"How'd you get into compliance?" Nicholas Miller sat across from Jordan Rattan on the small shuttle. Derek Bishop, another Alliance officer, sat beside Nick. The three were en-route to one of the two stations at the Kaax gate, where Jordan planned to perform an impromptu compliance assessment.
"Someone's gotta do it." Jordan looked out through the viewscreen at the alien station.
"So tell me -" Nick Miller leaned forward on the shuttle bench "- why'd they put you on the Excalibur?"
"Here we go." Derek rolled his eyes.
"What?" Nick raised his palms up innocently. "I was just wonderin' why he was posted."
"I know where you're going with this. He doesn't want to hear it." Derek nodded in Jordan's direction.
"All I'm sayin' is," Nick started, "I don't see how it helps run a starship."
Derek looked at Jordan. "Sorry. He doesn't know when to keep his mouth shut."
"No, it's okay." Jordan turned from Quintin to Nick "Go ahead. Tell me what you really think."
"Yeah," Jordan answered. "You're not gonna hurt my feelings."
"I just think, of all the crew here -pilots, maintenance, engineering and techs- they're all helping to run this ship. I'm not sure we really need lawyers on board."
"Yeah," Jordan started. "I've heard it before. You think there's some kind of hierarchy of usefulness. But if your orders are to protect me, what does that say about how important you are?"
"He's got you there." Derek hit Nick's chest with the back of his hand.
"But seriously -" Jordan leaned forward "- you wanna talk about what's important? What's keeping us in one piece? Enforcing robot compliance -that's important."
"How do you figure?" Nick asked. "I don't see what the big deal is with compliance laws."
"I'm with Nick on this," Derek said. "The compliance laws are kind of a pain in the ass. I mean, think of how much easier it would be to do maintenance with robots, or pilotting, or engineering, even. If used robots we could command a battlecruiser with one pilot."
"Or none," Jordan added. "I can't believe what I'm hearing. You guys really don't see the problem here?"
"No," Nick answered.
"Not really." Derek shrugged.
"Well -" Jordan rubbed his chin "- let me put it to you all this way: imagine the most destructive event you can think of. The sun goes nova: destroys the entire solar system. Or a runaway blackhole blows through and wipes everything out. We'll get over it. We'll find somewhere else to live, and we'll rebuild. There's just one thing I can think of that we couldn't recover from -that has the potential to completely destroy us- and that's a robot army. They don't stop until they achieve their mission. If it was their goal, they could hunt down every last human alive. They'd grow in power exponentially, eating up all the resources they could -like a virus spreading across the galaxy, jumping from star to star, planet to planet. Well, that won't happen unless we let it happen. And the way we let it happen is by people like you thinking it's not a big deal. People who think it's not a big deal to let robots maintain our starships, or even to help pilot a battlecruiser!" Jordan peered into Quintin's eyes. "Pilot a battlecruiser! Did you really just say that?"
"Well -" Derek shifted on his seat "- I don't think we should put robots in control of defense or anything. But think of how much work it takes to do basic maintenance. It'd be a hell of a lot easier if we could have robots doing some of the chores -even just cleaning or EVA maintenace, or something."
"See, that's the thing." Jordan leaned towards Derek. "People think they can control robots. But that's exactly the problem -once you start off-loading intellectual tasks to machines, they are doing the thinking for you. You can't predict them, you can't control them, and you can't outsmart them. If they gain control, we lose. And by lose, I mean humanity ends. There's one way we can make sure that doesn't happen, and that's to stamp out robotics wherever we see it."
Jordan finished his impassioned speech and looked across the shuttle at Nick and Derek, who stared silently back.
Derek rested hands onto his knees. "That's a bit overblown isn't it?"
"It almost happened before," Jordan said. "It could happen again, if we're not careful."
There was a loud beep, and the pilot's voice filled the shuttle, piped in from the adjoining cockpit. "We're gonna to have to turn around. They're not giving us access to the station."
"What?" Jordan sat up straight. "Why not?"
"They said they weren't informed of an assessment."
"They don't have to be. Put 'em through."
"Alright. Just a second."
Jordan stared towards the viewscreen. It switched on, displaying the beaked and feathered face of the Kaax station attendant. The bird-alien stared at him, blinking its inner eyelids. It spoke in a chain of gurgling squawks, translated to robotic sounding human speech. "Regrettably," the bird croaked, "we have not scheduled for an assessment at this time. You will have to return at a scheduled date."
Jordan stood up and faced the viewscreen. "It's your legal obligation to allow random compliance checks in this sector."
The chicken thing blinked rapidly. "Humans have no jurisdiction here."
"Apex Neutrality Pact, twenty-nine-twenty. Section six, part 'A'. Compliance Assessment Requirements for Members. Authorized compliance agents have authority to conduct random checks. And you," Jordan pointed at the avian creature, "have the responsibility of allowing them."
"This 'pact' is nearly one hundred years old," The bird clucked at him.
"I'm sorry, I wasn't aware it had an expiration date."
The alien tilted its feathered head.
"That was sarcasm," Jordan said. "The treaty doesn't have an expiration date. I'll give you a minute to check with the station manager."
The viewscreen shut off.
"See that?" Jordan said, turning to look at Derek and Nick. "That's why we need to be more vigilant."
The bird creature's pointy face reappeared on the viewscreen. "You will be permitted access," it clucked. "A representative will meet with you, to assist with your inspection."
"Thank you," Jordan said. The screen blinked off.
The pilot's voice came through the communicator. "Taking us in."
YOU ARE READING
Angels and WormholesScience Fiction
A star-faring religious cult has created an army of robotic zealots designed to follow holy scripture. As the robotic menace spreads across the galaxy, it takes prisoners to be 'excommunicated': hooked into a neural simulation of eternal torment. Ca...