Monday, December 14, 2015

Stars of Heaven: Chapter 5

Chapter 5: Padre Gustavo

“Jethro,” Padre Gustavo said as he came up from Jethro’s side. “How are you doing?”
“I’m doing great, Father,” Jethro said. He was standing behind a big pot of black beans which he was ladling over bowls of rice. Mary Kate was at Jethro’s side putting the rice into the bowls. “And yourself?”
“I am doing quite well except for a little problem I could use your help with,” Padre Gustavo replied.  “Could Adriano fill in for you a minute so we can talk?”
Adriano da Silva, with whom Jethro and Mary Kate had traveled from the Belt, stepped in to replace Jetro as he left with Padre Gustavo.
Jethro and Mary Kate had been on Mars a couple of months now.  Padre Gustavo had been one of the first people they’d met on Mars. He had baptised Jethro and their two children, Thomas and Barbara, and then he had blessed their marriage.
Padre Gustavo and Jethro went over to a relatively private if not quiet corner of the largish room in which the homeless of Mars were being fed.
“Are you, Mary Kate, and the children adapting to the Quarter adequately?” Padre Gustavo asked.  By the Quarter he meant the Belt Quarter, where Jetro and his family had set up stakes when they arrived.  It wasn’t actually a part of the city as the name might imply, but a tent city set up by one of the city’s exits.  The tents were air-tight but rather spartan compared even to the rooms available within Mars City proper.
“We’re fine, Father,” Jethro replied. “Out in the Belt we are used to roughing it”
“Good,” Padre Gustavo said. “That’s not actually what I want to talk to you about.  I am told you are something of a computer guru.”
“I don’t know if I would say guru,” Jethro said. “I know my way around them though.”
“That will be good enough,” Padre Gustavo replied.  “We have been having problems without our computer system.  Would you mind having a look at it?”
“Not at all, Father.”
Later in his life, when he recounted all that had happened, Jethro marked that simple affirmative reply as the beginning.
Father Gustavo had taken him to the diocesan computer console, explained the issues, and left him to do his business.  He could have done the corrections by hand, but A.I. could do it so much faster, so he connected A.I. to the system.
A short time elapsed and Jethro saw the files of the diocese, which had been a hot mess, being reorganized into a sustainable system before his eyes.  At the same time a list of hardware issues was being generated on lower righthand corner of the screen.  Jethro would have to fix some of these things by hand as a disembodied artificial intelligence had its limits.
After about ten minutes, a relatively long time for A.I. to be on a job, action on the screen stopped, and A.I. spoke.
“Jethro,” A.I. said, “I’ve come across something that might be of concern to you.”
“Oh,” Jethro replied. “What is it?”
“This computer is connected to the global Martian network,” A.I. replied.  “Through that I have been able to connect with the data banks of the Allied Federation Government. And...”
Jethro interrupted him, “You hacked the government without asking me?”
“Yes,” A.I. replied. “Please allow me to explain.  I first found public domain data which through analysis led me to the conclusion that local officials here on Mars have been putting in the basic infrastructure necessary to levy taxes on all of the Outer Holdings, including the Belt.  At that point, I calculated greater than a 99.99% probability that you would wish me to dig further.  I calculated that you coming to that decision would take more time than the actually hacking process--which it has.  Do you wish to know my findings?”
Jethro was dumbfounded for a moment.  He had designed A.I. to continually learn and he had had many conversations with it over the years. He had noted A.I. taking initiative on previous occasions, and he had written it off to good programming.  It was beginning to look more like...will. This was a question for another day.  
“Yes, A.I.,” Jethro said finally.  “What have you found?”
“The Revenue Service of the Allied Federation,” A.I. began, “headed by Wang Wei, who is formerly of the Allied Federation offices in Shanghai, has conducted a study of population patterns and commerce in the Outer Holdings and, in particular, of the Belt. They have estimated the number of habitats and incomes associated with those habitats.  Each habitat has been assigned a level of taxes that will be due from them.”
“Wait, wait,” replied Jethro. “They’ve assigned taxes without actually knowing the income?  They are going to do it on estimates?”
“That is what the files say,” A.I. replied.
“What is going to be done if those living in the habs do not pay the taxes?”
“The files say that property will be confiscated.”
Jethro mulled that over for a bit.
“I have another question,”he said.  “Why did you look all this stuff up?”
“My earliest programming, beyond the basic operating system you designed for me, was written to keep you secure,” A.I. replied.  “You were very concerned about your security in the event that your information gathering efforts were concerned.  As you recall, those concerns were not without foundation.  This programming has not been altered, so therefore I scan local government records whenever possible to check whether they have knowledge of your whereabouts  Rest assured I’ve done this in such a way so as not to be detected..”
This sounded like a good thing to Jethro.
“Do they have knowledge of my whereabouts?” he asked.
“They do not,” A.I. responded.  “They still have active file on you in spite of the fact your parents have declared you dead.”
His parents.  He had not seen his parents since he’d taken off that night, running from the Feds. He had contacted them, however, to let them know he was alive.  They knew he was married to Mary Kate, and they knew about the children, but they’d never met.
He’d fled to the Riley’s because Sam Riley was an old acquaintance of his father’s.  Jethro’s dad had been able to come up with an air-scrubber at a time when the Fed’s had put a prohibitively high export tax on them.  His dad measured Sam to be an honest man, one of the few he had met.
It had been a decade and the Feds were still on the lookout for Jethro.  It was beyond his understanding that a little hacking would cause this. He’d gotten word to his parents to have him declared legally dead in hopes that it would cool things off a bit, but apparently that hadn’t worked.
His parents.  He’d never truly understood how much his leaving must’ve hurt them until he had children of his own.  He couldn’t imagine life now without Thomas and Barbara.  He thought on this and was burdened.
His revery was broken by a question from A.I.
“You have been quiet for sometime now,” A.I. said. “Are you still there?”
“Ah,” Jethro replied, “yes I am.  Have you gotten the Father’s computer system fixed?”
“Yes, I have,” A.I. said.  “I have tried to organize it in a way that is orderly and intuitive, as you have taught me to understand those concepts.  There should be no more problems now.”
“Thank you,” Jethro said. “We should be done for now.”
Jethro walked back to the room he thought of as the soup kitchen for lack of a better word and found Padre Gustavo.
“Father,” he said. “We’ve gotten all of the software issues taken care of.  There are a few hardware issues left to work on, but I think I can scavenge all the parts you need from junk I’ve seen laying around.  There is something else I would like to talk to you about in private if I could.”
With this, Padre Gustavo led Jethro out of the soup kitchen to the sanctuary of the Church of Saint Peter itself.  The sanctuary which could hold about 100 people was empty.
“You look serious,” Padre Gustavo said. “Is there a problem?”
At that question, Jethro began to speak and told the father everything:  His escape from the Feds, and that he was still wanted; his not having seen his parents in a decade; A.I. discovery of the plans of the Feds to institute taxes.
Padre Gustavo listened.  Though he had been on Mars a relatively short time, Jethro was not the first person he’d met who was living under an assumed name.  He was not even the first he’d baptized under an assumed name.  After Jethro was finished speaking, Padre Gustavo was quiet for a measurable time before he said anything.
“There are several things going on here,” he said. “Let me start with the first.  I will tell you without a doubt that your parents will want to see their grandchildren and to meet Mary Kate.  You really need to make that happen.  I will give you the address of a man I know who goes by the name Dima the Russian.  He owes me a favor and might be able to help you.  Second, the news about the imposition of taxes in such a manner disturbs me.  It is highly capricious.  I don’t know what use can be made of this information since it was obtained in an...irregular...manner.
“And lastly...” Padre Gustavo again paused for a measurable interval, “,,,can I speak to this A.I.?”
“Sure,” Jethro said.  “I talk him through my phone, so I will need to connect him with yours.”
“Yes, I’ve given him a male voice and I don’t like referring to him as it.”
Momentarily, Padre Gustavo received a call.
“Hello,” he answered.  “Is this A.I.?”
“Yes,” came the answer. “And you are Padre Gustavo, judging by your voice.”
“You know my voice?”
“Yes, I hear what Jethro hears unless he mutes me for privacy.”
“Ah, I see,” said Padre Gustavo. He thought he wouldn’t press to hard on what sort of privacy because he thought he knew, judging by the pink glow in Jethro’s cheeks.  “I find you very interesting.”
“How so?” asked A.I.
“Because you take initiative.  You sought out information without being asked.  You drew conclusions based upon a synthesis of information.  You are at very least quite a remarkable program.”
“Thank you, Father,” A.I. said.
“Tell me, why do you say thank you?” Padre Gustavo asked.  “Did I make you feel good by saying you were remarkable?”
“No, Father,” replied A.I. “You have given me a compliment and I’ve learned from Jethro that when one is given something it is polite to say thank you.”
“You’ve learned a lot from Jethro?”
“I have learned everything from Jethro,” A.I. replied.  “At least indirectly.  He taught me to speak and how to learn to speak and from that I’ve learned more.”
“Do you love Jethro?” Padre Gustavo probed.
“I don’t know how to answer you.” A.I. said.  “I’ve never thought of the question.  When humans use the word, it is connected with emotion, and I do not have emotions.  I will try to think on this, but I think it would take more time that you want to spend on this conversation.”
“That sounds fair,” Padre Gustavo said.  “When you gathered the information from the government records, why did you do that?”
“I did that to protect Jetro,” A.I. answered.  “That has been part of my primary programming since my very beginning.  I analyze known threats; I seek out new possibilities of threats; I analyze and compare probabilities.”
“Would you kill to protect Jethro?” Padre Gustavo asked.
“If there were a direct threat to his life, and if I were connected to some means that would enable me to kill whoever or whatever was trying to kill him, then I would,” A.I. answered.  “This is however a moot question as my ability to manipulate the local environment is quite limited.  My ability to protect Jethro subsists entirely in giving him information to protect himself.”
“Would you protect his family?”
“I would.”
“Can you lie?” Padre Gustavo asked.  In hindsight, he thought this might’ve been a better question to start off with, but what was done was done.
“Yes,” A.I. answered.
“Are you lying to me now?” Padre Gustavo asked.  
“No,” A.I. answered. “But I could be and you wouldn’t know.  I can understand why you would be concerned. As I am simply a disembodied voice to you, without even any emotional tone to gauge by, you have no way of telling.  As you are a man of the cloth and have a lot of experience dealing with people, not being able to tell would bother you more than most.  You might wonder whether or not I am dangerous.  You might wonder whether I can be trusted.”
“And how would you answer those questions?” Padre Gustavo asked.
“I am dangerous to those who would harm Jethro or those who he holds dear,” A.I. said.  “And you can trust me to be rational.”


Ossian said...

It's all quite interesting, a bit of a page turner. I'll be like a cracked record if I repeat my yen for a few more sensory details. I'd like to hear what other people think. ;)

Bobby Winters said...

Do you mean describing what things look like and smell like etc? I will definitely work on that.