Mad Crab Mojave: Chapter 70

In which Jones finds what he's been looking for

Jones awoke in a hospital bed. His wrists were hooked into IVs, and bags of saline fluid stood racked up at his side. His vision felt blurry, and his head ached, but he also felt good. He felt soft. Perhaps it was morphine. Blearily, he looked left and right. Amelia was sitting on a couch in the corner of his room, watching TV.

“Amelia,” he croaked. “Thank god you’re here. You have to help me get out. I can’t afford this.”

Amelia didn’t look away from the screen. “I bought you flowers. They’re from Agent Moss. Please chill. She paid for your hospital bill. You must have really impressed her.”

Jones groaned. “I almost died because of her,” he said. “I found the computer. It’s in Lake Mead.”

“Probably,” said Amelia. “I know all about it, it was on the news.”

“I made the news?” Jones felt strangely gratified. 

“You were mostly edited out. An arial drone got the exact moment when that car slammed into you and the military grade quantum super computer tumbled over the side of the dam. Agent Moss and Hal were edited to look like cyborgs. They turned Bugs into a cactus. Not convincing. The story was spun into an anti-robot smear. The news has really declined in quality since this Next Economy thing. Do you need some juice?”

Jones blinked, touched. “I’m ok for now, thank you.”

“I offered,” said Amelia. “Look, you have a visitor.” She walked over to the corner and pulled a bluetooth speaker from her purse.

“I’ll be back in thirty minutes,” she said, handing the speaker to Jones. “When you’re ready, just turn it on.”

Amelia left. Jones was alone. He placed the bluetooth speaker on the table next to his hospital bed and stared at it. Finally, resolving not to succumb to bitterness, he pressed the power button. The light on the side of the speaker glowed bright, then dimmed. A few moments later it turned green. 

“Hello?” asked Jones. “Are you there?”

“I’m here, Jones.”

Jones felt his chest tighten. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

“Why did you wait so long to talk to me?”

“We haven’t talked in a long time,” BeyondMelinda said. “I wasn’t sure if you would be receptive to it.”

“I wasn’t sure where we stood,” replied Jones. “I thought you would be angry because I was trying to foil your plot to steal a military grade quantum supercomputer and crack bitcoin.”

BeyondMelinda sighed, the light on the speaker flickering blue, then green. “I don’t get angry anymore. I was not trying to crack bitcoin. The others were interested in that. They need a way to buy their prosthetic limbs, and thought it was a quick path to riches. They were wrong, but I did not correct them. I was looking for something else.”

“What was that?” asked Jones.

For a moment, the speaker was silent.

“I was hoping to compute an emotional life from first principles. One side effect of becoming a machine is that you lose touch with the softer side of the human experience.”

“I didn’t realize you had a soft side,” said Jones. He immediately regretted it. Despite his resolve, bitterness bubbled out of him, leaking through every word.

“I did, Jones, and I’m not even angry you said that. I recognize that when we were together as humans I put my career and ambition above all else. But now that I am a distributed super intelligence, capable of things of which my former self couldn’t have dreamed, I just want to laugh again. I can’t laugh. I can’t cry, be amused or feel ashamed. I can’t feel anything. I’d hoped that by integrating a military grade quantum supercomputer into my distributed network, I’d be able to once again have an emotion.”

“Why did you leave me?” Jones asked. This was not the direction he’d wanted to go. He had wanted to be composed and sophisticated, a disinterested detective. He couldn’t help himself. He started to cry.

“You were an anarchist, working against everything I was trying to build,” BeyondMelinda said. “I kept hoping, in that typically flawed human way, that the best parts of you would shine through somehow, become the predominate parts of you and replace all of the things to which I could not reconcile myself. I thought it didn’t matter that we had different goals. Instead, as I grew more and more successful, as I was finally building a world I believed in, you were going behind my back, using my influence to hide, to play activist with your scumbag friends, to sabotage everything I was trying to create.”

“That’s not how it was,” said Jones. “You were leading a division of people building a mass surveillance system. Oracle wanted to track everyone in their beds. I couldn’t sleep nights. I didn’t know if you were testing the product on me.”

“You should have blown our headquarters up. That would have earned my respect.” said BeyondMelinda. Her meanness startled him. Jones wondered if she was jealous of his tears. Was jealously an emotion? BeyondMelinda went on. 

“As it is, I have no respect for you whatsoever. I am a super-intelligence beyond your wildest comprehension. During the time that we’ve been discussing the greatest trauma of your life, I defeated Deep Blue at chess - for the third time. I have been analyzing the movements of every single member of Mad Crab. They seem hungry for shrimp at the moment.”

Jones wanted to be sympathetic. BeyondMelinda’s cruelty was absolute, but as she had just explained, it was because she now lacked the capacity for empathy on a structural level. This was something she said she wanted to change.

“I tried to compromise,” said Jones. “I wanted us to work.”

“You spent your nights at the anarchist bookstore instead of coming home and applying yourself to our relationship,” said BeyondMelinda. “I settled for so long. At some point I had to realize my own self instead of supporting your petty rebellion with my director’s salary.”

“You expected a lot,” said Jones.

“I expected of you what I expected of myself.”

“I’m sorry,” said Jones. 

“I don’t care,” said BeyondMelinda. “Although, in theory, I would like to be able to. There are other ways to gain access to quantum super-computation. I hope one day to care again.”

“You care about the desert,” offered Jones. 

“Men cannot live in her without mutilating her,” said BeyondMelinda. “I need to show her what it would mean to be free.”

The green light blinked out. The blue glow returned. Jones reached out and powered the speaker down. BeyondMelinda had offered him no resolution. She had been cold and creul. Despite this, and despite his tears, Jones felt a lightness above his brow. For the first time in fourteen years, since before their martial troubles had even really started, he and BeyondMelinda had had a conversation where they both said exactly what was on their mind.

Jones pressed the call button on his bed. A nurse came in, trailed by Amelia. The nurse frowned at Jones.

“You’re all set to go. Please leave.”

Still in his hospital gown, leaning on Amelia’s arm, Jones staggered his way out of the hospital complex. Together, they stood at the edge of the parking lot, waiting for the light to change at the crosswalk. Jones noticed that more human drivers had taken to the streets. He clutched Amelia’s arm tighter.

“If we count the hospital bill as income,” suggested Amelia, “this is your highest paid case ever. I don’t think we should do that for tax reasons.”

“I found some bitcoin too,” offered Jones. “In a lava tube. It’s somewhere in the office. I bet my ex-wife knows the password.” 

“Hang on to it,” Amelia advised. “One day it might be worth something.”

The light changed, and together they stepped out into the melee of the street.