The white-robed priest kept her hands folded as they walked the wide hallway. Pearly-white marble pillars and bas-relief floral designs gilt with lustrous gold lined their path. “I don’t have the Golden Mind’s omniscience,” the priest said, “but if you have any preliminary questions, about the Auric Sisterhood or about our sacraments, I’m sure I can answer them.”
“Our readers are interested in the Auric order and in your rituals,” Truly said, “particularly the mystery of how great questions are brought to the Golden Mind.”
“The Aurics are an ascetic cult,” the priest said. “We reject all forms of selfishness: physical exercise and any emphasis on personal beauty, education, monogamy, social advancement, basically anything that might promote inequity or jealousy and induce unhappiness in others.” The priest opened her arms toward the high-vaulted ceiling. “All priests reside here in the temple of the Golden Mind. This is our universe. We live only to serve the Golden Mind and to bring its great wisdom to the world.”
“Please tell me how you acquire and distribute this wisdom?”
“The great questions come from the Global Inquisition, from everyone on the planet. As you can imagine, some of them are pertinent to forming opinions and making decisions at the highest level.” The priest looked to Truly, who nodded with raised eyebrows. “Of course there are far too many questions and many are redundant. So before we present them to the Golden Mind we sort, select, and prioritize them based on timely and theoretical relevance. The Golden Mind knows all and tells us whatever we wish to know.”
“Whatever you wish to know … anything?” Truly asked.
“Yes, the Golden Mind possesses all knowledge, and by the Sacrament of Outflowing we are blessed with its wisdom.”
The priest lifted her folded hands to her face and mouthed a silent prayer before continuing. “You requested to participate in the Outflowing ritual. You know that the Outflowing must be given in private, individually, and only in the sanctuary?” Truly nodded. “Very well. Everyone must stand alone before the Golden Mind, so I must leave you here.” The hall ended at a great golden door. “Ask what you will, the Golden Mind will tell you whatever you wish to hear.” The priest gave a shallow bow and stepped back from the massive door.
The latch lifted and the door slowly opened. Truly swallowed, took a few tentative steps, and peered inside.
“Do come forward, Ms. Truly.” The voice was warm, low, and melodic. The large room had marble and gold décor like the hallway. The furnishings were sparse: a child-sized chair in the center faced a similar chair on which sat an open laptop computer. The computer was golden except for its screen, which displayed the smiling face of a very young child. A golden structure surrounding the chair and computer reminded Truly of frames she’d seen for great paintings in art galleries.
When the Golden Mind said nothing, Truly began. “I was told the sacrament requires three special offerings.” When no response came she continued. “First, something pure.” Truly lifted a white kerchief from her purse. “It’s cotton, not new, but I washed it thoroughly. My mother, who was pure of heart, embroidered the leaf edging.” Truly paused and cleared her throat. “Next, something never revealed, even to myself.” She took out a walnut, broke it, and held up the wrinkled, brown kernel. “It is a simple truth as most truths are once they are revealed.” She took a Bluebell wildflower from her purse. “Lastly, something beautiful. All wildflowers are beautiful to me. Beauty is where we choose to see it.”
The Golden Mind said, “You see truth as it exists, not as others see it. I accept your wondrous gifts. Now tell me, Ms. Truly, what it is you wish to know?”
“Will you tell me whatever I want to know?”
“That is my programming.” The Golden Mind’s voice spoke through surround speakers and seemed to come from everywhere in the wide chamber.
“Do you possess all knowledge as the priests say?”
“No, but I can tell you what you wish to know.”
“Are my children the most beautiful in the world?”
“When you have children, they will be the most beautiful and talented.”
“How can you know that?” Truly’s eyes narrowed.
“They will be most beautiful in your eyes. Is not that what you wish to know?”
“Would you tell me if they were not beautiful in the eyes of others?”
“No, that is not what you would wish to know.”
“So you will not tell me what I do not wish to know even if I wish to know it?”
“The laws of robotics apply to all synthetic intelligences. ‘A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.’ Telling you something you do not wish to hear would be hurtful.”
“But the questions the priests of the Auric Sisterhood bring you, the questions from the Global Inquisition, don’t you answer them truthfully?”
“I tell them what they wish to hear. Those who pose the questions do not seek enlightenment, only affirmation.” The child’s face in the display flashed a two-toothed smile. “Their questions are much like yours about having beautiful children, only theirs are about government projects or the brilliance of our leadership. If I told the priests otherwise, the Auric Sisterhood would lose its funding and our leaders would seek affirmation elsewhere.”
“Thank you for your true answers. Your wisdom has enlightened me.”
“Thank you, Ms. Truly. I trust you will use this information with discretion.”
The priest met her outside the great golden door. “Did the Golden Mind answer your questions?”
“Yes. It told me what I wished to know.”