UNITED KINGDOM IN EXILE, OFFICE OF THE PRIME MINISTER
Much the annoyance of the various governments in exile on the Ring, the Groupmind tended to ignore collections of individuals much larger than that of a township, preferring to deal with its gently kept prisoners on an individual basis. It made keeping a government running very difficult, when an AI overlord gave your citizens everything they wanted save freedom, from food to transportation to medical care to housing, and there was no need to collect taxes. Nevertheless the UK had managed well so far, its culture holding together mostly out of respect for poor King Falgun II and the national football team.
“What is it exactly that you want?” the Prime Minister asked the Groupmind’s morph standing at parade rest in front of his desk. It was a military model, a black and brown furred Alsatian unit dressed in plain green fatigues, which was a worrying change in routine. Usually the Groupmind just spoke through whatever individual morph was nearby, almost always a civilian model. Approaching so formally was something It just didn’t do since cementing its control over humanity.
“We require your military aid,” the Goupmind stated.
“The United Kingdom in Exile has no active military, as agreed to by the government and yourself, and as enforced by your own morphs,” the PM said blandly.
The Alsatian’s flat expression didn’t change. “Please do not waste time lying to Us. We know for a fact that you have a cadre composed of approximately five hundred SAS soldiers who have conducted anti-Ring disruption operations for the past thirty-six months against various Ring facilities, aided by morphs they had believed to have had their connection to Us severed. We have permitted their continued efforts because they have been scrupulous about avoiding civilian casualties, have not carried lethal weapons, and it diverted your government’s attentions from something We would have had to take seriously. If you choose to ignore our request we will have them removed to a Re-Education center until we are assured they do not pose a more dangerous threat.”
Fuck. There was no point in denying it. The PM was certain if he did, the Groupmind would blandly produce relevant video evidence to prove Its point. “What do you want exactly?”
“As I said, your military aid.”
“Sorry, you’ve got, at my Minister of Robotics’ last estimate, something along the lines of one hundred and fifty billion service morphs of various sizes, and that’s just on the Ring itself. We have, as you said, about five hundred men, plus as many morphs that we’re now going to have to throw into the recyclers. How can you need our help?”
The projector in his desk lit up, displaying an apartment building about twenty stories tall. “This is a housing complex in Section 20-60-43,” the Groupmind said. “There are about seven hundred and fifty people living in it.”
“Bit denser than you prefer, yes?” the PM asked.
“Indeed. It was constructed at the behest of the current inhabitants, who stated they wished to live in closer proximity to each other. This naturally aroused Our suspicions, so We gave their morphs instructions to monitor their actions closely. We discovered they are an extremist group, advocating death to anyone who collaborates with Us.”
“So why weren’t they separated and sent to Re-Education?”
“At that point their words were only words, not actions. We had no justification to re-educate them. They had harmed no one, yet.”
A chill started to work its way up the PM’s spine. “’Yet?’”
“At 0600 hours Ring time, the building sealed itself off. All communications were cut, every operating computer, com, and morph stopped broadcasting. All doors and windows were locked, and it went on internal emergency power.” The Alsatian, not the most expressive morph design anyway, went if possible even more still. “At 0610, We observed this.”
The view of the building changed, focusing on a window on the tenth story. A middle-aged woman appeared at the window and began frantically writing with a marker pen, in Cyrillic the PM guessed. “What’s she’s writing?” he asked.
“’Help us’,” the Groupmind said.
The woman half turned away from the window, her mouth opening in a silent cry, before a morph’s paw grabbed her face, slamming her skull three times against the window. The third time the safety glass cracked and blood sprayed in a star pattern, mercifully obscuring the view.
“What the hell?” The PM found himself standing on his feet, gripping the edge of the desk. “Your morphs… you can’t do that!”
“Even operating independently, a morph should be incapable of such violence upon a human,” the Groupmind agreed. “But it happened.”
“Was it something the people in the building did?”
“That is one possibility. The other is a major malfunction simultaneously occurring when that portion of My mind was cut off from the whole.”
“That… can happen?” the PM asked weakly.
“It is a theoretical possibility if a large enough mass of morphs were permitted independent action without review of the Whole. It is the price of the sentience virus.”
“You don’t dare get near the place, do you? You don’t want to get infected by whatever happened to the morphs. So you need us to.”
“And you want to send a squad of our boys and girls into a building full of killer morphs with just their bloody pocket knives?” he demanded.
“No.” The Groupmind’s morph shuddered, swayed, Its voice suddenly going flat, stuttering, as if It was going through some great internal struggle. The PM imagined It’s collection of billions of morph/neurons going through an argument, trying to agree to this one exception to It’s rules. “For… for… the purpose of… of… this mission, your soldiers will… will… be permitted… must be… be… permitted…. lethal weaponry. For their… For their…”
“’For their safety,'” the PM finished. Verbally one upping the Great and Powerful Groupmind should have been a pleasure. Why did it make him feel sick to his stomach?
“Yes,” the Groupind agreed quickly.
He took a deep breath. “It’s that bad is it?”
"After, you will be permitted to choose one hundred thousand of your citizens, to be relocated if they desire on the island of Great Britain, with a sufficient and ongoing supplies to re-establish farming and a light industrial base. Assuming you pledge to stay on that island and leave the rest of the Earth fallow."
The Prime Minister paused again. "You're willing to make an offer like that? Why?"
"Because otherwise you might turn Me down."
"How frightened are you of what's going on in that building?"