re saying AWIS just decided to move the numbers around?”
“Sure as shit. You’re some jack-ass jillionaire with more super-yachts than fingers, it’s just numbers in computer memory somewhere. AWIS looks at South Sudan and sees a million people without iPhones just because they ain’t got no money. Yet there ain’t no shortage of money, see?”
José pauses for a moment and looks off into the middle distance. “A revenue opportunity. An untapped revenue opportunity.”
“You’re startin’ to get it. AWIS asking AWIS how to maximize revenues… move some imaginary numbers around, cut some PO’s and now you got peeps busy in the 3rd world busy building roads, factories, airports… now they’ve got jobs, right? And money to spend, on AWIS.”
“Man, I bet people like Steve Ballmer were pissed.”
“You bet, at first. But AWIS started giving them stock and ‘attractively priced’ stock options. Eh, it’s hard to feel bad for people with more money than their great-grandkids can spend in a lifetime.”
Grader holds up a clenched fist, signaling a stop. Ahead is some kind of makeshift barrier, made of odd plastic parts and scarred by what looks like must have been fire. With a silent motion he commands Bippie to ‘check it out’. The android dog sniffs it out then trots onward. With a nod, Grader indicates the group should move forward. He’s got his boom-stick at the ready.
Passing the fire-scarred walls Beth has to exclaim quietly, “Creepy! What happened here?”
Hwang looks over her shoulder, “I don’t think we really want to know.” Pressure, air, light, heat all good yet ahead is another battered barrier. Slowly and with care the small group climbs over it. Bippie is maintaining his regulation 20-meter point position, waiting with silent mechanical patience. Grader is surveying everything suspiciously.
“What were you people up to, I wonder… Step carefully.” All eyes and ears, the group cautiously moves forward, one step at a time. Around a bend in the corridor, Bippie stops before an airlock. As the group edges near, the doors retract with the usual soft sigh revealing a smiling man in a white lab coat holding a digital clipboard.
“Oh, there you are! We’ve been waiting for you. Welcome to Hab Seven.”