Chapter 9.

Commander Data sat in his room, watching Spot. In his mind he was going over the problems associated with the series of murders, and he was plugged into the computer system and systematically examining it, but a lot of his attention was given over to observing every movement of the cat. There was a sound at his door, and he called , "Come." To his surprise there was a small child there.

"Can I come in?" she asked.

"Of course," he answered, politely extricating himself from the computer linkage. "Are you alone? One does not expect to see an unaccompanied child in this section."

"Oh, yes, Mummy's busy," she said. "I wanted to see you. Do you mind?"

"Why do you wish to see me?" Data asked. "Am I able to solve some problem that you have?"

"You heard mummy tell me that you are just a machine. I wanted to see you."

"I am indeed a machine. Have you viewed me to your satisfaction, or do you have some verbal communication as well?"

She giggled.

"What are you for?" she asked.

"In what sense?" he replied.

"You know, machines are made for a purpose. A replicator is to copy things. Scissors are to cut things. What were you made to do?"

"I am not able to answer that question in any detail. My creator died before I was energized. One reason that I am aware of was to retain the memories of the colonists where I was made. Perhaps another was just to see whether Doctor Soong could create an artificial life form."

"If your creator is dead, what do you do now?" she asked puzzledly.

"I do not understand your question," he said. "I am an officer of this starship. I serve the Federation."

"But who programs you?" she asked. "Who gives you orders?"

"I do not require programming," he said calmly. "I choose to serve on this ship. I program myself, if you will."

"How can that be?" she said in bewilderment. "If you're a machine, someone must tell you what to do all the time!"

"I believe that I have attained what is known as free will. I choose what I do."

"You can do what you like?" she said in wonderment.

"Within the parameters of my programming. Some of it is as Doctor Soong programmed me, some is as I have programmed myself."

"You speak a little bit funny. Do you choose that?"

"For some reason, Doctor Soong programmed me unable to use verbal contractions. It is not a difficulty. I myself have decided not to lie. That is a self-imposed sub-program. I am unable to experience emotions, but I possess a chip, designed by Doctor Soong, which I may have implanted if I consider that process advisable."

"I still don't see how a computer can have free will," she said with a frown. "A computer is just a machine. It can't decide what to do by itself. My replicator can't decide not to copy things right."

"I have considered this matter myself at some length," Data replied. "But it is a problem long solved. Centuries ago, scientists discovered things called quantum theory, chaos theory and complexity theory. Have you learned of these in school?"

"We're about up to spelling," she smiled. "I think they might be a while. Maybe when I'm grown up."

"It is difficult to simplify, but if a system is sufficiently complex it is unpredictable. If a machine attains a certain level of complexity it may become self-determining. In my case I chose to be as I am."

"But you still don't.. what was the word? You know, cut words short?"

"Use verbal contractions. That is a physical constraint. You cannot fly, but you can choose to do a good act or an evil one. I have chosen to be good rather than evil."

"What are good and evil?" asked Celeste.

"That is the most difficult of questions to answer. Some of these books discuss the subject at length. But humans usually just know what they are."

"You have books!" observed Celeste in surprise. "Don't you have everything in your head? Are they science, and about free will?"

"Some are simply fiction," he said. "That is, stories. Others are about philosophy. Oh, I am forgetting my manners. It is the custom when one has a human visitor to offer refreshments. Would you like a soft drink?"

"I'd like an apple", she said after a small hesitation, and Data produced one from the replicator.

"You are fond of apples?" he said conversationally.

Celeste was browsing through the few books on the shelf, and she answered absent-mindedly, "Mister Simpkins was teaching us all about the bible, and Adam and Eve. I guess that put apples in my head."

"Do you find the books of interest?" asked Data.

"This one's about robots," she said. "One robot."

"That is actually 'I, Robot', a number of stories about artificial life-forms. The author postulated some rules that robots should have programmed into them. I have generally programmed those rules into myself. I have read the books, so if you would like them you may have them. This one deals with quantum theory, and this with chaos and complexity theories."

He piled up the chips, and a few real books, in the arms of the bewildered-looking little girl. Celeste thought to herself, Data may be a highly intelligent computer, but he doesn't know much about the reading ability of nine-year-old girls.

"You may retain them," said Data. "I have them in my memory, and no longer require their physical presence."

"Don't you like just having them?" asked Celeste. "aren't you attached to them?"

"I am a machine," said Data evenly. "I do not have emotions. As I said, I do possess an emotion chip, but I have chosen not to install it at this time."

"An emotion chip," Celeste echoed with a grimace. She turned to leave, but turned back again.

"Are you able to kill people, Mister Data?"

"It would be very much against my nature, but if it were necessary to save the life of a friend or colleague, perhaps."

"Do you think it is ever right to kill?" she asked. "My daddy was killed on a mission, and he had a gun, so I suppose he would have killed someone. If necessary."

"I believe it is only permissible to kill in order to prevent someone from killing someone else, Celeste," he said.

"How did you know my name?" she said in surprise. "I never told you."

"As you observe, I am a computer. I have a complete manifest in my memory. It was simple to match you through the information you have given me. I already knew you were the daughter of Ensign Moulton. It is rarely necessary to kill. Our phasers can be used to stun, and that is almost always enough to prevent a crime. 'Right' is a different concept. In some circumstances it is legal to kill. On some planets criminals are executed if they have committed certain serious crimes."

"Like murder," she said.

"Like murder," he agreed. "Or treason."

"You were sort of plugged in when I came in," she said. "Were you interfacing with the computer?"

"I am investigating the series of murder attempts," Data replied. "The computer was involved in each of them."

"How?" she asked curiously.

"The first one is still a puzzle," he answered, "but in the second the computer was turned off while the room was frozen, and in the latest attempt there was an attempt to subvert the computer. It would not have allowed Miss Borzovska to have been transported if it had not known she was amphibious, and the killer presumably knew that, but it saved her because it thought she was a pollutant in the water supply."

"I'd never have thought of something like that!" gasped Celeste. "How do you mean the computer was turned off?"

"It was made to not register the existence of the room during the time of the killing. It would not otherwise have allowed the room to be frozen if people were there."

"Well, couldn't that have been how the first one was done too?"

"Of course," said Data in surprise. "How simple. That is why the computer did not recognise the presence of a corpse until later. We had considered many scenarios, such as the body being transported into the room. The simplest explanation is often the correct one!"

"Well, goodbye," she said. "May I come and visit you again?"

"You would be welcome," he said politely.

"Well, it's nice to know that you're a billion-credit machine, and I can still do things you can't," she grinned.

"You mean, verbal elisions?" he said.

"No, I can lie!"

 

"Where have you been, Celeste?" said her mother, who met her in a corridor. "I was worried sick."

"We're on a space ship, mother," said Celeste exasperatedly. She closed the book she had been flicking rapidly through. "How lost can I get? Anyway, I went to see Commander Data."

"Where did you get those books? Are they school books? Why were you annoying Commander Data? I'm sure he has better things to do than talk to little girls!"

"He was very nice."

"Where did you see him? Where were the books?"

"I went to his cabin, mum."

"I've told you never to be alone with men you don't know!"

"He's not a man, mum, he's a machine! You don't have to be so obsessive. We're on a ship. We're trapped on a ship in space!"

"There have been crimes on this ship. And there might be strangers on the ship who could harm you. What did you do in Commander Data's room?"

"I ate an apple," said Celeste ironically.

"He gave you an apple?" asked Serena with a frown. "Why would he have an apple?"

"It was a.. what does Mister Simpkins call it?.. a metaphor."

Serena looked at her blankly.

 

On to Chapter 10. On the downhill run, now! Or go back.