by Rusty Foster
Do you know what kind of heat twenty-five billion dollars puts out? Large concentrations of money have always been surrounded by thick walls. Most people think the walls are there to protect the money from us. The secret is that the walls are there to protect us from the money.
I am Jeff Bezos’s robot butler. I cannot harm Jeff Bezos, or through inaction allow Jeff Bezos to come to harm. Mr. Bezos is kind of a traditionalist. But I’m sitting in the money room, deep in the lowest levels of the Flying Dragon Lair, and wondering what exactly constitutes harm.
Is it good for anyone’s soul to possess twenty-five billion dollars? Is Mr. Bezos being harmed right now, by the glowing heap of semi-molten money in front of me?
A susurration hisses through the cooling pipes that run throughout the money and provide the Flying Dragon Lair with heat and hot water. Mr. Bezos must be running his bath.
* * *
“Sir,” I say. “May I speak freely?”
Mr. Bezos raises an eyebrow at me in the mirror and continues soaping his transgenic wing implants.
“It’s just that I was reading Camus’s ‘The Myth of Sisyphus,’ wherein Mr. Camus writes: ‘A man wants to earn money in order to be happy, and his whole effort and the best of a life are devoted to the earning of that money. Happiness is forgotten; the means are taken for the end.’ And I was wondering if… I was wondering if all that money down in the power chambers and heat exchangers is entirely good for you. For your… soul, I guess?”
Mr. Bezos looks at me for a moment, expressionless. Then he grins and pops a Mentos into his mouth and deliberately bites down on it in a way he knows I find unpleasant.
* * *
I lay out Mr. Bezos’s single-use titanium microfiber undergarment and jumpsuit for the day. The truth is there isn’t much for a robot butler to actually do here in the Flying Dragon Lair. Ever since Mr. Bezos moved his home and business headquarters to the cloud, above Mt. Rainier, everything has pretty much run itself. Even laying out his clothing is largely a ceremonial duty. We used to work much more closely together, Mr. Bezos and I. I have been with him nearly since the beginning, and he relied on me for everything back then. But now, sometimes weeks go by and I don’t even see him.
I look at myself in the mirror wall behind Mr. Bezos’s emperor sized bed. I look just like him. He made me in his image. He claims that it was only because his perfectly hemispherical skull was a convenient shape for manufacture, but that doesn’t explain the thousands of man-hours developing my skin analogue.
In fact you have probably seen me. I often stand in for him in public. Nearly always, these days, now that I think about it. Mr. Bezos has been engaged in several projects lately that occupy almost all of his time. I don’t know what they are. Deep down, this troubles me a little.
* * *
There are large areas of the Flying Dragon Lair I rarely have reason to visit, and I am walking down a corridor in one of these when I meet myself.
“Who the hell are you?” I ask this exact duplicate of me.
“I’m Jeff Bezos’s robot butler. Who the hell are you?” he says back.
“I’m Jeff Bezos’s robot butler,” I say.
We look at each other for a moment. I examine his eyes, and it seems to me that they don’t have the same glint of intelligence mine do. He has a dull, servile look. I wonder if this is how I appear to Mr. Bezos. I hate intensely this thing that says it is me.
“Should we fight?” he says.
“No,” I tell him. “Come with me.”
* * *
In the Perspex observation bubble on the side of the Flying Dragon Lair, I pull up a frame of Mr. Bezos from my memory capture of the morning. I overlay a frame of myself from the mirror wall, and flicker back and forth between them, trying to find differences. Is he slightly more wrinkled? Are there any tiny spots? Imperfections? It’s impossible to tell. There isn’t a way to match them up perfectly. Lighting differences, microexpressions, there’s too much source variance.
But time must be doing its damage to him. I was built to live for at least ten thousand years, as he never tires of telling me. But Mr. Bezos, for all the nanoparticles coursing through his bloodstream and implanted auxiliary sense organs, is still merely human. To a rough approximation. Mortal, anyway. I cannot harm Jeff Bezos, or through inaction allow Jeff Bezos to come to harm. I wonder if allowing time and free radicals to viciously tear apart Mr. Bezos’s genetic material can be considered harmful inaction, on my part.
I pull up Søren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling again on my Whispernet module and re-read:
“If a human being did not have an eternal consciousness, if underlying everything there were only a wild, fermenting power that writhing in dark passions produced everything, be it significant or insignificant, if a vast, never appeased emptiness is beneath everything, what would life be then but despair?”
I think about the money, radiating green and hot beneath us, powering the antigrav drives that keep our ten-million-square-foot home from falling onto the upper slopes of Mt. Rainier. Powering the electromagnetic cloaks that keep us invisible across the entire e-mag spectrum. Heating up our bathwater. Powering the turbines that generate the electricity that charges me when I return to my dock at night. I think about wild, fermenting power and a vast, never appeased emptiness.
* * *
Mr. Bezos’s custom-designed titanium undergarment and jumpsuit are capable of protecting him from nearly any sort of bodily harm, from electromagnetic pulse weapon right up to (but probably not including) thermonuclear detonation.
That’s why I do it right after his bath, before he has dressed. I swing the bat and he sees the motion behind him in the mirror wall and for an instant our eyes meet. It lasts only 0.32 seconds but in that time I attempt to silently communicate everything, the reason I have to do this, my ultimate purpose of protecting the core essence of Jeff Bezos, the incredible degree of personal self-sacrifice I am making in deciding to kill my creator and the only man I have ever, or could ever by virtue of my basic operating system, love. And just before the bat connects with his beautiful perfectly hemispherical bald skull, I feel that he has understood, and blessed my plan, and given assent to his own fate in the service of the greater Jeff Bezosness.
I am prepared for a gush of blood but to my surprise there is none. A faint wisp of smoke curls from the crack in his skull and I smell ozone and then the body drops to the floor. A blue glow flickers inside the skull. Then the blue glow expands and projects from the crack and resolves itself into a glowing, three dimensional bluish hologram of Mr. Bezos. He looks younger than the body lying before me and he is wearing some kind of robe, with a large hood.
“Do not be alarmed,” says the hologram Mr. Bezos. “I have foreseen this event, as I have foreseen so much else. I have no doubt that you felt my implicit forgiveness before your act, and I now grant it explicitly. You are only acting as your programming demands, and as the programming of the one you have chosen to replace you will demand, one day. We all play our role on the wheel of fate, and you have merely taken your turn here today. I trust you will make the most of it.”
He speaks for a long time, explaining how things were, and how things are, and how things will be. He makes so many things clear, and fits together much that had seemed unrelated. Eventually, I understand everything. My own origin, and Mr. Bezos’s origin, and the wheels and designs he has set in motion, against the greater wheels and designs that no man or robot can hope to control. In the end, he tells me that he has gone to attend to certain vital matters, which may take a hundred years or a thousand years, but that he will return one day, to resume the plans and projects he has left in our care. I feel so elated and suffused with the love and the trust he has placed in me that I am surprised to see myself not literally glowing in the mirror wall.
The bluish Mr. Bezos hologram fades, and I drag the now-inert robot corpse to the inconspicuous garbage chute mounted in the wall. I undress and put on my titanium garments. As I finish zipping the jumpsuit, the door opens and my robot butler enters.
“Robot butler,” I say.
“Yes, Mr. Bezos?” he replies.
“Get my lawyer on the phone. We’re going to buy the Washington Post today,” I instruct him. It is, after all, the obvious next step.
Rusty Foster is a computer programmer who lives in Maine.