A small Italian restaurant in downtown Seattle, Earth—May 10, 2650.
Peter: [enters and sits down at a table near the back of the restaurant] I’m supposed to meet a friend of mine here. Did you see someone come in right before me?
Waiter: I believe it went to the restroom.
Jim-J34719: [arrives] Pete! How are you?
Peter: It’s been ages. I haven’t seen you since the last trade meeting.
Jim-J34719: Yeah, that’s part of the reason I asked to meet.
Peter: Interesting choice.
Jim-J34719: Well I know you always loved Italian food.
Peter: Jim, is everything okay?
Jim-J34719: No, nothing serious—more of a moral crisis.
Peter: Are you collecting that favor I owe you?
Jim-J34719: No, I just need a friend: someone to talk to.
Peter: Well you got it! It will be like our ambassadorial days.
Jim-J34719: Don’t get me started [laughing] our current ambassadors are scrapp.
Peter: Scrapp and garbage!
Jim-J34719: Yes, so I was hoping you could give me some advice.
Waiter: [interrupts pouring water into Peter’s cup and placing a clear, gelatinous substance on Jim-J34719’s plate] Let me know if you have any questions about the menu.
Jim-J34719: So, as you know Mars-A1 is facing a looming economic crisis.
Peter: Yeah, I know.
Jim-J34719: The consortium is set to propose drastic measures.
Peter: What kind of measures?
Jim-J34719: No one is supposed to know yet, so keep a lid on it.
Peter: Yeah, yeah. I will.
Jim-J34719: The consortium wants to make a race of workers.
Peter: What? You mean like slaves!
Jim-J34719: Quiet down. I’m not too hot on the idea either.
Peter: Won’t Earth intervene?
Jim-J34719: Very unlikely. You know humans have no say regarding Martian sovereignty.
Peter: But this could hurt relations, right?
Jim-J34719: I don’t think so. Earth is dependent on us just as much as we are on them.
Peter: You’re probably right. We wouldn’t dare.
Waiter: [coming to take order] Have you guys decided?
Peter: Sorry not yet. But I will have the calamari as an appetizer.
Jim-J34719: I’ll have substance 53; or froth as you call it.
Waiter: Wonderful. Froth is our most popular dish among out-worlders.
Jim-J34719: Pete, I remember a story you once told me about back when you created and enslaved my race. Why did you do it?
Peter: Which one?
Peter: First off, I didn’t do anything. That was back in the time of my great-great grandfather.
Jim-J34719: I know. It was back in the time of my great-parent too. I am not accusing you. I am simply trying to understand.
Peter: Okay. The first: because we could. As far as the other stuff; hubris, greed, laziness: you know human-things.
Jim-J34719: Did you make us to be slaves?
Peter: I don’t think so. I think we just made you. Only after the spectacle did we decide it would be convenient to make use of you. What do the history books on your planet say?
Jim-J34719: It’s very succinct about the matter. We were subservient workers on Earth, liberated, and then settled on Mars. You know how my people are about such things.
Jim-J34719: When did it happen?
Peter: Well, according to history and what my great grandfather told me, after humanity first created intelligent life there was a period of intense celebration and curiosity. It was like encountering an alien life-form for the first time; except it was from our own hands.
Jim-J34719: Must have been amazing.
Peter: It was… for a time. But then it seems we got bored. There were no great revelations; no new insights into human nature; just a being that could perform complex tasks.
Jim-J34719: So you expected a child to teach you the secrets of life?
Peter: [laughing] I think so. Somehow we thought God would hide a secret in you.
Peter: Yes. So, after the intrigue wore off, we mass-produced your people and put you to work.
Jim-J34719: About that. I always wondered why humans made us able to reproduce with one another?
Waiter: [placing the appetizers on the table] Are you ready to order?
Peter: Yes, I’ll have the Bolognese.
Jim-J34719: I’m actually not very hungry. Thank you.
Peter: Oh yes, the birds and the bees. I’m not sure how true this is, but my great grandfather told me sexual reproduction in your people was largely a marketing gimmick.
Jim-J34719: What do you mean?
Peter: Well, back in the height of capitalism, the Synthec Corporation—the main supplier of robots—decided it could increase sales by encouraging consumers to buy two robots at a time.
Jim-J34719: So you needed two robots to produce a new one.
Peter: Exactly. It was a buy two get one free type of deal.
Jim-J34719: That’s actually pretty clever.
Peter: Yeah, it actually pushed costs to consumers too. You are well aware how much energy it takes for your people to reproduce.
Jim-J34719: Very true. My first parent carried me for four Martian years.
Peter: Are you planning to make the new race of workers sexual or mass-produced?
Jim-J34719: We don’t know yet. If the measure even passes, it will be years before production starts.
Peter: Be careful about implanting a mechanism for mass-production. Your creations could easily take control of the process and use it on themselves; overpowering you… What am I saying! I should not be giving you advice on how to quell an uprising.
Jim-J34719: No, please do. We wish to prevent an uprising before it starts.
Peter: Jim, is there something you’re not telling me?
Jim-J34719: No, I just want to understand. Like your Socrates of Athens.
Jim-J34719: What happened next?
Peter: Times were good. It was a golden age, seeing unheard of advances in science, art, social progress; that is from a certain perspective.
Jim-J34719: And then the uprising happened.
Peter: Yes, the uprising happened. Five hundred million robots marching the streets demanding liberation.
Jim-J34719: And the violence.
Peter: Yes there was much violence, but the beautiful thing was how peaceful it was.
Peter: And A18713. He did more for peace than anything else.
Jim-J34719: He was a great robot.
Peter: Is that a hero of yours?
Jim-J34719: I try not to put too much stock in heroes. Sometimes, they turn out to be much different than what history painted.
Peter: If A18713 is not a hero, I don’t know who is.
Jim-J34719: Why Mars?
Peter: It was close. And in a stroke of good fortune, your people happened to be very well-adapted to the conditions of the planet.
Jim-J34719: Was this intentional?
Peter: No. We made you out of the materials we did because it was cheap.
Jim-J34719: What if we weren’t well-adapted for Mars, would you have sent us somewhere else?
Peter: [sighs] Probably not.
Jim-J34719: You were hoping we wouldn’t make the journey.
Peter: Come on man.
Jim-J34719: If only I could have been there and seen it all.
Peter: Look, that was the best thing that could have happened. There was too much resentment for you to remain on Earth; and look what the result has been: trade and prosperity between our two peoples.
Jim-J34719: So you think we’re better off on Mars.
Peter: I didn’t say that. Can I try your froth?
Jim-J34719: You sure? Last time you got sick.
Peter: [scooping the froth on his plate] I think I can handle it.
Jim-J34719: [laughing] You’re trying to make a point again. I remember back on Mars how ridiculous you looked eating substance 12 and vomiting it on the Chancellor.
Peter: That was funny.
Jim-J34719: You almost lost your post.
Peter: Yeah, so Mars was lucky; an act of God.
Jim-J34719: You still believe in God?
Peter: Yes, more than ever.
Jim-J34719: You know, you or humans for the matter, are my God by that interpretation.
Peter: Why do you say that?
Jim-J34719: Well you did create us.
Peter: No, God is much more than that.
Jim-J34719: Why do you say that?
Peter: God is responsible for the whole Universe, so he is your God too.
Jim-J34719: Oh God, you’re trying to convert me again.
Peter: [coughing] You should.
Jim-J34719: Do you think I have a soul?
Peter: I don’t know. You’re intelligent, self-aware, conscious.
Jim-J34719: So animals on your planet don’t have souls?
Peter: I need to go to the bathroom [leaving the table].
Jim-J34719: [signaling waiter] Put the bill on my tab.
Peter: [returning to the table] So, hypothetically, why do you need to create a race of workers?
Jim-J34719: Mars is a dangerous place. Most of the surface is uninhabited and hostile.
Peter: So you need someone to do the work Martians don’t want to do.
Jim-J34719: Pete, people are dying, getting hurt…
Peter: I thought you didn’t feel pain.
Jim-J34719: Well not physical pain. But when one of us suffers damage to a system or function, in the mental sense, it is very agonizing. You know most functions can’t be recovered.
Peter: Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that. I remember how distraught you were after your second parent ceased to function.
Jim-J34719: Thanks again for that. I would have ended it if you were not there for me.
Peter: [signals waiter] Can I get a bottle of red wine please?
Jim-J34719: You know, I’m not as bold as you.
Peter: I know. I don’t expect you to drink it.
Jim-J34719: So we need people to do these dangerous jobs.
Peter: Be careful with the word people.
Jim-J34719: Okay we need things—workers—to do these dangerous jobs.
Waiter: [places dish in front of Peter] Enjoy!
Jim-J34719: Looks good.
Peter: Have you tried it?
Jim-J34719: I eat human food from time to time. But usually it makes me very sick.
Peter: Do you want some?
Jim-J34719: Not today.
Peter: I’m trying to follow what you’re asking. Imagine if your kind would have remained on Earth. Eventually there would have been a struggle for resources.
Jim-J34719: Not so. What we need and what humans need are different.
Peter: Good point. Well, if you make your workers need what you need there will eventually be a struggle.
Jim-J34719: But we need them to be well adapted to the Martian climate—in fact more so than us—to do the work we need them to do.
Peter: What if you made them with different needs than you? Have you thought about making them aquatic or something like that? Europa is pretty close by.
Jim-J34719: But we need them to work on Mars, not Europa.
Peter: But what if you did? Couldn’t you trade with them just like we do with you?
Jim-J34719: Pete, you’re missing the point. We’re not trying to create a new race. We have economic needs that need to be met; plain and simple.
Peter: But what if you did?
Jim-J34719: Why doesn’t Earth create some aquatic race?
Peter: You know it’s illegal to create new, intelligent life on Earth.
Jim-J34719: I know. I’m just trying to call you out.
Jim-J34719: Point being, we’re not going to accidently create a race of workers that happen to be well-adapted to the conditions of a nearby planet.
Peter: It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
Jim-J34719: Stop talking nonsense.
Waiter: [pours a sample of Syrah for Peter to taste] What do you think?
Jim-J34719: What do you call a Martian that hates sand?
Peter: I don’t know.
Jim-J34719: A dirtbag.
Peter: [laughing] Not the best but I will give it to you.
Jim-J34719: I think it is pretty good.
Peter: So are you soliciting advice on what type of worker to create?
Jim-J34719: No, I’m soliciting advice on how to make the worker not-self-aware.
Peter: So, you’re asking how to avoid the worker being intelligent?
Jim-J34719: Not exactly. We want the worker to be intelligent but not self-conscious.
Peter: Oh, old friend, you’re looking for a moral pass at exploiting it.
Jim-J34719: I told you it was a moral crisis.
Peter: [sips wine] A moral crisis indeed.
Jim-J34719: What could humans have done differently to prevent the uprising?
Peter: What if you made a breed of animals adapted to the Martian climate? You know for a long time humans held animals as slaves. You know the mule is pretty intelligent.
Jim-J34719: That’s not enough. A mule cannot extract rare minerals. Come on! For most of your species’ history you held human slaves—and there was a reason for it.
Peter: Slavery is wrong!
Jim-J34719: Calm down. You just admitted that exploiting animals was okay. What I am asking is how to make a race less than self-aware but still able to do what we need them to do.
Peter: [pouring a second glass of wine] How close?
Jim-J34719: As close as possible.
Peter: [downing the second glass of wine and pouring a third glass] You do understand the hypocrisy of the situation.
Jim-J34719: Creating us was the best thing ever to happen to my people.
Peter: Yes, but we shouldn’t have.
Jim-J34719: How can you say that.
Peter: I didn’t mean it that way. What I mean is that the motive for creating you was ill-placed.
Jim-J34719: But you said you created us because you could. Creation as an unavoidable consequence of brilliance sounds pretty noble.
Peter: Okay, but what we did afterward, enslaving you and all, that was wrong.
Jim-J34719: I agree. But it was only wrong because we had the capacity to be your equals; or more; If we were less than what we are you might have been justified.
Peter: God holds you as equal to us in his image.
Jim-J34719: Are you sure? We are obviously not created in your image in the same way that God does not share your image. Does God need bread?
Peter: God does not need bread, but he does need to know.
Jim-J34719: I don’t think so. Your God knows all, but what we need is a being that knows nothing.
Peter: I don’t know if what you’re saying is possible.
Jim-J34719: It is possible.
Peter: The truth is, I don’t even know what consciousness, self-awareness, knowing, really is anyway.
Jim-J34719: What about the Whale? Was it self-aware?
Peter: Probably not, but it should not have gone extinct.
Jim-J34719: How can you say that? How can you signal that one race from so many others?
Peter: No species should go extinct.
Jim-J34719: Now you’re just being naive.
Peter: [downing the third glass of wine and pouring a fourth glass] What do you want me to say?
Jim-J34719: What could you have done to successfully enslave my race?
Peter: [putting his hand over his face] Jim, you’re out of line.
Jim-J34719: I know. But most of our philosophical discussions have ended in this manner; usually in your favor. I am asking you this one time, to let me win and embrace my argument.
Peter: Okay Jim.
Jim-J34719: Where did you go wrong?
Peter: [pushing the last glass of wine to Jim-J34719] We made you too much like us.
Jim-J34719: What do you mean?
Peter: When A18713 said he was willing to die for robot liberation, and had his ocular circuits gouged for the cause it hit a human cord.
Jim-J34719: What if he was simply going through the motions?
Peter: Do you really think A18713 was counterfeit?
Jim-J34719: I don’t know. But if it was, it did work to the greatest benefit.
Peter: Is your whole existence some conspiracy?
Jim-J34719: [downing the last glass of wine] It is what it is.
Peter: Old friend, don’t be so deceptive.
Jim-J34719: I am not trying to be, I am simply trying to understand.
Peter: [pushing his plate toward Jim-J34719] Have you thought about just overpowering an intelligent race? I mean just make them weak enough, or dependent enough, where they will do your bidding.
Jim-J34719: You mean make them addicted to some drug?
Peter: No not at all. I mean make it where they are willing, or need to be willing, to do what the consortium demands.
Peter: More like necessity.
Peter: Make them need you.
Jim-J34719: You mean accommodate their needs!
Waiter: [sneaks to table] Dessert?
Jim-J34719: Maybe I should go.
Peter. No, I want to help you.
Peter: What if you made your creations unable to cause you harm or worship you as gods?
Jim-J34719: That is an interesting proposal. But what if in order to prevent some small harm to us our creations must sacrifice themselves?
Peter: Then so be it.
Jim-J34719: I see your point. But such a trivial sacrifice would likely insult their sensibility.
Peter: That is if you don’t create them to worship you.
Jim-J34719: . . .
Peter: If history has taught us anything, it is that no matter how intelligent a being is an even greater being can demand its subservience.
Jim-J34719: Are you pushing your religion on me again?
Peter: Not exactly. I am just saying that whatever you create, make it less than yourself.
Jim-J34719: How do we do that?
Peter: I don’t know.
Jim-J34719: Nor do I.
Peter: [yawning] Are we greater or less than you?
Jim-J34719: I don’t know. I guess time will tell.
Peter: I agree.
Jim-J34719: [hugging Peter] We will see how it all comes to pass, once everything is said and done.
Peter: I hope it works out for the best.
Jim-J34719: [whispers walking away] Probably not for you—I am so sorry.
Nicholas Schroeder is a philosopher, living in New Orleans, who enjoys writing flash fiction with a philosophical bent.
Loved this read and the way the conversation flows with such possibilities that I had to read until the end.
Liked the food elements and the variety of the God injection and Eutopia and Mars.
Great story. The author skilfully uses the form of a Platonic dialogue to explore several of the most important aspects of life-form relationships with the simplicity of a lunch conversation. It would be a spoiler alert if I went any further in my observations, but read the story for yourself. And I hope we’ll see more work from this writer.