I was eating dinner in the restaurant of the largest casino on Atheni 4. The Atheni system had a well deserved reputation as the classiest, most luxurious, most glamorous casinos in the explored galaxy. Anyone who could afford it made their way here to unwind, relax and see how many credits they could donate to the bottom lines of the casinos. Atheni 4 was the epitome of their efforts to serve the gambling and partying public. Here the beautiful people mingled with the rich and powerful; engaging in the symbiotic dance as old as time. I had spent the last year away from civilization prospecting on several deserted worlds. After so much time alone, I wanted sounds other than my own voice, food I hadn’t cooked myself and some human companionship, preferably female. Atheni 4 was guaranteed to provide the highest quality and broadest selection in all those categories.
The center booth facing the dance floor, the rib thumping beat of the latest popular music synced to an eye watering light show, a great steak with all the trimmings and, a bottle of wine were satisfying the first two wants. Serious eye contact with a beautiful young lady out on the dance floor seemed to be well on the way to satisfying the third want. I was happily fantasizing about my upcoming evening when my view was suddenly interrupted by three individuals; two men and a woman. And, no, the woman was not a good substitute for my potential bed mate out on the dance floor.
“Captain Milo Sapphire, we have a proposition for you,” one of the men said. He was a distinguished gentleman with an air of authority. In contrast, the other man appeared to be a bit less self assured, somewhat fidgety, just plain and ordinary. The woman was a bit matronly, in my opinion. Certainly, she wasn't appealing to me as a potential playmate for the evening, unlike the lovely young lady whose view was now blocked by these three strangers.
As was required, I had registered my Ship as a freighter at the local Star Port when I paid for a berth. I've found that when people were looking for a discreet method of transportation or they were lacking the funds to engage one of the large commercial freighter outfits they frequently sought out Captains of smaller ships hoping to get a better deal. Captains usually lacking ethics, money or both. I was lacking neither.
“Not interested,” I growled around a mouthful of steak as I swallowed.
"You see!" the fidgety one said. "I knew he wouldn't cooperate. We have no common interests with him."
"We have a common interest with Captain Sapphire." The first man said. Rather smugly. "He just doesn't know it yet."
He stood there and waited.
I eyed him, chewing another mouthful of steak, chasing it with a swallow of wine. I knew he was waiting for me to speak first, in response to his provocative statement. Since I knew he knew that, I was waiting for him to get tired of waiting for me to speak. After three more bites, I decided to give him his victory, since he didn't appear to have any pressing engagements elsewhere and until I got rid of the three of them, I wasn't getting any closer to the eyecandy wiggling so deliciously on the dance floor. And I was almost finished with my meal.
"Alright, I'll bite." I said. "What do we have in common?"
"1420." Again with the smug look.
I was really feeling the urge to smack the smug right off his face. But I manfully restrained myself.
"What is 1420?" I asked.
Way off in the back of my mind, an ugly thought raised its head from where it had been sleeping peacefully.
"What kind of measurement?" I asked.
"A Turing Scale measurement."
The ugly thought came to all four feet with a liquid feline grace and started stalking towards the front of my brain. The Turing Scale was a system used by the Mercantile Empire to measure the cognitive level of Artificial Intelligences, especially Sentient Ships, which they produced. It was named after a human mathematician and computer scientist, Alan Turing. He wrote a paper proposing a test to determine if a computer program could be created that could fool a human into thinking he was interacting with another person, not a computer. The Scale was used to identify AI's that were too intelligent and might become a danger to the Empire. Any AI that measured above 1000 was considered an imminent danger and subject to immediate apprehension. It was put into place after the Machine Wars.
"No AI has ever measured above a 970 on the Turing Scale. And it only goes to 1000." I said slowly.
"That used to be correct."
"And now?" I growled
"We have performed multiple tests with three separate methodologies and arrived at a combined average of 1420. Admittedly, our process was rather crude. I suspect, given refinement, the AI in question would score higher on the Scale." He paused for dramatic effect.
"And where have you located such a wondrous AI?" I stared holes at him, hoping he'd spontaneously combust from the weight of my gaze.
"Why Captain Sapphire," he replied, completely at ease, totally unaffected by the power of my gaze, "in our communications with your Ship's AI, of course. Don't tell me you're not completely aware of it's capabilities." he chuckled. "After all, you did name him after Isaac Newton."
That ugly thought was now at the front of my brain, hackles raised, fangs displayed. I felt my face go flat, expressionless, as the monster peeked out through my eyes.
"It seems we do have a common interest after all." I drawled. “Perhaps you should join me so we can discuss things further.”