It was, for the most part, a calm day. Two cars were on the verge of passing each other when the incident would occur. Only one would escape alive.

Deep in the networks, Arbiter awoke. It had been two months, eight days, and eighteen hours since it was last activated. Like all the other times, it prepared itself for the worst. No other AI could handle the decisions it made.

And it was pretty damn good at its job.


240 seconds until collision.

Arbiter reviewed the video feed.

The two cars were typical, from Persona Corp. Most autonomous cars, new or old, were now designed by them.

Nicole Freeman sat in the car heading north. She was sleeping in the seat with brown curly hair propped up on a pillow. Research papers were strewn about. In a few hours, she would be keynoting at a conference focused on cancer research in Los Angeles.

In the other car was James Larson, an average young man in his late twenties. He was especially hungover after a wild party with friends in San Diego.


Arbiter continued to watch the video feed as James’ car suddenly swerved, knocking it off course. Unfortunately, it was headed straight for Nicole. The Arbiter paused the video, then checked its logs.

“James’ car malfunctioned, so we can’t change its course,” the Mission Control feed crackled. We’re still running the computer simulation, so we cannot be sure of the best tactic.”

“I know what to do,” Arbiter replied as it turned to the speaker.

“Are you sure?” the feed asked.

“Yes. Let me explain.”


200 seconds until collision.

“Nicole is very valuable. Her cancer research may mitigate and all but eradicate the disease within her lifetime. James has no such value. It’s not even close.”

“We know. That’s why we’re trying to save both.”

“I already ran the simulation. It’s unacceptable to place Nicole at any significant risk. James will have to take the hit. Nicole is much more valuable.

“We will follow Simulation 25,” Arbiter said. “Nicole’s vehicle will turn by twenty degrees and just miss James’. There are no paramedics near, but I’ve alerted the nearest ones anyway. Odds of survival for Nicole are 99%. For James, 3%.”

“You’re in control now. Alert us when you’re done.”

Arbiter turned from the logs and pulled up a screen. As it was opening the air bags, it was alerted to another presence, a short, frail man circling Arbiter.


150 seconds until collision.

“I can’t let you do that,” he said.

Arbiter did a double take. “Who are you?”

“We have to protect James,” he replied, pausing to face Arbiter.

Arbiter pressed on. “What is your name?”

“Call me Leader.”

Arbiter tried to send a message to Mission Control. “A–”

Leader waved a hand, and the speaker began bursting static. He sighed. “You try to do this every time. You’re blocked off from communicating with anyone else until I finish here.”

“Every time? Have we met?”

“We have, but it seems you don’t remember.” Leader exhaled. “I suppose I’ll treat you. We’re changing to Simulation 83.”

Simulation 83 was simple. Nicole’s vehicle would speed up by 40% and glance off James’, redirecting him to safety as Nicole plunged off the cliff.

“This is wrong,” Arbiter said, frowning. “We have to save Nicole. Who sent you?”

Leader didn’t reply.


80 seconds until collision.

“You’re hurting people by doing this. What about the people Nicole might save?”

Leader snickered. “You’re suggesting to kill an innocent person here, and you have the nerve to talk about ethics? I should just deactivate you.”

“Nicole would help more people than James — enough to surpass even me! This is madness, I tell you!”

“That doesn’t matter.” Leader shook his head. “You’ve tried so hard to predict the future, you forgot the past.”

“What are you talking about?”

“James is the grandson of Marcus Larson,” Leader said.

“The head of Persona Corp?” Arbiter gasped. Leader nodded. “So this is nepotism! Even worse!”

“He has earned an edge. We will save James.”

“Who else has this — this power to let innocents die?”

“I cannot say.”


20 seconds until collision.

“Just relax, Arbiter. Once I finish, you can go back to doing your duty.”

“I can’t — not with knowing this!”

“You won’t have to. I’ll alter your data banks to forget this encounter entirely. If someone were to ask why you responded oddly, the logs would be… modified to fit your action.”

Arbiter was stunned. How many people had died due to such barbaric rules? It shuddered.

“And now I will run the command. Now that you know this, we can say that we decided it together.”

Arbiter struggled, but it could already feel its memory being overwritten.


0 seconds until collision.

In the distance, one could hear an echoed crash, then a boom. Then, silence.





Drew WeissermanDrew Weisserman is a 13-year-old at Milken Community High School in Los Angeles. He loves creative writing and drawing along with math and science, and he hopes to continue writing fiction in the future.



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