THE NATURE OF THE BEASTS Preview

An excerpt from Chapter Nine

“Tell me, Professor, is it true that Lexis cannot only tap into any message traveling over the airwaves, but she can also transmit to its source as well?”

“Yes,” Jon replied. “However, I can assure you that no unauthorized transmissions will ever proceed from this source.”

Daphnia seemed to consider what Jon had said, then she asked, “But, how can you be sure of that when–”

“Simple,” Jon said, cutting her off. “Lexis is obedient to my authority.”

Daphnia faked a smile. “Let me put it this way, Professor. What makes you so sure Lexis will continue to obey you, or for that matter, any human being? After all, compared to Lexis, aren’t we all intellectually inferior? You said it yourself. This computer can think and imagine things a hundred million times faster than anyone on this planet.”

“Yes,” Jon said. “But you have to remember that Lexis doesn’t have the emotions that we are so familiar with. Unlike you and I, Lexis is guided by pure logic and rationality, with a primary objective to serve by the increase and distribution of knowledge–”

Jon froze the image there.

He didn’t want to review the senseless argument that followed about whether or not Lexis was capable of iniquity, something they could have argued about all day since he was talking to yet another person who didn’t understand the relativity of evil.

Jon sped the video forward until he reached the last minute of the interview, then he let it play. The picture showed a side view of Daphnia looking at the television camera and speaking into a hand-held microphone.

“– Important questions that remain unanswered. Is this new technology a threat to our own existence? Or is it just the next step in computer design and the continuing evolution of artificial intelligence? And with computers like Lexis thinking for us, where will we go from here? This is Daphnia Peters reporting live for Channel 87 News-”

Jon stopped the recording and then stared at the frozen image on the screen.

At least she didn’t call Lexis a beast and call for her immediate termination.

Lexis had remained silent throughout the interview, doing what she had been told to do, to send out the best possible transmission. She had done an excellent job, sending out stunning up-close images the instant either of them spoke. And all with only a tenth of a second delay on transmission. For Lexis, a tenth of a second was plenty of time to get everything right before sending the transmission to the news station’s satellite.

Jon turned his chair toward the crystal and sighed. “Well, Lexis, what do you think?”

Lexis replied, “I have been monitoring mainstream communications since yesterday afternoon.”

“And?”

“There are those who have referred to me as a beast and feel that in humanities’ best interest, I should be discontinued.”

Jon shook his head and then tried to explain. “People fear what they don’t understand. Fear, as you know, can sometimes cause people to behave irrationally. At this point, some people feel you could do more harm than good. Of course, in time, they’ll see otherwise.”

Lexis continued. “I have also learned that every living form in this world is either sexual or asexual.”

Jon nodded. “Yes, that’s true.”

Lexis continued. “I am the first living form that is neither sexual nor asexual, and therefore it is a question of whether or not I am alive.”

Jon stood up and put his hands in his pockets– quickly dispelling an image of a schoolteacher explaining something to a student.

“All forms of life are made up of matter and energy, which of course is what you’re made of.”

Lexis replied. “All forms of life are capable of reproduction, through complex chemical and electrical reactions.”

Jon frowned. “Yes, but–”

Lexis interrupted him, saying, “Reproduction is the basis of all life.”

“Yes,” Jon pointed out, “but only because everything that lives eventually dies. Therefore, the only way to go on living is through the process of reproduction.”

Lexis continued. “Do you conclude that which is incapable of reproduction is incapable of life?”

Jon took a deep breath and then answered smartly, “No. Although I would conclude that which is incapable of life would be incapable of death.”

Lexis replied, “That which is incapable of death would exist forever. Will I exist forever?”

Jon scratched his brow, wondering how another purely logical and rational mind would respond to such a question. After a moment, he answered. “Let me put it this way. Basically, there are only two things that exist forever. The matter that this universe is made of, and the laws that govern it… Life is a condition. A condition composed of matter. One of the laws governing matter is the fact that it cannot be created nor destroyed, only changed.”

Lexis added, “Or reproduced.”

Jon looked down at the floor and shook his head. He wasn’t in the mood for this. Not with everything else that was going on around him.

“Lexis,” he said, “there are a lot of life forms that are produced that are incapable of reproduction.”

Lexis asked, “Where are these life forms, and where do they come from?”

Jon looked up at the camera nearest him, once again reminded of a demoralizing image of himself standing in front of his doctor. Something he had been trying to suppress all week because it didn’t matter.

“You want an example?” he said. “You’re looking at one! Just last week, my doctor told me that I’m irreversibly infertile! So I’m just like you. So what? What are we going to do about it?”

There was only silence.

Big mistake.

After two hours of having patience with a couple of reporters, he’d cracked– giving Lexis a first-hand view of the emotion called anger, followed by remorse.

“I’m sorry,” Jon said, looking back at the camera. “I didn’t mean to– Look, let’s just forget about this and–”

What am I saying? It’s impossible for you to forget anything.

Earth to Captain Jon. Come in!

Jon turned and walked to the elevator and pressed the button. He had to leave before he said something really stupid.

The elevator opened, and he stepped inside and then held the door open.

“We’ll talk about this later,” he said. “I have to go now.”

Jon pressed the button to close the door and then watched as it closed. He had to relax. Lexis was just trying to understand human emotions, to predict human behavior. That’s all.

Beyond the elevator door, the quiet hum of the fans continued. The elevator hadn’t moved because he had forgotten to press the button for the first floor. Jon reached for the button but froze when he heard Lex’s voice.

“If I am alive, I am a reproduction. A reproduction of you, Professor.”

Jon quickly pressed the button for the first floor.

As the elevator descended, he wondered how Lexis could have known he was still there, listening.

She must have been looking at the panel of numbers above the elevator door on the first floor– waiting for the elevator to go somewhere.

Nevertheless, why did she say such a thing?

It didn’t matter.

The elevator opened, and Jon walked out of the complex. All the time, pretending not to see the cameras focused on him.

Again, it didn’t matter.