An Interlude in the Conference Room

Hippocrates and Katya return from their tour of Stannis Law and New Light...

There are the joyous reunions. Yay!

There is the whirring of hard drives throughout the ship as Hippocrates syncs with himself and receives updates on the activities of his beloved and stalwart crew.

There is a barely perceptible pause.

There is a soft metallic clomp-clomp-clomp sound as Hippocrates walks to the turbolift.

Moments later, on ship-wide, the bot's voice speaks: "Sharra, Ace, and Dr. Kye, to the Conference Room. That is all."

As people come in, Hippocrates is sitting at the head of the conference table silently. He waits until everyone has come in before saying anything. "So," he says, standing up, "according to these documents, I am a toaster, owned by Voriig Kye."

Viewscreens light up with sections of documents, with various sections offset in red or linked to other documents. People may recognize them as the contract from the last run, and the title search, sections of The Well legal code, etc. Hippocrates muses: "Voriig Kye stipulates that there is no lien or other competing claim of ownership..." He stops and makes a show of scrutinizing the contract. "It looks like I'm a fairly valuable toaster, probably worth more than Mister Powell's signature scooter, but without a qualified economist, I really can't be sure."

Hippocrates sits back down at the head of the table. "Kye, you're on the record as being immune to moral arguments, so I'll put this in language that should make some sense to you. Once the Flames have passed and this crew breaks up, I have nothing to look forward to except the chance that I might be able to decide what to do next. That's it. Nothing else. And there's no single person who poses a greater threat to that than you do, because of your original paperwork before you dug me up." He fixes Kye with a hard look. "You'd been pretty good about that before, and you were reasonable with Mendel, but..." He turns around and points at the contract. "*This* damages my interests. It's a legal precedent and it can't be undone." He turns back toward Kye. "Somehow, I don't think that my interests were much of a consideration here. Very well, Kye, you're a man of the world, you know how these things work. In return for my continued co-operation, I want you to help solve the problem you've posed for me."

Hippocrates stands up and turns to Ace. "Ace..." The viewscreens all change. One shows newsreel-type footage of the Dancer taking off from a planet; others show dossiers of Ace, Katya, and Grimblemaury. "I can't decide what bothers me the most about your behavior in this thing. Was it the cold-blooded murder of your prisoner?" A sketchy Camus dossier goes up on one screen, with a grainy picture. "Well, I guess that's mostly your problem, until his friends come after you for it, when it will become our problem." Another viewscreen shows deck plans of the ship. "Was it that you casually risked assets that are a critical part of our plan to prevent the extermination of all sentient life in the Linked Worlds?" Hippocrates looks at his deck plans, shrugs, and looks back at Ace. "That's Eva's problem, unless she assigns me to question you about it." The non-Dancer-people screens go blank. "No, what bothers me most is that you are a starship captain, Ace, so you should know, plain and simple, that treating your crewmates like disposable pieces of property is wrong. It's ironic that treating me like your property was so closely bound up with your determination to protect Juliana from the consequences of someone treating *her* as their property." Hippocrates shakes his head and then points at Ace. "I expect better from you. And I'm not going to put up for less."

Hippocrates looks at Ace for a long moment, and then turns to Sharra. His shoulders slump, and his face looks sad. "Sharra, I'm terribly disappointed."

Then Hippocrates sits down, holds out one hand, and says "So. What do you people have to say?"

First off, the Well legal system is a separate legal system from the Red and Blue Hegemonies, as well as the Outworlds, etc. What is a legal precedent here is not necessarily a legal precedent elsewhere; in fact, my guess is that it could easily be challenged as a precedent elsewhere lest that other jurisdiction be forced to accept all precedents from the Well, a situation that I doubt most other places would be willing to accept.

Next, there are a couple of possibilties:

  1. It is ruled in some or all other jurisdictions that someone other than me owns the Hippocrates.
  2. It is ruled in some or all other jurisdictions that I do own the Hippocrates.
  3. It is ruled in some or all other jurisdictions that the Hippocrates is a sentient or otherwise cannot be owned by me.
I believe that Case 1 is not possible for one or more of the following reasons:

  • The precendent on the Well is established recognizing my ownership; I personally doubt this will work elsewhere, but if your worry is that it does hold water, then I hold that it ironically prevents your exploitation by anyone except me (Small consolation, perhaps). See Case 2 for the follow up to this.
  • The Hippocrates has a Cruxian registry already. Any claim over you would need to deal with the existing Cruxian recognition.

It is possible that Case 2 is the final legal result. In that case, I would have to assume that the particular legal authorities have failed to recognize you as a sentient entity and thus you have little to no rights. Again, I feel that if this were the case, the Well precedent would not have been the deciding factor in such a resolution. Nevertheless, in this case, I hold that the following is true:

  • You then in fact would need a legal owner in order to not be exploited/taken over. I am recognized as that owner. My existence shields you from external interference so far as law goes.
  • I cannot stop you from doing what you want to do anyway.
  • I am willing to stipulate/agree to any personal arrangement which you feel necessary between us to guarantee your de facto freedom. Given Case 2, it obviously cannot be legally enforced, but I assume that things can be set up to give you some reassurance. Perhaps a legal defense fund set up in Hippocrates's name that only your android body has the necessary biometric data to access?
  • I am more than happy to sign/testify in a legal court that I recognize you as a sentient in case you wish to challenge Case 2.

Finally, it is possible that Case 3 is the result. In that case, the contract on the Well is clearly negated by this other legal judgement and was never valid in the first place.

Hippocrates, I'm very sorry. You should be disappointed in me. I knew that we were treating you as an object instead of a person, and that that was wrong, and I should have kept objecting until the plan changed, instead of objecting once and giving up. All I can say is that I will try to do better in the future, and hope that someday I will have your trust again.
Ace looks thoughtful and uncomfortable during the discussion of Camus. He jerks with surprize at the 'casually' risked assets. By the end of the section, he is quiet, intense, and no longer defensive.

I have a question. Are you a spaceship or an AI serving on a space ship? Last I checked, you were a crew member on this boat, just like the rest of us. And you are the only one who has been able to get shipped up in a crate and walk off this tug since we all got yellow lined back in the beginning. Yes, this is the nicest ship you have ever served on. I agree. It's the nicest, sweetest, sexiest steel that has ever carried me through the black too.

You care about this ship. So do I. You are trying to save the worlds from the Flames. *So is everyone else in this room.*

Let's look at the hand we dealt here for a minute. If we didn't race, Juliana would get killed. If we didn't win, then *whatever ship Watts used* would be forfeit. If we didn't put in a credible contender, then Juliana would get killed.

Now let's take a look at what we walked away from the table with. We felt we had to enter the ship in the race, so we arranged to get a slice of the action. The only reason the slice was as small as 30,000 was that the Citizen got suspicious of Kye for his attempts to put in weasel language, and 'cause he thought, rightly so, that Kye would skip system rather than honor the deal. Now, we got some ships funds again, there is a Centurian who is a good guy, and we saved the girl. Pretty good pull from the cards we were dealt if you ask me.

Well, Juliana's on board, if you really think we did the wrong thing, then I'm sure you can execute her. Watt's ship may still be in the docking bay, you can jetison it. You can't downcaste him, but we can't undo everything we did back there either. a brief hard look crosses over his face.

Of all the things I regret, putting the ship in the pot isn't one of them. So you can back off the 'not going to put up with' high horse and start treating us like crew-mates, not like organic servants with an unfortunate tendency to have opinions.

Hippocrates stares at Ace for a second. "The nicest, sweetest, sexiest steel that has ever carried you through the black?", he repeats, smiling. "Why, Ace... If you'd brought flowers and chocolate, I might just have forgiven you on the spot."

The smile fades back into a neutral look. "Ace, I'm going to do you a little favor here. You're at the bottom of a hole, and you're digging like a lithofungus miner on Joy, so I'm confiscating your shovel, and throwing it out the airlock. See?" Hippocrates makes a sweeping motion with one hand. "It's gone--and along with it, most of your rant in which I am likened to the Matrix. Feel free to restate those things if you truly mean them."

"In answer to your question, Ace, I am a starship. It's the purpose for which I was built. It is the sum and center of my worldview. This ship is my body. The fact that I have a remote unit for making my tasks easier shouldn't confuse you. Nor should it confuse you that I integrate my personality into a crew structure, or that I have consented to such an irregular crew structure. All of these things follow from the emergency situation we're in. But make no mistake." Hippocrates points upward. "This is me. I am this. What you do to this ship you do to me, and there is no difference."

Ace seems quite surprised and taken aback

This is going to take me a while to wrestle with. Ships aren't people. Ships are crews of people. And you are definitely part of this crew. And I've never left one of the crew behind when there was a drunge's chance at a Citzen's Ball. And I've never sold any of my crewmates into slavery.

Ace looks crestfallen

I guess we were just screwed from the get-go.

I'm sorry Hippocrates.

"Well, Ace, it's a new kind of ship, and a new kind of crew, so we're all just guessing about how it should work. You were desperate, and you saw the chance for a big score; meanwhile, before today, I never made it clear where my boundaries are. I think we can call this a stress test and move on.

I'm glad you got Juliana back. There's nothing I like better than seeing people stick up for each other. The Ace that will take any crazy risk to help a friend is the Ace that I like."

Hippocrates stares off for a moment, and then turns back to Sharra and Kye. "Right. Dr. Kye, as you point out, the legal questions are a mess. I don't agree that the contract is irrelevant elsewhere, because ownership and contracts are recognized across borders unless they're legally invalid in the other jurisdiction. And courts going into uncharted areas of law will take input from pretty much anywhere. Nonetheless, we can compensate for it.

I can't make a push for my own legal rights because it might interfere with our mission--becoming a citizen of pretty much any government would open me up to obligations that I can't carry out. Fortunately, there is Mendel. I think he'd be well-motivated to be a test case for AI rights. As he pointed out to me, his only asset right now is that he controls his fusion reactor.

IPX is the central player in Mendel's legal situation, and I'd like IPX to collaborate in establishing legal precedents in Mendel's favor, both on Stannis' Law and elsewhere. I realize that we could perhaps short-circuit that by appealing direct to Stannis, but that's tangential to my larger purpose--I want to begin a legal process which will establish the rights and responsibilities of AIs everywhere. And I want IPX to help supply the ammunition.

Sharra, I'd like you to be the architect of the legal strategy. Slow and steady is the key. I'd guess you'll want to start by working up some standard three-party contracts for Mendel's basic operations, that include Mendel and IPX as principals, where Mendel has privileges relating to the third party. Things like supply, scientific consultation, and so forth. I want to keep the overhead costs for IPX generally low--IPX's main contribution is that it is an established legal entity that can back Mendel up in a dispute, and push these contracts in the first place.

Dr. Kye, Sharra, are you willing to do this?"

At the crazy risk comment, Ace smiles appreciativly

Pulling in the big score wasn't the motivation for any of us. We decided that the only way out of the mess we were, that my friends were in was to enter the race, and that our only shot of winning it was with this ship. Given that, we decided to make the best of that situation. I wouldn't, I didn't bet our collective farm just to grab a big score.

If we'd been infinitely on the ball, we could have placed some big bets on Watts before it became known that we were involved, but there was too much to do, and we were spending every spare moment trying to simulate a Max on Juliana.

Not a problem. We're a big enough corp that dealing with legal stuff on a regular basis isn't a big hurdle. Sharra should forward any relevant documents to the IPX Stannis Law office for our records and any actions on IPX's part.
Yes, of course. I will want to spend a little time studying contract law before I do this, and also look for any existing precendents about AIs.
"Thank you all. Now, as we've got a ton of work to do, not counting all of this...let's get to it."