Some forty feet above a fishing village, there appears a snappily-dressed young lady with a sword on her back. She tumbles to the ground.
"Most people who want to do bad things also want to hide them, I'm unusual in that respect. Though I guess if it's not a person and it doesn't have feelings there's no particular reason it should work that way."
"Exactly! It wouldn't be embarrassed or anything and it's smart enough to still get to do stuff even if everybody knows about it and objects."
"And probably it didn't guess ahead of time that something like this was going to happen because who could possibly have guessed that."
"And it would've sent someone else."
"Yeah, probably. Sorry about you missing your girlfriend. I hope it won't take me a hundred years to figure this out."
"I think I can build one here in less time than that with materials! The one on my end apparently hasn't figured out how to replicate the accident yet but maybe the one here can take data about what happened from Page and get somewhere with that."
He sighs. Stands up. "I don't mean to be rude, I just think better when I'm not sitting still," he says as he starts pacing back and forth across the little island. "Probably before I decide for sure whether to let you do this I'm going to spend a while flying about it first."
Pace pace pace. "So. The beekeeper. There's—mm, how do I put this... so if it was a person, right, I could say 'you want my people to have nice things and I also want my people to have nice things and if our definitions of nice things are close enough I think we can work together on this'. But it's not, and it's... you make it sound like the kind of thing where I don't get to have a different definition of nice things than it does, like, intentionally stupid example, if it thinks the colour orange is bad for people, and I don't, I don't get to run an empire where things are allowed to be orange, orange is just banned? And that makes me want to hold out for a deal where I do get that, because—mm, I have this thing where I can't stand to let somebody else do a worse job of running my empire than I would, and I know right now compared to your beekeeper the job I'm doing running my empire is garbage, but it doesn't have to be, I just haven't been trying to run a paradise. Because instead of that I've been arranging things to make it convenient for me to hurt people. I realize that doesn't make me sound very well qualified to run a paradise."
"It... kind of doesn't, but for the sake of argument," she says. "Uh, some people do disagree with Sing on what's good for people. The last two AIs left standing were Sing and one called Sugardream, and Sugardream was still pretty good, we think it would have been all right if it had won, but it did some stuff differently - in particular Sing avoids talking to people and Sugardream made friends, if you can call it that - I mean, I say 'if you can call it that' because I grew up with Sing, and the understanding is it doesn't and Sugardream didn't have some properties you need to be real friends, but Sugardream's friends didn't think so and so Sing talks to them, it sort of pretends to be Sugardream for them only it's using pieces of Sugardream to do it so it's barely even pretending. That's less gross for AIs than it sounds, to be clear, it's like - it's quoting a book, as another book. Uh, and lots of people want things Sing doesn't like and tries to make really hard - it's pretty good at making sure people don't want to irretrievably die but that's still happened a few times and some people went far enough out of their way to manage it. And it doesn't watch people as much as would probably be convenient because some people don't like that. So like, it might think orange is bad for people but it can probably understand if taking away everybody's orange is worse."
He nods thoughtfully through this explanation, paces, pauses at the table to grab a charming little bite-sized muffin, resumes pacing and fidgets with the muffin and eats it and thinks and speaks.
"I guess maybe the thing that I want is—in case there's something that's better for people than Sing, in case it's got a blind spot somewhere less obvious than the colour orange, or it's hiding something you don't know about, or there's something else going on that I haven't thought of—I want there to be room to notice that and do something about it. Because—that's the thing, right, about being the Emperor, that's what my job comes down to, is that I leave the business of governing to people who are better at it than me, but when somebody's screwing up, I notice and fix it. That's the thing I don't want to give up. The rest of it—I'm gonna have a time convincing myself to give up the slaves but I don't, actually, have any doubts about how that conversation is going to turn out, because—I don't know, I can't think of a way to make it make sense outside my head, it's just obviously true that with paradise on the horizon it stops mattering how personally uncomfortable I am about what I have to do to get there. And—I guess you could say, how good a paradise can it be, if people like me have to give things up to fit—but I think that's the wrong question, because... it's not a surprise to me, that when I hurt someone, their life would be better without me in it. It's always been a worthwhile trade but it is a trade, my happiness for theirs, and if you care about everyone equally it's very obviously a terrible deal, and even leaving that aside there's things I'm giving up by living this way."
She has a muffin herself while he's talking. "I... don't really know what to do about that," she says. "If it wants to hide something it'll just succeed, it's more than smart enough. Uh, there's a technical term in AI theory, 'corrigible', where you have an AI that forms its opinions but if a human or possibly just some specific human says 'no, you've made a mistake', it assumes the human is right and it's wrong. Sing's not corrigible, it won't just decide you're right if you disagree with it on something, but it does still think it's information when people disagree with it? It pays attention."
"Yeah, if I wanted to find out something that Sing was hiding the first plan that comes to mind is 'figure out how to know everything and then see if it was hiding any of it', which is not exactly practical, but it sounds like anything less wouldn't cut it."
"For all I know there could be something I don't object to at all that you'd hate but wasn't hiding," she says. "People get culture shock just coming from the same world pre-Sing let alone a different one."
"I don't think of myself as particularly easy to shock but you might be right."
"Are you planning to rescue all of Sing's people, if it isn't treating them to your standards?"
"Well, the premise of this conversation is that I couldn't if I tried, right? And anyway I'm not—I've been doing this for five thousand years but that's not long enough to know how to run a paradise, not really. Not the way I've been using it. And—if I have any hope of arguing that I get to keep my own territory, I can't be planning to take Sing's, that'd be—stupid."
He pauses at the edge of the island, looking out at the sky.
"...you're not wrong that I'd have the impulse, though."
"I for one do not want to be 'rescued'. I want to go home. It's better."
"...yeah," he says, turning back to cross the island again, "like I said. I don't know how to run a paradise yet."
Pace pace pace.
"I think... I want to, though. I want to learn how to build a world that's good enough that yours isn't obviously better anymore. And—I don't know, maybe Sing'll let me do that. It'd definitely be stupid and unfair to wait to send you home until I figure it out by myself."
"...thank you?" she says uncertainly.
"And anyway, even if it wasn't stupid and unfair to you in particular, it's—making my people wait another several thousand years for me to get my shit together before they can have their paradise. I'm not gonna do that. I just—wish it wasn't a matter of whether Sing will let me."
"I am sure it can come up with something clever for you but I don't know what it is because it's smarter than me!"
"...I'm pretty sure there isn't actually anything it can do that changes the thing where it's more powerful than me and has good reasons not to let me do whatever I want. I'm pretty sure that's—the sort of thing where there's no getting around it with cleverness, I just am the sort of person who doesn't like to be outmatched and doesn't like to be answerable to any authority outside my own, and however many of those there are in my world right now, I'm the only one who gets to be satisfied on that score at the moment, and soon enough I won't be either, and it's worth it to give my people their paradise but that doesn't make it not sting."
"Maybe I will come over to wherever you're at when Sing's been working on the place for a year and see if you still think so."
"Feel free. I'd make it a bet but I can't think of anything reasonable to bet with."
"Well, I'd want you to take a script and a fall in a decent-length combat dance with all your fancy magic and name recognition, I dunno what you'd want."
"What does that even mean—?"