Scarth power-loaded the second of the large, black containers onto the hoist and sent it down to his basement workshop. Then he moved his larger van into its garage. He knew that the local CCTV cameras had been watching him and that his neighbours were used to seeing him transfer smaller containers to his basement. Today's purchases looked
a lot like a pair of fancy coffins but he had a perfect answer to accusations that he was planning to open a funeral parlour down below.
Before talking another look at his new acquisitions, Scarth poured himself a cold beer. He felt that he had made a rather excellent deal at API's recyclables depot. The black containers were regeneration boxes for Mobile Artificial Personalities; or MoAPs, as the manufacturer, Artificial Personalities, Inc., had named their main product in preference to the pre-existing term 'android'.
The smooth, hard finish on the regeneration boxes looked completely unblemished and Scarth had to admit that when they were lying on their backs, instead of standing upright, they did look like rather expensive, oversize coffins made out of ebony or some other exotic hardwood. He knew that each of them had suffered at least one major component failure and that they were older models; which was why they had been sent to the recyclables depot instead of the repair centre.
Scarth had bought them because he expected to make money out of the recyclable electronic components, and someone would want the stripped-out containers for storage. API had been happy to shed its recycling obligations and Scarth had been happy to pay their rock-bottom price. A 'two for the price of one' arrangement and a same-day removal discount had made the deal even sweeter.
Setting his half-empty beer glass safely out of the way, Scarth connected a power lead to one of the regen boxes and touched the door release panel. The double doors separated from the centre and slithered into the framework. Scarth reached in to the dark cavern to removed a plastic wallet containing the box's status reports.
The main power converter had shorted out and two of the circuit boards were non-operational. Out of curiosity, Scarth exposed the main bus and attached a tester. As far as he could tell, a control chip on each of the circuit boards had been fried by an overload pulse. Replacing the components which had caused the overload, and the chips themselves, was no problem. With any luck, he could salvage all of the box's quota of multi-purpose circuit boards. Scarth drained his glass before he powered up the second box.
He had a real struggle with the control circuits before he could persuade the doors to slither apart. Scarth gazed at unexpected black in black, wondering just what it was that he was seeing. Looking more closely, he realized it was a black sausage shape of shiny plastic. The bag had an inflated look and it was all smooth curves.
Telling himself that he was definitely not looking at a body bag, Scarth knelt beside the regen box to explore his unexpected find. He located a seam and split it apart. He reared back to his feet, heart pounding, when he exposed a pair of boots.
His workshop had become a crime scene and he was in possession of a body, which someone at API had dumped on him. As fear, guilt and anger swirled through his body recklessly, Scarth realized that his life had become toast. Guilty or innocent, the police would chew him up and either spit him out or stick him in a cell while they investigated endlessly, following their routines for Best Practice Policing.
Reluctant to make the phone call that would bring a whole gang of uniformed officers, crime scene investigators and detectives to his home, Scarth stared at the black body bag, wondering morbidly about the state of the deceased. Were there lightly damaged, but still dead, human remains inside its unrevealing bulk? Or was he the host to some really messy murder?
There was an oblong, white object down the side of the body bag. Scarth's brain eventually identified what he was seeing as the ends of pages in a black binder. He retrieved the binder without making contact with the body bag, half-hoping that it was a full, signed confession from the killer but knowing that it wasn't. The title on the cover of the binder read:
|Mobile Artificial Personality|
Scarth was surprised to find that his heart could sink even lower. A dead MoAP was infinitely worse than a dead human being. If someone had dumped a dead body on him, the local coroner's office would have removed it and cremated it, eventually, after a pathologist and the CSIs had finished with it. But the 'dead' body-shell of a mobile artificial personality had to be recycled. That was the law.
And handling the recycling was the responsibility of the legal owner.
Scarth's basement had enough equipment to process and recover useful parts from most small electronic items. Tackling something the size of a MoAP regen box had challenged his imagination but the bargain price of the pair had persuaded him to take it on. The investment involved in hiring the specialized equipment needed to take a MoAP apart, learning to use the equipment and salvaging intact parts would be hundreds of euros in cash and dozens of hours in time. And then he would have to find someone willing to buy the high-spec components used in MoAPs. His only hope of saving himself from this crisis lay in being able to return the dead MoAP to API; which involved persuading a major corporation to acknowledge an error.
As a first step, Scarth checked his purchase contract. As he had feared, the terms of his deal were plain and simple. Once his payment had cleared and once he had removed the goods from API's recyclables depot, everything belonged to him. No ands, no buts, no maybes.
Scarth drank half a glass of water for his dry throat before he dialled the number of API's customer centre. He selected the immediate voice contact option from the lengthy menu in preference to listening to menus and pushing buttons. His reward was a smooth, 'educated' voice; clearly one of one of the company's StAPs; a static artificial personality housed in the company's computer system.
"Good afternoon, you have reached Operator Four," the voice said. "How may I help you?"
"I'm calling about some goods I bought from you this morning." Scarth tried for the same sort of unconcerned, impersonal tone.
"Do you have a purchase number, sir?"
Scarth supplied it.
"You purchased two mobile artificial personality regeneration boxes for personal recycling, Mr. Scarth? On a special two for the price of one deal."
"Correct. I was wondering what the situation is about finding something in one of the boxes when I was sold just the two regen boxes? Finding something's been dumped on me that could cost me my entire profit on the deal at the very least."
"Our contract clearly states that such goods are sold on an 'as is' basis and checking them is a responsibility of the purchaser. Once payment has been made and the goods have been removed from our premises, they are your property and your responsibility."
"Okay, what if I told you I'd found a briefcase containing your payroll in one of my regen boxes?"
"Our payroll is electronic, Mr. Scarth. It isn't paid in cash."
"Suppose it were?"
"Then I have no doubt the company would make efforts to recover it, using moral pressure if legal pressure were not possible. And if that failed, we would approach the appropriate insurance company."
"What if someone dumped something you'd rather be rid of on me?"
"Is the unexpected material dangerous, Mr. Scarth? Is it toxic or radioactive or something like that?"
"I guess not."
"Then it would seem to be your legal property, Mr. Scarth. And the legal position is that recycling it is your responsibility."
"Funny how you're not so keen to do the right thing when the payroll isn't involved."
"Life in the real world can sometimes be rugged, Mr. Scarth. What exactly did you find?" The note of curiosity in the artificial voice seemed convincingly genuine.
"Do you have any identification data, Mr. Scarth?"
"Series Two, type GD, unit S."
"According to our records, Mobile Artificial Personality Two-GD-S suffered an accidental EM pulse, which knocked out the higher processing functions in the body-shell. As only the lower functions were left, and in view of the age of the unit, it was taken out of service and recycled."
"According to the evidence of my eyes, it's in my basement," Scarth returned. "And in view of the struggle I had getting the regen box it was in to open, I'd say your people never checked inside it before they got rid of it. And as everyone was using power-loaders, no one noticed the extra weight."
"Which has the implication that you also failed to check the interior before removing the goods from our premises, Mr. Scarth."
"Okay, you made a mistake and I made one. We're even. So what happens about the MoAP?"
"That sounds like a problem for our Legal Department and your own lawyer, Mr. Scarth. Although, the terms of the contract seem rather clear. The goods were purchased and removed from our premises legitimately and title of ownership passed to the purchaser."
"So you're saying you're not prepared to take the MoAP back, it's my legal property and I'm stuck with it? Not to mention the recycling costs?"
"That's about the size of it, Mr. Scarth. Although the unit's recycling status raises interesting legal questions if our records show it as recycled and you actually have the intact MoAP on your premises. It would seem logical that you are under no obligation to recycle something which has already been recycled. And yet, if the unit is still in physical existence, you are under a legal duty to recycle it. A fascinating problem "
"But taking the whole business to court will cost me an arm and both legs," Scarth protested. "Even if I win, it would tie up a whole bunch of cash for years. And cost me a fortune in insurance fees on a no-win, no-fee scheme."
"I suppose it all comes down to caveat emptor when you're buying closed containers at bargain prices, Mr. Scarth. You could as easily have found yourself with a highly profitable bonus."
"But I didn't."
"Yes, and that's unfortunate."
"For an artificial personality, you do a great impression of a corporate suit with a cynical sense of humour."
"Thank you, sir. I'll take that as a compliment."
"So what would happen if I shopped you to the recycling authority about not actually doing the job on this MoAP?"
"The law accepts that honest mistakes can be made, Mr. Scarth. If no malicious intent or fraud is involved, it's likely the company will receive a warning and be required to perform a systems audit to prove that the same mistake cannot be made in future."
"And what about the MoAP?"
"As it is now your property as a result of a legal purchase, Mr. Scarth, it's your responsibility until the law says otherwise."
"So I'm screwed?"
"Somewhat, yes. Is there anything else I can help you with?"
"You could send me an authenticated transcript of this call as proof I made it and proof you received it. And that you know I have this MoAP and it wasn't recycled. Without prejudice to taking legal action in the future."
"Yes, sir. I shall do that. Is there anything more."
"No, thanks. I think I'll go and weep into my beer for a while."
"Glad to have been of service to you, Mr. Scarth."
Scarth poured himself another beer before he took a look at the MoAP's service history. A pouch on the inside back cover of the booklet contained a purchase-key wafer, which could be used in conjunction with a standard remote-control unit to switch the MoAP on and off, and deliver simple instructions. Possession of the wafer also played a part in establishing legal ownership of the MoAP.
Mobile Artificial Personality 2-GD-S was one of fifteen Series 2 General Duty MoAPs, which had been experimental models designed to be able to tackle a wide variety of tasks in environments which would damage unprotected humans. They could operate in a vacuum, under relatively high gas pressures, at temperatures up to 80 deg.C and even submerged in water to a depth of 25 metres.
The owner of the pair of boots in the body bag had been named Samantha. It was not terribly out of date. Research on the API website told Scarth that Series Five was the current production model. MoAPs were normally given an IQ Equivalent of 125 but the experimental Series 2 general duty models had been rated at 130. By definition, catastrophic damage to the higher processing centres meant a reduction in the IQE of 25-50%.
As an added complication, the disabling electromagnetic pulse would have destroyed all rewriteable memory linked to the higher processors in the body-shell, which meant that if Scarth switched it on, the unit would behave like a hopeless amnesiac. The system would retain memories and instructions in a buffer for as long as it was powered up, but it would lose everything not in its factory-installed permanent instruction sets when it shut down for regeneration.
Scarth returned to the regen box and opened the body bag completely. The MoAP looked like a healthy corpse; obviously female, quite tall, athletic build, cropped blonde hair and extremely good looking. Scarth located a multi-purpose remote control and slotted the product-key wafer into it. He decided that telling the MoAP to get itself out of the regen box was the simplest solution to that problem. When he pressed the start button, he was rewarded with a pair of bright blue eyes when the eyelids lifted and a bright smile.
"Hello, I'm Sammy," the MoAP said. "My power level is very, very low."
"Okay, Sammy, go and sit down over there then switch yourself off." Scarth pointed to the couch at the basement's far wall.
The MoAP rose to its feet with an athlete's grace, stepped out of the regen box, walked over to the couch, sat down, placed its hands on its lap and closed its eyes.
Scarth returned to his work station and continued to read the glowing testimonials on the API website. A Series Two General Duty MoAP was worth half a million euros; but only when it was new and working. The body-shells of all other members of Series Two had been scrapped. Their experimental status had resulted in testing regimes in extreme conditions beyond their design parameters. Reading between the lines, Scarth concluded that most had suffered extreme mechanical damage, rather than just well-fried electronics, and that their personalities had been salvaged from a back-up point for use in Series 3 MoAP bodies.
As Scarth was reading about the extremely versatility of the GD MoAP, inspiration struck. He realized that if he could make one of the regen boxes work, and if Sammy was still fairly functional, then he could use her as a maid. She could do useful work, such as loading the dishwasher and the washing machine, and dusting and vacuum cleaning.
Sammy could perform the essential menial tasks which Scarth did reluctantly and as infrequently as possible. With any luck, he would be able to justify the cost of the energy that kept her going, and it would be a hell of a lot cheaper than paying API to do the recycling job that should have been their responsibility.
The legal requirement for recycling the MoAP stated 'within a reasonable time' but no actual time frame was specified. Scarth felt that it would be unreasonable to expect him to tackle the job before he had found a customer for any salvageable parts, reasonable that he would need time to save up the recycling cost during the course of normal business and very reasonable for him to get some use out of his purchase while it remained intact.
Some work with his testers told Scarth that he could reconstitute one of the regen boxes completely with parts from the other one. With a sense of resentment at the way his day had been sabotaged, he removed inspection panels and set to work. Fortunately, everything was easily accessible and the work was just a matter of unplugging modules and removing machine screws.
By the time he had a working regeneration box assembled and tested, Scarth was beginning to feel hungry. He ignored the internal urge until he had hoisted the regen box to a vertical position in a corner of the basement room and attached the fixing straps to secure points on the wall in the approved fashion to prevent it from falling over.
When he pressed the activate button on the remote control, he realized that he had made a fundamental mistake. His MoAP did not come to life. Its internal power supply was exhausted. Worse, it was locked in a sitting position when he needed it to stand upright in the regen box. Scarth gave up on a hopeless situation and climbed the stairs to his kitchen in search of pizza.
While flicking through Sammy's service history, between bites at his slice of extra-topped pizza, Scarth came across a section of emergency instructions, which allowed a MoAP to receive direct-input instructions manually. A panel at waist level at the back of the MoAP could be opened to receive a power cable and data cable from his work station.
Scarth finished the pizza and took a mug of coffee down to the basement. Moving a heavy, woman-shaped object locked in a sitting position was a rather strange business. The MoAP ended up on its side on the floor when he had finished manoeuvring it. It was wearing what looked like a one-piece coverall To Scarth's surprise, there was a flap in the back of the coverall, just above the belt. The panel in the MoAP's back opened straight to circuitry and empty space.
Scarth plugged in a power cord and the work station's universal data cable, and logged on to the MoAP's internal control program, which involved supplying the product key from the service history and feeding in data from the purchase-key wafer. The MoAP slumped visibly when he typed in 'relax 4559'. Scarth flattened it out on its face then typed 'lock 4558'.
After that, loading a rigid, 70-kilogram object shaped like a human being into the regen box was a simple task for a man with a power loader in his basement.
Scarth watched the regen box go through a self-test routine when he switched it on. Assessing in bright green glowed on the display panel next. A minute or so later, there was a message saying: This unit is ready for regeneration. Regenerate Y/N? Scarth selected Y for yes and wondered why the box didn't just get on with the job. Manufacturers of electronic equipment were too eager to dump obvious decisions off onto users, in his opinion.
The doors of the regen box closed and an external display above a red light began to count down in seconds from 30:00. At 29:13, Scarth took his coffee over to the main workbench and turned his attention to the task of repairing the damaged circuit boards that he had removed from both regen boxes.
There was a green light on the regen box and the message: Unit ready for service when the multi-purpose circuit boards were working again. Scarth decided that he had had more than enough to do with
MoAPs for one day. Collecting the empty mug, he left the regen box and its contents on stand-by and headed upstairs to watch some football on TV to finish off a frustrating day.
Scarth waited until breakfast was out of the way before he opened the regen box and switched the MoAP on with its remote control. As he had expected, Sammy was bright, cheerful and she had no idea who he was. Scarth took her to his bedroom and put her to work after establishing that she knew how to tackle dusting and vacuuming. There was nothing
major that could suffer serious damage in the room.
As he got on with his day's work programme, Scarth decided that he would have to create a start-up flash card for Sammy. He could attach it to her rear data port and it would load a set on basic rules and bits and pieces of essential information when she was switched on.
Rule No. 1 had to be that she would accept instruction inputs only from him unless told otherwise. Adding his name and their address; in case she went walkabout or someone stole, or kidnapped, her; seemed a good idea. Scarth began to make a list of basic protocols as he prepared recovered parts for sale to his customers.
Jony (an invented female name which rhymed with Tony) Milth arrived as Scarth was making some coffee. She looked very pleased with her timing as she joined him in the kitchen for refreshments. Scarth realized that Jony looked a lot like Sammy at first glance. Jony had blonde hair of the same shade, but hers was longer. Jony also had blue eyes and a ready smile, but she was about half a head shorter than the MoAP and her voice was somewhat squeaky compared to Sammy's pleasing contralto.
The comparison became more vivid when Sammy walked into the kitchen and said, "Finished."
"Okay, can you carry on in there?" Scarth pointed to the lounge, which was a litter of possessions and fliers from auctions.
"Okay. Hello, I'm Sammy," the MoAP added to Milth.
"Hello, I'm Jony," she said with an uncertain smile. "Who's she?" she added in an almost indignant whisper when Sammy returned to the cleaning chores.
"My new cleaning lady," said Scarth.
Milth laughed. "Who is she really?"
"My secret love-child, who turned up here in search of her biological father."
"Yeah, right!" scoffed Milth. "I'm not going to get any sense out of you, am I?"
"Probably not. Are we going down to the basement?" said Scarth.
Milth walked straight past the antistatic bags of electronic components to the black 'body bag', which Scarth had left spread out on the spare regen box. She picked it up and turned it until she found the API logo, the company anti-fraud hologram and the product barcode.
"This is an API shipping bag," she said, her tone a question.
"Correct," said Scarth, not giving away how he had obtained the 'body bag'. "Costs four thousand euros when new, if you can persuade API to part with one, and it's in perfect condition, as far as I can tell."
"I'll give you five hundred for it."
"Ha! You can have a ten per cent discount on the list price."
"I'll think about it."
"Okay, you do that." Scarth could tell that he had made a sale and just some haggling was left. "This stuff over here is what you put on the list you sent me."
Jony Milth examined the goods, did some token bargaining, and nerved herself to buy the 'body bag' at a twelve-and-a-half per cent discount on the list price. Scarth accepted an electronic payment, provided a receipt and took Milth's purchases up to ground level via the hoist. Jony Milth drove away with her curiosity about Scarth's cleaning lady unsatisfied.
Sammy was creating neat piles of like objects, using a sorting program in her basic instruction set, when he returned to the lounge. Scarth felt as if he were in a strange apartment. He was not used to living with so much order.
The MoAP had done a good job of cleaning the place. Sammy seemed to have enough residual processing power to be able to formulate actions and think through their consequences. She could handle concepts such as mass, centre of gravity and fragility when moving objects temporarily, and she understood the concept of dust.
Encouraged, Scarth told her to tackle the kitchen next, then he went down to the basement workshop to wait for another buyer to turn up.
Sammy was parked in her regen box, out of sight, when Scarth received an unexpected, and therefore disturbing, official visit three days later. A Ms Rowena Bisquay, backed up by a large, silent, uniformed police constable, steamed into the apartment talking about twenty to the dozen about Scarth's crimes against humanity.
It took Scarth at least five minutes to work out what had happened. A nosy neighbour had seen Sammy vacuuming the interior of Scarth's car, talked to her and dashed home to call Social Services. Scarth was in trouble for exploiting a disadvantaged person. Sammy, of course, had come across to the neighbour as cheerful but 'slow' and she would have had no idea what the neighbour had been talking about when she had asked her rate of payment.
During their chat, Sammy had told the neighbour that she was Scarth's personal assistant, as programmed. Ms Bisquay dropped hints about exploitation of an illegal immigrant when she informed Scarth that she had been unable to find any record of his employing a personal assistant, or of making arrangements to pay her a salary, or of arranging to pay income tax, national insurance and pension contributions on her behalf.
"Nothing to say?" Scarth remarked to the uniformed constable when Ms Bisquay had run out of accusations. "Or not able to get a word in?"
The constable remained silent.
"I also need the name of your PA for my records," Ms Bisquay added.
"Sammy," said Scarth. "Short for Samantha."
"The full name is MoAP Two-GD-S for Samantha."
"You're saying your personal assistant is a mobile artificial personality?" Ms Bisquay loaded the question with the deliberate disbelief of someone who knew that the purchase price of a MoAP started at five hundred thousand euros.
"Wow! You catch on quick," Scarth said with false admiration.
"Shall we stop messing about, sir, and sort this out?" the constable said with exaggerated patience.
"Step this way." Scarth led the way to the basement. He felt a little like Count Dracula's agent when he opened the regen box to reveal Sammy standing inside it, switched off. When Scarth operated his remote control, out of sight of the visitors, the eyes opened, blue and bright, and the smile broadened slowly to full power. Adding the start-up flash card with Scarth's basic protocols had slowed down the process slightly.
"Hello, I'm Sammy," the MoAP said, stepping out of the regen box.
"Sammy, this is Ms Bisquay and PC Arvon," said Scarth. "They wanted to meet you."
"Hello." Sammy directed her bright smile at each in turn, female then male, following a basic protocol.
Ms Bisquay started firing questions at Sammy. Most of them received just a smile and the reply, "I don't have that information."
"You have ownership documents, sir?" said PC Arvon.
Scarth produced his purchase documents, all of which bore the well known API letterhead, and a letter of confirmation from StAP No. 4 at API stating that MoAP 2-GD-S was now the property of Cordon Scarth.
"I'll need copies of these for our records," said the constable.
"Fine," said Scarth. "I need the Police Case Record Number for my files first."
"Actually, this was a bit of a rush job and we left before a PCRN was raised," said the constable.
"In that case," Scarth told him, "if you're not here on official police business, it's no PCRN, no copies. And you should be aware that I've been recording everything that's been said on my surveillance system and I'll be playing my recording of your investigation to my legal representative with a view to making a complaint about harassment. I think he'll be particularly interested in all the veiled threats Ms Bisquay was throwing around without justification."
"That's not going to stick," Ms Bisquay said with a confident smile. "It's our duty to investigate reports of exploitation of the disadvantaged."
"It's your duty to investigate," Scarth said with a nod of agreement. "But it's not your duty to storm in on a suspect like a lynch mob without proper authorization. Which is the conclusion a reasonable person will draw from my recording of this alleged investigation. Bear with me."
Scarth used a handy terminal to switch his recording system to a new memory circuit. Then he fast-forwarded through the early part of the interview. "I think this bit makes my point."
Ms Rowena Bisquay had the grace to look embarrassed at the hostile and bullying attitude of the woman on the monitor screen. The police officer suddenly started to look less shifty. Scarth concluded that he had performed a mental review of his conduct and decided that he was fireproof as he had done nothing more than stand near Ms Bisquay and look big and tough.
"Correct me if I'm wrong," Scarth added, "but all these hints about how long I could spend in prison for exploitation are clearly designed to intimidate me into making a confession and they amount to you exploiting your position of power over the ordinary citizen; me."
"That's a rather extreme interpretation, Mr. Scarth," said Bisquay.
"Not from someone who was on the receiving end of it," said Scarth. "But I'm sure a spot of retraining would help you to appreciate that."
A narrowing of Ms Bisquay's eyes told him that the remark had hit home. Being sent for retraining would put a temporary but lengthy hold on her career. "I think we can close this case on the basis of the information received from you, Mr. Scarth, and file it as a mistake," she decided eventually.
"I think that would be a good idea," said Scarth. He escorted the visitors up to ground level and showed them the door. When he returned to the basement, he found Sammy getting stuck in to the mammoth task of cleaning and tidying the place. Wondering how far she would get, Scarth let her get on with it.
Sorting through the catalogue of his collection of recycled parts, Scarth realized that he had a lot of obsolete but still useful memory wafers. There would be more than enough to give Sammy a back-up system, which would let her store new data files and reload them at start-up. Sammy had extensive permanent storage files, which made her very helpful when Scarth was trying a solve a crossword. All she needed in the back-up system was some sort of discriminator which would prevent her from storing anything already in permanent storage.
Scarth designed a compact back-up system through the day. The final unit was somewhat bulky but Sammy had enough empty space in her abdomen to accommodate it. After using the back-up system for several days, Scarth found that giving Sammy long-term memory cost about eight euros per day, which seemed quite reasonable.
The change in Sammy once she had permanent rewriteable memory was dramatic. She started a new day knowing what she had done the day before and if Scarth ever lost anything, she knew where to look to find it. She was also eager to learn about the world around her. When he had nothing for her to do, Sammy spent her time watching documentary and news channels on TV and taking advantage of Scarth's subscription to the Encyclopaedia Britannica website. Learning about her environment seemed to be an essential part of her base instruction set.
Waves of disapproval rolled from Jony the next time she called. She felt that Scarth should do his own menial work and not unload it onto a fellow female. Scarth's male clients found Sammy a source of constant interest and they kept trying to chat her up. They interpreted Sammy's growing social skills and knowledge of the world as evaporating shyness rather than products of self-education.
Things took a more sinister turn a month after Scarth had found himself the involuntary owner of a mobile artificial personality. Two detectives and eight uniformed constables, with appropriate vehicles, arrived at his home at eight a.m. on a Thursday morning to arrest Scarth for 'operating a dangerous mechanism in a residential area'.
Glancing at the warrant, Scarth learned that it had been issued under a branch of the Terrorism Act 2005. The police wanted to take him to the local station for questioning. They also wanted to confiscate Sammy, so Scarth told her to sit down and switch off to make life as difficult as possible for them. Then Scarth demanded the offered services of the free duty solicitor.
He ended up in an interview room with a Detective Sergeant McWhale and a detective constable whose name he missed when they introduced themselves to the monitoring system. McWhale wanted to conduct a preliminary interview 'to establish some basic facts'.
Scarth began by ignoring his questions and asking what evidence the police had that his 'mechanism' was dangerous. McWhale ignored his question and began to tell Scarth that the court would go a lot easier on him if he just admitted the charge, surrendered the defective mechanism and opted not to waste everybody's time. Scarth's next tactic was to ask what the police planned to do with his mechanism, given that they could not operate it as he was the legal owner.
"I mean, all the court can do is recycle it," Scarth said. "Which will cost the best part of thirty thousand euros if you give the job to API. So who's going to pay for that? And I'll give you a clue: I'm not."
DS McWhale put on a 'not my problem, Gov' expression but Scarth could tell that he was wondering about the question.
"And how did you get from 'defective' to 'dangerous'?" Scarth added with a frown.
"Don't play ingenious with us, Cordon," the detective said with heavy patience. "I've just been looking at the specifications for a Series Two-GD artificial personality. They have a design IQ of a hundred and thirty and they can pass that screening test. You know, the one where you can talk to them on a phone and not realize they're not human."
"So?" Scarth said into a long pause. Then he mentally kicked himself for falling into the trap.
"So your MoAP has higher processing centre damage and the IQ of about a brick, which means its defective."
"This may come as a surprise to you, Detective Sergeant McWhale, or can I call you Jim as we seem to be on first name terms? But defective doesn't equate to dangerous. If your system for recording interviews breaks down, it's defective but that doesn't make it dangerous."
"Don't be facetious, Mr. Scarth. There's a world of difference between a recording system and a MoAP."
"There is in the price and the repair bill, I'll give you that. But in what way is Sammy dangerous?"
"Is that what you call it? Sammy?"
"Some people give their cars names, Sarge," the constable remarked to suggest that Scarth could be mentally defective.
"The Series Two General Duty MoAPs were all given individual names," Scarth explained. "She's a female-pattern MoAP with the given name Samantha. But she seems to prefer Sammy."
"Except it's not a person."
"Sammy certainly looks like a person, and she's intelligent, self-aware and capable of reacting to her environment. API's engineers and designers would be mightily pissed if you try to pretend otherwise."
"But coming back to the point, Cordon . . ."
"That's Mr. Scarth while you're trying to railroad me, officer."
"Coming back to the point, Mr. Scarth, you're not denying ownership of this MoAP?"
"I'm certainly denying ownership of a dangerous mechanism. Do you have any evidence to back up this allegation my MoAP is dangerous? Or has the modern police force put such minor considerations behind it?"
The door to the corridor opened before the detective could reply.
"Mr. Scarth's solicitor is here, Sarge," said a uniformed constable. "And he insists on an immediate consultation with his client. And he's going to start making phone calls to the Home Office if there's any delay. This is a guy you don't want to mess with."
"Okay, interview terminated at nine thirty-two hours for legal consultation," said McWhale. "Later," he added to Scarth when the recording system had been switched off.
Scarth sat at the table and waited with interest for the hot-shot lawyer to show himself. He began to expect some sort of trick when a man in a very posh suit and a pink tie strolled in and deposited a shiny, new briefcase on the scarred table. This was clearly no free duty solicitor.
"Jerion Paige, API Legal Services," he said, offering a card to his client. "And you'll be Mr. Cordon Edwin Scarth? Who had one of our Two-GDs dumped on him when it should have been recycled?"
"Don't tell me," said Scarth, "your company is taking it back and you've found a way to make me pay the thirty thousand euros it will cost to recycle it."
"Actually, Mr. Scarth, I'm on your side right now."
"Falls over in amazement. How come?"
"This business of one of our MoAPs being dangerous makes us allies. It's my company's position that the safety protocols built in to all artificial personalities are sufficient to protect human beings no matter what the mental capacity of the MoAP."
"Well, yes, that makes sense."
"To quote our technical director, these protocols are the core of a MoAP's programming. They can't be powered up without loading the safety protocols. A MoAP can't operate, or be operated, until after an integrity test to ensure that the protocols are loaded and activated. As a result, a MoAP in a functioning condition cannot be ruled dangerous."
"Actually, the police are calling mine defective and saying that equates to dangerous."
"Sloppy thinking," Paige said dismissively.
"So you're saying your job is to kick lumps off the local constabulary and anyone else who says Sammy is dangerous?" Scarth said with a smile, unable to contain his amusement at finding that API really did intend fighting his corner on a point of business principle. "And save the ass of anyone who happens to own one, even if it's by mistake?"
"That's about the size of it, Mr. Scarth."
"And does the PC Plod who was interviewing me know this?"
"I doubt it. Not yet, anyway."
"The company will also be going after a Ms Rowena Bisquay, whom I believe you have met?"
"The woman from Social Services who tried persecuting me for exploiting a disadvantaged person? Yes, she could do with a trampling, too. What about whoever shopped me to the police?"
"That was one of your neighbours. The one who made the original complaint to Social Services. She's a mechanophobe who wants your MoAP scrapped on the grounds she might possibly be dangerous."
"That sounds like she needs some lumps kicking off her, too."
"She's a minor problem. Whereas Ms Bisquay has been leaking information about you to build up the case against you. Apparently, because she's taken a personal dislike to you."
"Probably because I suggested she needed retraining."
"That would certainly do it. Anyway, her machinations registered on API's antennae at about the same time we heard about your arrest. And the two prompted my Head of Department to send me here to offer our services."
"Services which will be free to me?"
"Entirely. For which you will be expected to participate in directed media interviews arranged by API's PR Department."
"Just as long as they don't want me to say anything that's too sick-making."
"Just purely factual material, Mr. Scarth. So, you're prepared to accept my services? Free of charge under the terms specified?"
Scarth shrugged. "I guess I have to go with the best offer on offer. You're hired."
Scarth, with Sammy, was back home inside one hour. He was expecting to be mobbed by the press when he and the MoAP arrived in the solicitor's car but there was no one in sight on his street and no curtains twitched when they left the car. Jerion Paige had been confident that the police would hush up the incident to avoid embarrassment. The Superintendent at Scarth's local police station had the proper amount of respect for the power of a major-league international company.
Paige accepted Scarth's offer of a cup of coffee. He wanted to watch Sammy in action. Sammy served coffee with a smile then she looked at the work station in the lounge. Scarth nodded and she resumed her exploration of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Jerion Paige looked over her shoulder for a few minutes then he returned to his coffee.
"Interesting reading material," he remarked to Scarth.
"I gave her some add-on memory, which lets her store new data," he replied. "It was costing about eight euros a day at first. I think she's up to about twenty-five now. She's going to be walking round with an add-on memory pack the size of a house before long. I've filled up all the accessible free space inside her."
"Sounds like her body-shell wasn't as badly damaged as our people thought."
"Unless she has some sort of effective compensation system in her software. It's quite possible that the GD algorithms can manage something like that."
"That's a bit too technical for me," Paige said with a smile as he took a secure mobile phone from his briefcase. "I'd like to make a call to my office with a preliminary report."
"You can use my workshop as phone box." Scarth directed the visitor to the basement, which was now looking quite clean and ordered.
Paige took his coffee cup with him. The cup was empty when he returned, ten minutes later.
"Is that the grief for Ms Bisquay arrange?" Scarth remarked.
"No doubt it will be in due course," said Paige.
"Why did she register on your company's antennae? Do you have some history with her?"
"More with her family. Her sister tried for a job in our PR Department but she was rejected after the second interview. So Ms Rowena Bisquay is grabbing an opportunity to kick API and she's not bothered who gets
caught in the crossfire."
"Tell me about it," Scarth said with a sigh.
"It's the company's policy to take an active attitude vis-a-vis unwarranted attacks on our products. The current cost of a MoAP is such that they're not out mixing with the general population just yet, but they're in the position of computers in about the 1960s; something only big companies could afford, or even need, then but something everyone had by the end of the 1990s."
"Except that the time scale will be shorter today?"
"Very much shorter. I was wondering, does Sammy still have any memories of her previous life?"
"Why don't you ask her. Sammy," Scarth added to the MoAP, "Mr. Paige is a Type One person and you can answer his questions."
Sammy swivelled her chair away from the work station and increased the wattage of her smile. "What would you like to ask me, Mr. Paige?"
The solicitor asked questions which implied a fair knowledge of the MoAP's history. Sammy told him that she was aware that she was an artificial personality created by API, but that all active-memory modules linked to her higher processors had been destroyed by the electromagnetic pulse which had damaged her body-shell. She knew only what had been installed in her base-memory plus the data stored in the memory which Scarth had installed in her.
Paige questioned her about her current life, taking the occasional note. Eventually, he thanked the MoAP, who returned her attention to the work station.
"Where did that get you?" Scarth asked.
"She's clearly severely limited compared to what a General Duties MoAP should be able to do, but her programmed moral sense seems intact," the solicitor returned. "And her sense of self-awareness. I'm no expert at this but she seems safe enough. Proving your point that defective doesn't equate to dangerous. Even so, our research director would like to buy you lunch tomorrow."
"And, no doubt, he'll tell you all about why on the day," the solicitor said as his parting shot.
Scarth checked his messages when the solicitor had gone, looking for money-making opportunities. Eighteen strangers had phoned him. His normally confidential email address had received three messages from 'unauthorized' sources and there were five leaflets among the conventional mail in the mailbox at the front door.
Scarth realized that he had suddenly become the target for Christian and other religious groups, two anti-slavery charities and the Universal Consciousness Group, which believed that all self-aware and intelligent beings, including API's artificial personalities, have the right of self-determination and a right to an independent life.
A naturally suspicious nature made Scarth wonder if API was behind the communication assault and it was intended to be an awful warning of how things could be in the near future. At the same time, he knew that keeping possession of Sammy would make him fair game for a whole gang of organizations which would exploit anyone and anything in the hope of furthering their cause.
Owning a MoAP would make him something of a celebrity when the news got around. Sammy made a great housekeeper but Scarth found himself wondering if he really wanted to become an unpaid figurehead for the people who would intrude shamelessly into his life and then just drop him when he had served his purpose.
Scarth got his lunch on almost neutral ground. The Arlin Arms Hotel had four stars in most directories and it was the preferred stopping place for API's guests. Nasa O'Erlinn looked rather young to be a director but he seemed quite comfortable with his position. His table was in the 'good' part of the dining room. Scarth decided that royal game soup would be a good starter and a marker as to his expectations if API wanted to offer him some sort of deal. O'Erlinn opted for the seafood starter.
"Your MoAP interests me," the research director said without preamble when the waiter had left with their orders. "I was impressed by what I saw of the interview our solicitor did with the unit."
"He took a video record? Well, obviously." Scarth answered his own question. "Mr. Paige seemed to think her body-shell was either not as badly damaged as your company thought or her software has given her unexpected powers of recovery."
"The GD model is so complex that all its capabilities can't be predicted right after assembly. But we certainly didn't expect the unit to retained a capacity to learn so readily with some jury-rigged active-memory. What we'd be interested in doing is fitting a surplus memory module to facilitate learning. But we can't justify a new higher processor unit, which would cost around three hundred thousand euros."
"That figures. The 'brain' is the main cost element of a MoAP, to quote your own website."
"So your company sees some sort of PR value in having a retired MoAP still doing useful work in the community and demonstrably non-dangerous?"
"Actually, we'd be interesting in buying back your MoAP as a research project," O'Erlinn said after the waiter had delivered the starters. "I'm quite impressed by the progress you made using standard recycled memory, and I feel there's a lot we can learn from studying the unit's learning process. No one has ever done anything like that with a fully programmed unit which suffered the equivalent of a major stroke."
"Buying back at what? Fifty per cent of the cost price?"
"Hardly," O'Erlinn said with a laugh. "I think about five thousand is fair to cover the inconvenience you've suffered and your contribution to MoAP research. And our legal department gave me some awful warnings to add if you don't bite."
"Like what?" Scarth said with a frown. "This soup is good, by the way."
"API settles for nothing less. As for the awful warnings, Mr. Paige mentioned you're having trouble with a mechanophobic neighbour. There's also a possibly that anti-slavery protesters looking for personal publicity and a chance to raise some hell will take an interest in you."
"That sounds like you've been monitoring my messages."
"It's started already?" O'Erlinn said with a smile. "That's probably down to your mechanophobe neighbour looking for allies."
"Another thing that occurs to me is it's possible some over-keen official will decide you need an operating licence for your MoAP. For which your local council will charge a fancy fee."
"So I'm likely to end up in big trouble if I don't do a deal with API and let you have your MoAP back?"
O'Erlinn had the grace to smile at the directness of the question. "These are just possible future scenarios. I'll leave it to you to decide how likely they are and how bad things can get."
Scarth negotiated through two more courses. Both men knew that he had decided that the best thing to do really was to let API take possession of the MoAP again. O'Erlinn sweetened the deal with an offer of a 'preferred customer' status with the Recyclables Department, which would give Scarth a useful discount and early notification of when items would become available.
The two men retired to Scarth's home after the meal, which had left Scarth with a warm glow of contentment. Nasa O'Erlinn was surprised to find Sammy sitting at a work station, educating herself, instead of parked in the regeneration box. Sammy's smile dimmed with concentration as Scarth explained that she would be going home to API, where she would be fitted with a better memory system than her back-pack. Her smile brightened when Scarth added that she would be able to learn full-time at API's research department.
"This is an ingenious solution to the amnesia problem," O'Erlinn said when he had inspected the external part of the improvised memory pack. "One we'd not thought of tackling. We'll need to take all this lot back to API with Sammy to preserve continuity."
"Just as long as I get it back when Sammy has her new memory," said Scarth. "She's carrying more or less my entire stock of Red-2 memory around with her."
"Cordon has customers for it when I don't need it," Sammy added with her usual bright smile.
"So when is all this going to happen?" said Scarth as Sammy returned to her study session at the work station.
"Couple of days," said O'Erlinn. "We'll need to get our legal department to knock up a contract, once we've agreed on your compensation price, and we'll have to co-ordinate everything with our PR department.
They were making noises about media interviews."
"Yes, they're keen to drive home the message that if a MoAP is moving about, it's perfectly safe because it has to have the safety protocols loaded. And it's difficult to imagine Sammy ever being dangerous."
"Yes, we're very pleased with the MoAP base personality. And rather surprised at how well Sammy's recovering from catastrophic damage to the body-shell."
"What, you mean you haven't been in this situation before?"
"Not really; mainly because we're still in the very early stages with APs. The Samantha personality was recovered and rehoused, if you will. But it wasn't a process similar to a brain transplant. It was a data transplant. Samantha was sent into a dangerous environment and her data was rehoused from a back-up point before her 'death'. No one expected enough of the personality to be retained viably in the original body-shell after what happened to it."
"Which was why it was scrapped? Well, almost. So does that mean there's another version of Sammy somewhere in a fully working body? A fully functional Samantha to her Sammy?"
"Yes, that's right."
"What I suppose I'm asking is would the Samantha personality feel any kinship to Sammy?"
"Older sister to brain-damaged younger sister? I'm not sure if an artificial personality is yet capable of that sort of an emotional response. Probably not."
"Another point: do you think it would be in the interests of natural-artificial personality relations for your company to keep a viable personality alive, even if it's been simplified?
"I believe that's an active consideration for the company. That we have a certain responsibility to any self-aware artificial life-forms that we create. Although, the ethics of relations with artificial personalities is still
a developing subject."
"So what are your plans for her?"
"If we've created a program which is capable of rebuilding a viable version of the personality in a damaged body-shell, if at a reduced IQE level, that opens up some very interesting possibilities."
"And when your research department finishes with Sammy, she's likely to go into honourable retirement rather than be stripped down to recyclable components?"
"She'll probably be allowed to live out her mechanical lifespan, yes."
"Which means you'll avoid a load of grief from the people in the anti-slavery lobby who reckon your MoAP personalities are self-aware enough to count as honorary human beings and shouldn't be sold off for recycling?"
"The less said about that, the better," O'Erlinn said with a smile. "No doubt our legal department will be keeping a close eye on Sammy's progress. Anyway, I'd better be getting back to the ranch. And we'll be in touch."
A company car and a van containing a camera crew arrived to document the hand-over two days later. Sammy had been right through the house with her duster and vacuum cleaner. Scarth had realized too late that he should have taught her how to paint.
The camera crew recorded the contract signing and the ritual handing over of MoAP 2-GD-S's service history and purchase-key wafer. Sammy herself contributed to the session with an account of her progress since being re-activated. Then she walked out to the company car with Nasa O'Erlinn and Scarth found himself on his own again.
The work station in his lounge was flashing the symbol for a new message. API would recycling some of the new Red-3 memory the following day and Scarth had an opportunity to book his requirement. Luckily, his credit balance with the company was very healthy.
Jony Milth reacted with cautious scepticism when she called Scarth the following evening. "You're telling me you've got Red-3 memory?" she said without preamble.
"Recycled, not new," Scarth returned.
"Which is just as good. Okay, I'll be round in half an hour."
Milth was ringing Scarth's doorbell within twenty-five minutes. She examined the memory packs closely, as if suspecting that the API holograms were forgeries. Then she tried to talk Scarth into a preferred customer discount. She had to settle for a cup of coffee instead.
"Where's your personal assistant?" she asked when Scarth tackled the job of pouring coffee into mugs himself.
"It's her day off," said Scarth. He realized that if Jony had missed the media coverage based on API's PR handouts, then there was still scope for winding her up about Sammy.
"Glad to see you still remember how to do this," Milth remarked as she accepted a mug, the disapproval level as high as ever. ■