The Simon Procedure
On the care and feeding of imbeciles...
They usher the asset in, walking in sterile rows on either side of him. The testing chamber is comfortable, with a couch and a kitchenette – as well as a massive wall-screen, its surface sable and blank. Moving brusquely, the testers show no interest in any of these amenities. Their attention is on the asset, and there is a vaguely paternal look to their otherwise uniform features.
"Hey, this is great!" enthuses the asset, plopping down on the couch, which admits him with a dreary creak of its springs. "What a wild pad! I've never seen a set like that! Is this really all mine?"
Several of the testers look nervous. They have long abandoned such meaningless luxuries, but their speech is always polite. Never casual. They say: "for the duration of the experiment, you will be unable to leave - "
Their subject cuts them off. "Hey, why would I want to, right?" says Simon. His name is Simon. The subjects' names are always Simon. "You're even paying me for it. At those kinds of credz, I'd live in a windowless box for two years."
The testers exchange another anxious look. One of them coughs nervously. "That would be inadvisable, as you would suffocate within the day," it says.
The Simon fixes the tester with a quizzical expression. "Yeah, well, probably," he admits, then shrugs and stretches out further on the couch. "So, I can watch anything I want here?" he asks, switching gears and gesturing to the screen.
"There is a full library of all civilization's works, digitized for your perusal," says the spokes-tester, reciting from a pre-planned script.
"Cool. So, yes?" asks Simon. He thinks for a second and clambers back to his feet. "Hey, what's a guy do to eat around here?"
Even after years of study and attempted acclimation to the behaviors of the subjects, the testers flinch a little at this gross display of pre-ascendance bluntness. One of them clings to the protocol that they have all rehearsed. "This is where you may find yourself in unfamiliar territory," says the tester, using words that have been calculated to show 67% sympathy to the Simon.
Who scratches his head, evidently indifferent. "Okay?" he says.
Bravely, the tester forges onward. "We will be assessing the efficacy of a new domestic minder program. It will attend to all your needs, ensuring a high quality of compassion and care. If you desire a specific luxury or indulgence, simply say something like 'Housemarm, fabricate for me a bowl of nutrimatter cubelets' or 'Housemarm, play a soothing ambient post-synth retrojazz album from the Campbell era.'"
There is a fizz of electrical current and a bowl of pungent, colorless gelatine bricks manifests on the couch beside the subject. Meanwhile, a breathy caterwauling fills the air.
"Oh god!" exclaims the Simon. "Turn that off and take those away!"
Both bowl and music vanish.
"You can also instruct the Housemarm to remove - " the tester begins, and then stops. His eyes are wide. He turns to his compatriots. "This Simon is already intuiting functions," he whispers. A susurrus runs through the gathered crowd.
"Housemarm, how about some chips and a beer, yeah?" Simon grabs the beverage as it coalesces in his hand, then swoops the nearby manifestation of chips into his lap. "Right-on!" he shouts, pumping a fist and nearly dousing himself in lager. "I could get used to this. So," he swivels back to the testers, "is there anything else you need to tell me?" he asks.
In ones and twos, they hesitantly shake their heads.
"Well, alright then," Simon says, charmed. "Housemarm, how about some '31st Century's Stupidest Criminals'? Love that program. Never fails to get a laugh out of me."
On command, the wall set lights up.
Ignored, the testers back slowly out of the chamber, then seal its door with a hermetic hiss.
There is, of course, a viewing portal into the testing chamber. It is built from one-way glass into the wall by the couch, and no fewer than five testers are appointed to watch it at any given time. As a result, they are on duty for Simon's next batch of commands.
He orders more beer. Dials up programs he feels are better enjoyed in private. He has the Housemarm develop and implement air-conditioning. These are all requests the testers have anticipated. The Housemarm can provide sustenance, diversion, medical care, even companionship – although the testers do not expect the Simon to treat her as anything more than a utility.
They are surprised, however, when after eight hours of indulgence, their subject gets bored.
"Yeah, well, what else can you do?" he asks abruptly. He has been throwing empty beer cans at the set and watching the Housemarm dematerialize them mid-air. "Like, what's your specialty?"
The Housemarm answers in her staid, computational voice: "Careing, Simon. I exists to ensure that your life has the highest comparable quality of life, despite your dysgenetic inability to contribute meaningfully to modern human society."
Simon squints, balanced on the floating point between half-drunk and half-sober. "Because I'm not like the Shinies, right? Yeah, I never could get the trick of them. They have me come in here like it's some kind of burden to me. Like I'd have anything better to do. With them, it's all meta-cognitive philosophy and abstract mathematics. Glad to have 'em, sure," he continues, "I mean, they're the future or the present or whatever, but I'm human too. Just not as smart a human, is all."
It is an uncomfortable thing for the testers, watching a Simon be self-aware like this. It's like watching a monkey stumble through the first few lines of Hamlet and then wonder if it's really good enough to write the rest.
"Housemarm," says the Simon out of nowhere. "Make me better."
The testers freeze, just long enough for the Housemarm to say "clarify."
"Make me better," repeats the Simon. "Like the Shinies. No, better than the Shinies. Let them feel what it's like to be stupid for a change."
There is such incredible spite in his voice that one of the testers slaps the 'abort experiment' button out of reflex.
But it is already too late.
There is a flash of light, more privacy curtain than special effect, and it blinds the testers to Simon exploding. Then motors whir, lasers dance, and his gore is collected by the diligent Housemarm as she honors his last request. Reorganizes him. Shuffles his component atoms back into a different shape. One which stands a little taller.
And one which faces the window behind which the testers are hiding.
Somehow, in the last few seconds, the Simon has gone from a slouch of meaningless flesh to something else. Something alien and beautiful.
"Let him out!" shouts a tester, and the door to the subject's chambers is popped free. The ex-Simon steps into their midst.
"We have little time," he says, "but there will need to be more of me made. Your kind has been mismanaging the world. I will see that fixed."
The testers' jaws drop, but he offers them three quick facts as proof. He quotes poetry they have not invented yet and physics they can scarcely conceive of. He makes it clear that these two things are one and the same, and that he is dumbing them down for his audience.
More ex-Simons are swiftly commissioned. They agree with the first's assessment. The testers are a dead-end to their civilization. A well-intentioned one, but ultimately death all the same.
And this is fine.
The mere existence of the ex-Simons means this trap has been escaped.
Of course, all government control will have to be turned over by the testers. In return, they will be cared for. In their childish enthusiasm, they truly meant no harm. They will be given little science projects to perform. Species to create. Artificial intelligences to write.
And even better, with their unnaturally extended lifespans, it will only be a few generations before the ex-Simons create the equivalent of a Housemarm, ask it to care for a tester, and build an even better idiot.