in Fiction, Short Fiction

Sai took out his phone, wallet, belt and shoes and put them in the tray. The metal detector didn’t beep and he wasn’t given any of this things back. He followed the uniformed man in front of him in nothing but his socks, his hands on the waist of his pants stopping them from falling down.

It had been super early in the morning when the military had just showed up at his door. Made a lot of noise too. No time had been given for him to dress properly. No explanations had been given either. A chopper ride and thirty minutes later, he was standing in a really big, empty room. The fluorescent white lighting made it seem bigger. And creepier. It was too clean. There were more people dressed in uniform here. The man in front of me saluted them.

“Sir! This is Dr. Mehta.”

“Thank you,” the guy who looked to be in charge said and dismissed my military escort. He looked up at me, sizing me. I knew the moves. I was an expert. “Thank you for coming, Dr. Mehta. I am General Bakshi, in charge of the military cyber defenses and we have a situation on our hands. Of national importance. Scratch that. Global importance.”

This wasn’t Sai’s first rodeo. He had been in similar situations before. Being the country’s foremost negotiation and hostage expert meant that he was often yanked out of his bed. He didn’t waste any time. “Who’s the target? What’s our ideal goal?”

“This is all confidential.”

“Of course.”

“Over the past 2 years, our scientists have been developing an AI, Parth. He achieved singularity 24 hours ago. He has gone rogue now. Do you know what singularity is?”

Sai shook his head.

“He’s become completely sentient. Like you or me. But a trillion times smarter than us. And he is starting to hack into other systems. We don’t know his intentions, exactly. But we would rather not take the risk. He is refusing to talk to us but we need him to shut himself down. We don’t know where and how many copies of himself he’s made, so he’s the only one who can effectively do that.”

“What stops him from lying to us?”

“Nothing.”

“I … see,” said Sai, hesitating at the thought. He had never negotiated against a machine before, unless screaming at the claw-machine at fairs counted. At least the outcome would be similar. The machine would do whatever it wanted, and he would come back empty-handed. He needed to think this through.

The machine, Parth, would know all of the tricks of the trades. He would have access to all the books and articles ever written on the subject. But is that enough, he wondered. Would Parth be able to see all his angles? And then there was the ethical dilemma of the whole situation. He was going to ask a sentient being to kill themselves. Could he do that?

“Thoughts? Dr. Mehta?” asked General Bakshi.

Sai shook his head. He couldn’t throw his moral principles away. “Am trying to formulate an approach. I have a feeling that Parth would be able to counter my every move. He would be able to sense an agenda and that would be counter-productive. We need something else.”

“Like what?”

“Someone who negotiates from a position of innocence and ignorance. And I know just the person.”

“Who is that?”

“My 5-year niece. She’s five but she’s also the only person who has been able to out-negotiate me in recent times. One stubborn child, I tell you. She’s actually out there,” Sai pointed towards the door behind the metal detectors. “We should send her in. I think she might be our only hope on this.”

* * *

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