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Five-Minute "The Quality of Life"

by Marc Richard

Worf: I see your ten and raise you another hundred.
La Forge: You're bluffing. The chances of your cards being that good are even worse than the chances we'd ever agree to serve on another ship beside the Enterprise-D.
Crusher: And that's about as likely to happen as me ever becoming a blonde.
Riker: Or me ever shaving off my beard.
Worf: Would the three of you care to make a small side bet on any of that?
Riker: You're on.

Captain's Log: We have arrived at Tyrus VIIA to evaluate an experimental particle fountain being developed to extract minerals from a planetary surface and lift them into orbit. Since the minerals are then to be sold to buyers on the surface and shipped back down on freighters, Starfleet has expressed some skepticism about the economic rationale for this project.

Dr. Farallon: Oh no! The station core is overloading!
La Forge: We have to shut down the particle fountain right away!
Farallon: No! We can repair it using this exocomp. It's a radical new kind of miniature maintenance robot that I've been working on.
La Forge: Doctor, you've already got your hands full with the particle fountain. You shouldn't be developing another type of experimental technology at the same time -- no matter how adorable this robot looks.
Farallon: I'm just covering all my bases. If the exocomps don't prove suitable for engineering applications, I figure I can always market them as really nifty children's toys.

Data: Intriguing. Your robot uses artificial intelligence to analyze each repair problem, so that its micro-replicator can then produce whatever tool it needs for the job.
Farallon: That's right. It antigravs allow it to fly to wherever it's needed, and because it has heuristic circuit pathways it becomes smarter with each new task it performs.
La Forge: What about these little arm-like parts waving on the sides? What do they do?
Farallon: They just look cute, that's all. The kids will love them.

Farallon: This exocomp must be malfunctioning...it left the access tunnel before it finished sealing the plasma conduit.
Access Tunnel: KER-BLAM!
Data: We are fortunate that it did so. There must have been an undetected microfracture in the conduit wall. Had the exocomp stayed inside it would have been destroyed.
Farallon: Quiet please, Mr. Data. I'm trying to figure out what's wrong with this stupid gadget.

La Forge: According to this scanner image, the exocomp seems to have formed several new blocks of heuristic pathways.
Farallon: I've seen it happen before on other units. Their circuits sometimes become randomly corrupted and they refuse to do any more work.
Data: One of these blocks is particularly intriguing. It appears to contain the text of a grievance complaining about unfair labour practices.
Farallon: I've seen that happen too. Once a unit is this badly broken, its tool replicator refuses to create anything except miniature picket signs.

Data: Doctor, what is the meaning of life?
Crusher: Well, some people claim that we're just simply spiraling coils of replicating DNA, while others....
Data: Allow me to rephrase my question. Suppose you were to call a replicator an overgrown toaster and that, as a result, it never forgave you....
Crusher: ...would this be enough for the replicator to qualify as a sentient being -- is that what you're asking?
Data: No, I am wondering how the toaster is supposed to feel about this insult.
Crusher: Data, toasters don't have feelings.
Data: Would you be offended if I requested a second opinion from Captain Louvois?

Data: I believe the exocomps are alive. They refuse to work in hazardous environments because they understand the concept of self-preservation.
Farallon: That's absurd! They're nothing more than tools!
Picard: Is there a way we could test Mr. Data's hypothesis?
La Forge: Yes, sir. We could see how an exocomp reacts when its survival is threatened.
Farallon: That's easy to arrange. Just let me get my hands on one of those malfunctioning little twerps and I'll....
La Forge: I was thinking more along the lines of a simulated threat.

Data: Captain, we have sent an exocomp to do some minor work inside this Jefferies tube, in which we are now going to simulate an imminent plasma breach.
La Forge: If the exocomp leaves the tube in the next sixty seconds, we'll know for sure that Number Five is alive.
Farallon: I only built three exocomps, Commander. Where do you get the number fi--
La Forge: It's just a figure of speech, Doctor. Drop by on movie night later this week and I'll explain.

Data: Three...two...one...zero.
(The exocomp stays in the tube)
Farallon: (triumphantly) YES! I've done it! You all thought that I was mad, but now I've shown you! Look at my creation! It's not alive! IT'S NOT ALIVE! HA-HA!
La Forge: Speaking of movies, Doc, I bet Victor Frankenstein would have had a hell of a time figuring you out.

Farallon: This test conclusively proved that the exocomp was too dumb to realize that it was in danger.
Data: I have a competing hypothesis. Perhaps the exocomp was too smart to be fooled into thinking that it was in danger.
Farallon: I strongly disagree! Your theory goes against the fundamental principle on which I based the entire exocomp design!
Picard: What fundamental principle?
Farallon: That as long as you look good, you don't need brains to be successful in life.

Farallon: Now that we've settled this silly business with the exocomps, would you and Commander La Forge like to go see the particle fountain up close?
Picard: I'm worried about all the problems you've had with it. Would a visit to your space station be safe?
Farallon: Of course it would. If I was right about the exocomps, then surely I'm right about this.

Riker: There's been a malfunction on your station! The Captain and La Forge are trapped on it, the radiation levels are rising and the interference is preventing us from beaming them out!
Farallon: The solution would be to disrupt the particle fountain. Let's beam the exocomps into the particle stream, trigger an overload in their power cells and blow them up!
Data: Commander, you cannot permit this. It would be immoral to turn sentient beings into suicide bombers.
Farallon: Nonsense. I don't regard the exocomps as sentient and they wouldn't be committing suicide because I'm the one who'd be exploding them by remote control!
Data: For an android who lacks emotion, I find myself remarkably disturbed by your line of reasoning.

Data: I have locked out the transporter controls. The exocomps must not be sacrificed in this manner, even to save the Captain's life.
Riker: Is this how you repay Captain Picard for defending your rights as a sentient being?
Data: Precisely my point, sir. He is the one single person in the universe who would understand and support the action I have just taken.
Riker: And where does Geordi fit into that argument?
Data: Um...good question.

Riker: Would you be satisfied if we gave the exocomps a free choice to volunteer for this mission?
Data: Yes, but I am sure they will shut themselves down rather than accepting to be destroyed.
Riker: Perhaps not. If they're as smart as you think, maybe they'll understand the concept of a noble self-sacrifice willingly made to save the life of a fellow intelligent life-form.
Data: What if they do not?
Riker: Then we go back to Plan A, even if it means that I have to personally throw them into the particle fountain from the nearest airlock!

Data: The exocomps are ready to beam over. They have agreed to go on this mission.
Riker: Even at the cost of their lives? Score one for sentient altruism.
Farallon: No, score one for mindless obedience.
Data: Actually, they have proposed an imaginative way to rescue the Captain and Geordi without sacrificing themselves.
Riker: That would be one point for ingenuity.
Farallon: More like one point for cowardice.
Transporter Chief Kelso: Sir, I hate to interrupt your score-keeping, but could someone please give me the order to energize?

Kelso: They did it! I've got a lock on the Captain and the Commander!
(Picard and La Forge materialize)
Riker: Good. Now transport the exocomps back over here before the radiation fries them.
Kelso: Right away. Oops...sorry, sir, I only got two.
La Forge: The exocomps teamed up to stabilize the particle surge. One of them must have stayed behind and taken the whole load to let the other two get away safely.
Picard: A remarkable case of altruistic behaviour. I would consider that a point for....
Farallon: Oh, be quiet.

Farallon: I'd like to apologize for my earlier obtuseness. I now accept that the exocomps are alive and sentient.
Data: Thank you. Since you can no longer sell them as toys, and since the particle fountain has proved to be a failure, what will you now do with your career?
Farallon: I've decided to found an institute that will help the exocomps grow and learn. I think I'll call it, "Professor Xaviera Farallon's School for Gifted Machines."
Picard: Catchy name.
(The exocomps continue their evolution at Perspicacious Speed)


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This fiver was originally published on September 5, 2004.

DISCLAIMER: A lot of stuff in here is copyrighted by Paramount Pictures. My intent isn't to infringe on that; I and those like me are just having a little fun in the universe Gene Roddenberry created. I don't think he'd mind.

All material © 2004, Marc Richard.