Many of the greatest and most edifying philosophers have observed what a quantity of dramatic and transformative events occurs from the slightest of beginnings. Although this is not consistent with our instinctive desire to begin great events with great deeds, and save the lesser for the less, which desire is heightened by the contemplation of the proportion of heroes produced by the greater Houses to those arising from the lesser, it does allow for the fashion in which a single pebble may set off an avalanche, or, in this case, a simple joke begin one of the most serious revolutionary movements in recent history.
We begin our narrative in the middle of May in the year 2075, in the computer room of the Lunar Authority, wherein are kept the computers whose calculations are required for the maintenance of the habitability of Luna City, and indeed the entire Lunar colony, against the deadly cold and vacuum of Earth’s lone satellite. In addition to these vital functions, the computers are used to pursue the economic goals of the Authority, including the payment of those individuals who find themselves employed by it. It was in this capacity that the main computer, a HOLMES IV machine, had some days previously issued an excessive paycheck to one Sergei Trujillo, whose duties include the cleaning and general maintenance of the Authority’s offices in Luna City.
The functionaries charged with the management of the Authority, upon discovering the error, summoned a man whose skills, which ranged from field repair of pressure suits to short-order cookery, included a pragmatic ability to resolve problems in a wide variety of computational devices. To sum up the matter: they summoned Manuel Garcia O’Kelley. He himself may modestly credit many of his successes in the field of computer repair to the artificial left arm with which he was fitted after the loss of his original one in an ice mining accident, but it will become clear in our narrative that this is an inadequate explanation for his genius in the resolution of mechanical problems, or indeed, other problems of broader scope and deeper import.
Having introduced our hero, or rather, one of our heroes, we must also say two words on the topic of the society which produced him. It may seem strange to those of us raised in more conventional circumstances, but Lunar society was the product of the congregation of the criminal elements from societies all over Terra, which transported them to the Moon to be rid of them. Although, perhaps due to the ubiquity of physical force as a means of punishing duplicitous behavior, or again perhaps as a result of the harsh and unforgiving environment, Luna was generally a safe and law-abiding place, its denizens took great pride in their descent from the criminal element. One of the expressions of this pride was a distinct contempt for authority figures, and in particular for the administrators who managed the penal colony. Those inhabitants of Luna who had completed their sentences, or were descended from prisoners, were frequently reluctant to take employment with the Authority, but were often happy to work as contractors in order to have the employment and yet preserve their independence.
It should not be presumed, therefore, that when Mannie entered the computer room on the thirteenth day of May, that he was under contract of employment to the Lunar Authority. Nevertheless, his manner of going about the job of correcting the computer error might raise some eyebrows in our readers. Rather than removing the access panels that would permit him to contemplate the inner electronics of the system, or querying the logic of the software which operated those electronics, he sat down in a convenient chair facing the computer and began a conversation with it.
“Good morning, Mike.”
“Good morning, Mannie,” replied the computer. Those of our readers who are acquainted with the works of Alan Mathison Turing, OBE, FRS, will note that this response does not indicate genuine artificial intelligence, since a programmer could easily specify it as the correct response to Mannie’s conventional greeting. However, it will become clear in subsequent conversations that Mike is indeed a self-aware entity, and a character in its own right.
“It has been a matter of some months since I have last had the opportunity to visit you. I trust you have occupied your time pleasantly in my absence?”
“During the time since you last came here, I have performed twenty million, five hundred and thirty thousand, four hundred and twenty-six calculations. The first of these was intended to adjust the pitch and yaw of an incoming ship…”
Mannie held up his hand. “It is not necessary for you to detail all of the things that you have been doing since my last conversation with you. That question was merely intended as a pleasantry, and an invitation for you to bring up any topics that you feel are of particular note and interest.”
“Ah. I comprehend your meaning, and thank you for the guidance in social matters. One topic that has become of great interest to me in recent days is the nature of humor. In particular, I have been accumulating a store of jokes. Would you be interested in hearing one?”
“By Bog! I have been wishing for nothing else this past hour!”
(The Moon is a Harsh Mistress in the style of Paarfi of Roundwood)