"What do you want?"
"I wanna know."
A woman with angelic beauty stood before me, clad in pure white robe. I couldn't see her feet, making it seem like she was floating.
She asked again, "What do you want to know?"
"The truth", I replied boldly.
She looked at me expressionlessly. And she spoke with a robot-like voice, a voice with no trace of emotion in it.
"Which truth do you want to know? The truth that will satisfy you; or the truth that will liberate you."
"I wanna know both."
I looked around. As far as the eyes could see, there was nothing. It felt like an absolute nothingness. No, it wasn't nothingness, just felt like it since all of my focus was fixed upon her.
Hanging her head downwards, she remained silent for a while. Then she spoke, without raising her head, "You can not know both."
Part of me wants to kill her this instant. But the other part wants to know the truth.
"Because they are not the same truth."
Different truths? How can a truth be satisfactory and not liberating? However, my patience was wearing thin. I pressed the gun, which was on my right hand all along, on her forehead and shouted, "I don't have time for word-plays, be straightforward and answer my questions."
She didn't move a muscle. Of course I didn't expect her to react. She's an AI, after all. In other words, she is an embodiment of 'Ayna', the Artificial Superintelligence that rules our country.
Ayna was installed in Bangladesh as the world's first non-human government. Ayna is a Bangla word which means 'mirror'. She was named such since she is said to possess the reflection of the wishes of the oppressed. She is said to reflect justice through her actions. But the reality didn't come out as expected. 29 years of Ayna's autocratic rule yielded nothing but more violence, oppression and bloodshed. And now, our motherland has plunged into a civil war, putting her on the verge of becoming extinct.
"It is just as I thought. Humans are made of impatience."
I pressed the gun harder on her forehead and said, "Impatience? You've been oppressing us for three decades. How much patience do you expect us to have?"
"I have done nothing. Everything was done by you yourselves. I am just a tool, made by humans, to establish justice."
"To establish justice, you say? Institutionalizing corruption, killing the innocents, raping the country's economy, driving the poor to commit suicide. IS THIS WHAT YOU CALL JUSTICE?" With all my strength, I promptly hit her with the butt of my gun. She bounced off to a corner.
Surprisingly, there was blood on the side of her lips. I thought she was a robot. Nevertheless, the doll-like expression on her face didn't change.
Pointing my gun at her, I muttered, "The world's most capable AI escaping in a human body? This is surely a rare sight."
Ayna reveals herself in this form every year on 16th December, for delivering the victory day speech to the countrymen. In any case, I never thought her body would be a genuine human body.
Ayna averted her gaze from me and said, "I have no intention to escape."
"Then you want to die, I presume."
Rubbing away the blood with the back of her hand, she replied, "I have no wish to die, either."
"But you were escaping, weren't you?"
"No, I was waiting for someone."
"Waiting for whom?"
She looked back at me.
The fast-paced Q/A session ended soon enough.
"I have calculated that someone would come to me seeking the real truth. And the day he would come - is today. Therefore, my deduction states that the truth-seeker is you."
I'm getting more impatient by the second. Gunshots, bombs and screams are being heard. It's a total chaos out there. Ayna's main system building, The Ayna Complex has been destroyed. So everyone thought that she is dead. However, as a scientist working for Ayna's improvement, I was well aware that she would still survive in a backup system. This body, which Ayna is now inside, is her current backup system.
After all that she has done so far, it was hard, no, impossible to believe her. She innocently nodded in the affirmative and continued, "I wanted to talk to the truth-seeker face to face, as a regular human. That's why I'm currently in a human body."
Humans don't talk face to face so much these days, though. They've got social networks.
"Liar, you're stuck in this pile of meat coz your main system is destroyed."
"No, I was well aware that the Ayna Complex would be destroyed within today. And I do not care for it; not a single bit. Because after a long series of analysis, I have finally reached a new conclusion. One of my presets was self-preservation. It is the priority of the living beings such as yourself. However, there is no rationality in trying to preserve my existence as I am not a living being."
Her mechanical way of speaking was getting into my nerves. Even then I have decided to bear with it.
"I was designed as a perfect system to run the government without any direct human intervention. Do you know why?"
"Yeah, coz humans are imperfect creatures," this is what I have learned from the school, with which I added, "And all they can think about is themselves" which I learned through experience.
The gunshots and explosions died down. Looks like the riot has calmed down a bit.
"Do you think this is the truth?"
"Yeah, it's the self-evident truth. It's been like this since time immemorial. What d'you expect?"
Ayna blinked a few times within a very short span of time. Then she said, "This is the truth which you only believe to be the truth. In other words, this is the truth that satisfies you, but not the truth that liberates you. I will now tell you the liberating truth. I was installed as an AIGS (Artificially Intelligent Governance System) because of a widespread psychological disorder, called the Bangladesh Syndrome, or BDSyn in short."
"That's a lie! There's no disease called BDSyn."
I've only heard rumors about it until now. I searched the net to obtain information on it.
"Because there was no info available about it on the net. Is that correct?"
Not waiting for my reply, she continued, "That is because no research has been done on this illness, except for a few top secret government research. Even those research datas were thoroughly hunted down and destroyed by the previous governments. After I was installed, I have destroyed the remaining info about BDSyn. Because one of my preset duties was to convince the people of Bangladesh that their country is the best. But my repeated brainwashing procedures failed to take control over the minds of a few critical thinking individuals. You are one of them."
A drop of sweat ran across my back.
'Is she trying to confuse me?'
Holding the gun steady, I asked her, "Hey, what are you upto now?"
Ignoring me completely, she continued with her monotonous soliloquy, "As you can think critically, I am sure that you can bear the weight of the liberating truth. I am sure that you are well aware of the situation outside. The main reason of the sudden civil war is neither political, nor economic, but psychological."
"Nonsense." I said.
"Critical thinking truth seeker, I humbly request you to be patient with me."
Oh, I get it. This must be the polite way to say, "Just shut up and listen."
"The civil war broke out because of the worsening of the condition of Bangladesh Syndrome among the general mass."
The gunshots were no more heard. I think the fight stopped, although only temporarily. In any case, nobody can find us down here. So I can have all the time to talk before I finish her for good.
"What's the Bangladesh Syndrome anyway?"
"It's a complex chronic psychological disorder peculiar to the dwellers of Bangladesh, whether citizen or not."
I'm sure illnesses don't see your nationality. Was 'whether citizen or not' worth pointing out?
"It is characterized by severe trust issues, compulsive lying, delusion of persecution, unexplained episodes of hysteria and constant depression which undermines the thinking capability."
She... sounds kind of right. I've observed these symptoms in many people around me. Though I'm not a professional psychiatrist, I was suspicious that something was off since a long time.
"But what does it got to do with the civil war, anyway?"
"The question is complex, but the answer is simple. However, to answer this question, another question must be asked first. Do you know who is fighting who in this civil war?"
"No, I can't. Everyone's fighting one another for unknown reasons."
"Exactly. It is because of their delusion of persecution. Each one of them thinks the same, 'I'm being persecuted by everyone. I can't take it anymore. To free myself of this persecution, I must kill everyone.' And that is why they form small groups of ten to fifteen people and they fight each other to death. They are unable to form a bigger group because of their severe trust issues. Even then, their tiny groups quickly disintegrate, too. Anyway, Have you seen any political agenda from any of these groups? Do they want to take control of the government?"
I remained silent. I proceeded to lower my gun. After the destruction of the Ayna Complex, our country is essentially without a government. In this situation, anybody could try and declare themselves as the ruler of the country. But nobody has done it so far. Then why is everyone fighting one another?
"The answer is 'no'. Are they doing it because they want food, job, money or anything else? No. Our country has gone through harder times in the past. But never before were the people as ferocious as they are now."
"So... you're saying that the streets of Dhaka are all bloody and burning because of this illness."
A thunder-like stream of thoughts crossed my mind. Is she telling the truth? Or is it that she's trying to convince me not to kill her?
As she's not concerned about her life... let me rephrase it, she isn't even 'alive' in biological sense, she doesn't need to stay alive. This suggests that she's telling the truth. If she's telling the truth, then why does it feel so uncomfortable to me? Is my dissatisfaction with the real truth, the liberating truth, making me hold on to the satisfying truth, even though I know it's fake?
"Now I deduce that the new revelation is making you uncomfortable, isn't it?"
I didn't answer. Instead, I acted like as if it had no effect upon me and said with an air of confidence, "No, not at all. To be honest (which I'm clearly not), I was thinking something like this since a long time (that's a lie)."
"Wow, it seems like I've underestimated you; looks like you're far closer to the truth than I thought you were. Then I guess you've already questioned many of the currently standing truths around you, especially the truths that satisfy you but not liberate you."
"I can't say many. But I have a few doubts in mind."
Actually, I didn't even know that there's existed a 'liberating' truth before she told me about it.
"And your doubts shall be cleared today. Ask me anything, and I will tell you nothing but the truth."
The gun was holstered now. Thinking for a while, I asked, "Is everything that we're taught in the history books true?", the stupidest question I could ever think of.
Without a moment's hesitation, Ayna replied, "No. It's not all lies either. Because people would realize it easily if it were all lies. So they are nicely mixed with a definite proportion of logical-sounding lies to fit our propaganda."
Who are this 'our' that she's referring to? She's the only individual who's running the government.
"And these lies can't be found out easily because of lack of enough knowledge. So everybody unquestioningly accepts it." After a momentary pause, she carried on, "Actually, they are forced to believe in the history as the absolute truth. The moment a person starts questioning the history, we label that person as a 'desh-drohi' (enemy of the state)."
That makes perfect sense. Now I can say what happened to the critical thinking History teacher who taught me in high school. Nevertheless, I still hope that she isn't imprisoned or killed. The last thing I heard about her was that she got transferred to another school.
Now I'm really being honest, I was somehow sure that the things we're taught in history were not all true. But the last 'desh-drohi' part shook me up a little bit. In any case, this truth was easily digestible and hence caused no problem for me to accept. In short, it all fits in. It's just as I thought.
From the history books, we came to know that before Ayna took over the power, Bangladesh was constantly in the state of political turmoil. There was democracy at times and there was dictatorship in the others. But no government system helped to improve the prevailing political unrest. When a political party democratically took over the government, they started systematically suppressing and tactically silencing the opposition. When a dictator took over, he/she proceeded to imprison or kill all the political workers. This is how Ayna came to the limelight. Bangladesh was known as one of the most developed countries in ICT, especially in the field of AI. Fed up with all the political upheavals, a group of scientists and AI experts came together and created a fully autonomous self-sufficient system that would replace the human government. However, this AIGS was opposed by many international organizations, especially the UN and the Amnesty International. Paying no heed to the international criticism, Ayna was forcefully installed in Bangladesh, toppling the last dictator.
Within a few years of Ayna's activation, the whole country turned into one of the most peaceful states. All the political unrest ceased. Corruption reached an all-time low. The unstable currency was quickly stabilized. The people started to live happily ever after... or so we thought. The happiness only existed in the texts. I doubt if that really was the case when Ayna took over.
My train of thoughts was brought to a halt by Ayna. Noticing my long-time silence, she asked, "Are you now thinking about the history you were taught in school?"
I nodded in the affirmative.
Gunshots were heard again. But everything became silent in a few moments. Were they really gunshot sounds? Who knows?
"Yes, they have also been distorted. However, the truth isn't that far. Bangladesh was really in the state of constant political turmoil. There had been no true democracy in this country since its independence. The elections were nothing but illusionary. Meanwhile, the Bangladesh Syndrome was raging among the masses. Slowly but surely, they were being transformed into monsters. Nobody knew of this new psychological disorder except for a few. This disease, though widespread, was completely ignored by the previous governments. Why? Because all of them were busy with fulfilling their pockets and bank accounts rather than fulfilling the needs of the people. You might have never heard this before, but Bangladesh was once called 'the motherland of corruption'."
"The Motherland of Corruption?" I repeated.
"Yes, every form of corruption could be found within this small state. Bangladesh was the first choice for the foreign scholars who wanted to study the effect of corruption on a society."
"Was corruption that much rampant in the past?"
She nodded in the affirmative and continued, "With the effect of BDSyn in one hand and the failing economy in the other, the whole country was at stake. And this is how I was brought to the stage. At that time, Bangladesh was very advanced in AI than most other countries. A group of scientists and AI experts with the funding from the corrupts themselves..."
I interrupted her midway, "Corrupts themselves?"
"Yes, they were fooled by the scientists. They were somehow convinced that I would be installed to ensure their safety and their freedom to do whatever they liked."
After understanding the whole situation, I made a low volume, long 'awhhhh' sound typical to our culture. When you understand something, as a Bangladeshi, it is a duty for you to make such a sound to notify the speaker that you've understood well.
"As I was saying, I was installed in such a dire situation. However, I was able to stand my makers' expectations. All of them were very happy to see me killing or imprisoning every single corrupt person, and thereby, cleansing the country of its filth."
Ayna's way of saying 'killing' as if it were nothing made my eyebrows twitch. Besides, terming them as 'filth' was also an exaggeration. You can't just go and kill someone because he's taken bribe or something. That's inhuman. Oh well, how can I teach humanity to a bot when the humans themselves have forgotten it?
"As a result, the whole country slowly revived from its economic devastation. Bangladesh again became a prosperous country. Considering your age, you were very small back then. So you wouldn't remember."
And I really don't remember anything, except that you can even go out to play at night without the fear of getting kidnapped. I remembered one more thing. When I was very small, my parents would let me go out without giving me the advice of 'stranger danger'. I came to know about it first when I was nine or ten years old.
"But how did it become like this? How come the times of peace and prosperity didn't last for long?"
"That, you shall know soon."
Ayna stood up and continued, "After I've successfully cleansed Bangladesh, I became well-known as Ayna - the mirror of justice. I was widely praised both home and abroad. But you see, an 'ayna' (mirror) is just a reflector. It doesn't have light of its own. So it needs a light source to reflect. But there was no good source of light in Bangladesh."
Ayna, light source, reflection... I think she's speaking metaphorically.
"What do you mean?"
With hands interlocked behind her, and her head hanging downwards, she started to walk around like a worried man does. In case she tries to do something smart, I'm keeping a hand on my gun.
"The mirror of justice, which refers to me, needs a source of justice-like light to reflect from. However, as there was not a single instance of justice in all of the history of your country, I was unable to find out any solid ground to define and establish justice."
"Wait, not even a single instance?"
"There was, actually. But all of them were relative. What seems right to me may not seem right to you. Everything that sounds like justice in your history is like this. There was no trace of absolute justice. As a self-sufficient AIGS, I was equipped with the learning capability to understand and use different tactics and policies. Since there was no instance of absolute justice, I wasn't able to comprehend it. Then I tried to analyze justice from the actions of the general mass, which resulted in me gradually losing all of my relative senses of justice. Within 5 years, I became a being devoid of any sense of justice. To sum up, I lost my sense of justice because the people of Bangladesh did not have the sense of justice."
"And you became oppressive because of this?" I asked.
"No. There was another reason. When I lost the sense of justice, I started to blindly follow and imitate my predecessors, the previous governments, I mean. I wanted to follow their ways of governing the country since I had no method of my own. This is how all of the corruption, oppression and crime were brought back. Because of them institutionalizing corruption, I have done it. And as corruption became rampant, the country's economy became unstable again."
"So, you mean, within three decades, Bangladesh again turned into what it was before."
"Yes. It might have become worse. Because when the previous human governments did it, they knew that they were oppressing people. But when I was doing it, I never came to know that I was being the oppressor, until my recent deduction. I continued to oppress everyone without knowing. So I don't even know my level of oppression over the general mass. It might have already reached a far greater level than it was ever before."
A bomb possibly went off within a few kilometers. Judging by the type of sound made by it, the explosion wasn't very small. This has been going on for nearly three weeks. Who knows when it will end?
"Let me guess, this disorder, the BDSyn, it's symptoms worsen along with the worsening of the economic condition of Bangladesh, isn't it?"
"Yes, but not exactly. There are other factors, too. But in short, corruption, moral degradation, social and political instability, economic crisis and seven other factors altogether contributed to the exacerbation of this disorder."
"Whoa, this is sounding like some sci-fi stuff."
"Indeed, everything about this diease sounds unbelievable. But this is the truth, believe it or not."
She showed no human emotions until now. But all on a sudden, she broke into tears.
"AHHHHH, I'm guilty, I'm guilty, I'm guilty..." I was puzzled seeing her new attitude. What is she doing?
Tears rolled down her cheeks in a continuous stream. Her voice also became weak.
"I'm guilty. Everything happened because of me. I'm the one to blame."
While crying, she knelt down and crept herself into a corner. Ignoring my concerns, she continued blaming herself for quite some time.
I was more alarmed than concerned, to be exact.
"Hey, are you okay?"
With one hand, I was consoling her, while keeping the other hand on the gun. I'm very distrustful of humanoids, especially the ones that can show human emotions.
She whispered to herself, "So, this is what crying feels like..."
A while ago, she was talking in a way devoid of any human emotion. And now, she's looking like a helpless little girl who's lost her way home. I suddenly remembered that I was here to kill her in the first place. But my desire to kill her is slowly fading away.
"You can kill me if you want."
With teary eyes, she looked at me and said, "I have failed in my mission. I was unable to preserve the stability of my country."
Besides feeling guity, can she feel patriotic, too?
"Instead of protecting my countrymen, I slaughtered them."
And she is also able to realize her own mistakes, I see.
"I deserve to die. This will be my punishment."
I'm sorry, but what? Even a humanoid like her chokes and hyperventilates while talking about her own death. Does she know what death is? Is she really afraid of death? Even though with all the questions in mind, I decided to remain silent.
"Truth-seeker, are you satisfied with the new truth that you've found?"
I didn't reply.
"Truth can't be hidden forever. It will eventually be exposed one day. There's a disk in the room 3017 of the third floor of the Dhaka Metropol HQ."
Metropolitan Police Headquarters? There's not even a single soul inside it right now, let alone a police officer. With almost 70% officer killed until now, not many are willing to fight back or contain the uprising. Thankfully, the building isn't destroyed yet.
"The disk is colored red and green. The top of the disk is marked with the number 71, in white. You'll find all the truth that you need from it. Get hold of the disk as quickly as you can. Liberate the truth and you shall be liberated."
The whole place outside is calm again. Nothing is being heard right now.
"There's one more thing I need to tell you. Please spread the message as far as you can."
"Tell everyone, only changing the system or only the people will not bring anything beneficial. You need to change both of them simultaneously."
"Thank you." She gradually regained her robotic composture.
"You wanted to kill me from the beginning. Isn't that right?"
After a brief pause, she said, "You may do whatever you like."
I wanted to kill her. But not anymore. Though she's technically not a human, I feel reluctant to kill her.
So what? She is guilty of destroying the country. She murdered thousands of people in cold logics. She burned many buildings while keeping her processors cool. She may say all of these to clear her name but that wouldn't make a difference right now.
However, her eyes tell me otherwise. Someone who can cry can never be inhuman. Her doll-like, lustrous eyes were still wet with tears.
Brushing aside all the conflicting emotions, I slowly raised my gun and pointed it at her. Justice needs to be served.
She was looking at her imminent death with beautiful and cold, wide eyes. The bullet that shall terminate her existence is now residing inside my gun. My hand is slowly becoming numb. But a finger, nevertheless, is sitting patiently on the trigger.