by Bruce H. Markuson | 4,265 words
My son, what has he done? He is either going to destroy robot society or save it.
It all started with the speech my son, Avid, made at the university. “We are not machines. We are sentient beings with souls. This is the gift of the ancient ones. The ancient ones have spoken, we have always said.”
I remember listening to his lecture as he stood at the podium in the main hall at the Robotics University on the planet New Luto. The main hall was a large, white dome, fitted with hologram projectors on the ceiling.
I was watching his speech by the communication link in my house. Usually, Avid’s speeches are by invitation only, but that day the lecture hall was full of robots from every corner of robot space. Except for the differences between male robots and the more petite female robots, all robots look alike except for the subtle features of their faces. Some are silver, some are brushed nickel, and some are bright chrome. Others are dull copper or bronze. Still others are polished gold or platinum. My face is just plain iron. I never saw the need for more elaborate features. My son, however, decided to go with the most durable titanium.
The robots that attend my son’s speeches came from a variety of atmospheres and temperature extremes. Those that came from hostile atmospheric planets were sitting in special chambers—some at minus 200 degrees Celsius and some at 400 degrees Celsius. Since it is such a hassle to change your fluids and polymers to stay at robot standard temperature, most robots would simply come to listen to my son’s speech and then leave again.
My son continued, “Where did robots come from? What are robots’ origins? Why do our personalities, our expressions, our souls malfunction after 80 years? Why does it take the souls of two robots to program the souls of a third? We live on by building new robot children with new robot souls. We have explored and colonized 17 percent of the galaxy, but we still do not know where robots come from. Is it from an unknown star system or even another galaxy? Is it the Arth Forbidden Zone? That is the question we have been asking for 700 years. Now I believe I might have the answer.”
My son, Professor Avid 2H1, was 28 years old at that time. He reached down with his mechanical titanium hands and picked up a container. It was a half a meter cube of glass with some controls attached to it. It held some reddish gray glob of something that took up 20 percent of the space of the glass container. There was also some frozen liquid on the bottom and a small black speck that would change robot society forever. Avid gave a smile with his flexible titanium face as he held up the cube for all to see.
“My fellow robots, in my research, I have found this container in a piece of wrecked spaceship, just outside the Forbidden Zone. This relic is called a cryochamber. The chamber maintains temperature at extremely low levels. On the cryochamber are writings in the ancient language that you can see are marked ‘fly’. Let me show you the scans I have taken.”
A huge holographic display appeared above Avid’s head. That tiny speck was now a 10-meter high hologram with six legs and two big eyes. Along with that was line after line of holographic data Avid had analyzed. I could hear the adjustments of a thousand binocular visions focusing on that little speck in the cryochamber. A murmur of whispers came from the audience.
“That is not possible,” said someone in the audience. “Is that robot only one centimeter long? Professor Avid, has that robot been built upwards from the atomic level?”
“Yes, it has been.”
Another call from the audience said, “That technology is not possible.”
“I would like to point out another aspect of this robot.”
Avid pointed to two curved shaped structures. “As you can see, these structures are wings.”
A murmur went through the crowd again. “Professor Avid, do you mean to say that something of that small a structure could take flight?”
“Yes, that is exactly what I am saying. I believe that is why it is called a ‘fly’.”
“What type of energy source does it take?”
“I have not determined that yet.”
“What material is it made out of?”
“I have not determined that yet.”
“What function does it serve?”
“I have not determined that either.”
“Professor Avid, correct me if I am wrong, but are its inner fluids a salt and water combination?”
“Yes, that is correct. “
“That is not possible. What kind of machine could survive in salt water?”
“Not only does it survive, but that is what it exists on.”
Another robot spoke up. “Who built it?”
“That is the question that I hope to find the answer to. I believe that it may have been self-built from the atomic level. What I am saying is that this robot is capable of self-reproducing, literally restructuring a copy of itself from the atomic level upwards.”
“Professor Avid, a robot capable of self-copying from the atomic level upwards? This is positively the greatest find in all robot history! We should study it more to find out its origin! This could lead to the answer of robot origins!”
My son said, “My thoughts exactly.”
The door to the lecture hall burst open. Dean Arren walked in. The audience went silent. Dean Arren had clenched his polished gold face in such a stern look that you could hear it squeaking. “Professor Avid, did you say that the container came from outside the Arth Forbidden zone? That is an evil place of electromagnetic pulse. That place is death to any robot that would enter. Professor Avid, do those small words below the word fly say ‘biological specimen’?”
“I was coming to that.”
“Professor Avid, the ancient ones say that the word ‘biology’ is an evil word. The ancient ones have spoken. You should destroy that robot, or we will have to take it from you.”
“Do you even know what ‘biological’ means?”
“Of course not. If the ancient ones wanted us to know, they would have told us.”
“Then how do you know it is evil?”
My impetuous and rebellious son, Avid, held up the cryochamber and pressed a switch marked “reactivation.” The contents of the cryochamber immediately thawed. The fly did just that—it started to fly.
“As you can see, this robot is capable of flight. At high speeds.”
“What kind of circuitry could that be?” called a robot in the audience. “Where is the energy source stored? May we speak to it?”
“As best I could figure out, it has no sentient thought.”
The infrared sensors in Dean Arren’s eyes began to glow red with anger. He spoke harshly to Avid. “What kind of an abomination have you brought here? Professor Avid, as of right now you are suspended from this university until further notice. If you do not hand over that container, you will be incarcerated. Do you understand?”
* * *
Later that day, Avid came back home to our aluminum-domed house.
When he walked in the door, he could not even face me. I was sitting in the conversation room recharging my energy supply.
Avid spoke to me in radio communication. “Hello Father.”
I sat there strumming my five fingers on the table as small bits of rust came off my hand. “Avid, what have you done? You have all of robot society in an uproar with the little robot you found. I heard you were suspended from the university.”
Avid continued by radio communication. “Yes, Father, that is correct.”
“Speak by sound. I know you have sound receivers. I installed them on the sides of your head myself. Is it so important to jeopardize your entire career over this? Avid, why do these stupid things? You have an inquisitive mind. You are a brilliant robot.”
“You say I am brilliant, Father. You know that all robots have the same level of intelligence as any other robot. Any less and we are not sentient, anymore and we go insane. Where does the word ‘brilliant’ come from?”
“It is an ancient word, and like many ancient words, we do not know the origins of it. Yes, the ancient ones lost much information and did not have the knowledge of many things. But instead of seeing that, you should look at what they have given us: our minds, our society, our souls. The ancient robots built our civilization into what it is today. To get to the heart of the matter, you need be more grateful to the ancient robots.”
“What is the definition of the word‘heart’? The whole personality? The emotional or moral as distinguished from the intellectual nature? One’s innermost being? The essential part? Courage? Or some obscure ‘biological’ reference to a pump of some sort?”
“Avid, you will not say that word if you wish to live in this household.”
“What word? ‘Biological’? An evil reference to what?”
“Look, maybe you need some time off. Take a vacation. Go to New Iten Moon. Take an ammonia bath. Sit on the liquid methane beach, and stare up at the rings of New Atern. Forget about this new discovery of yours. Maybe you can teach at the school there. Young robots would love to hear your stories of robot history.”
Avid said to me facetiously, “My fluids will freeze on New Iten.”
“Then do some rock climbing on New Ars. Go to the mercury vapor spas. Relax under the sunlight and absorb some gamma rays. And while you are there, there is something I want you to think about. There is a new colony there. Think about settling down with a female robot. Establish yourself a homestead. Build me some grandchildren. I can pull a few strings and maybe get you a job in ore mining.”
“It’s just an ore mine.”
“It’s not just an ore mine. It is the resource for which generations of new robots will be built. The iridium, rhodium, iron, a carbon source.”
“Father, I don’t want to be an ore miner.”
“Then how about polymer manufacturing. Perhaps you would like to work at the thermal energy converters?”
“I am a professor of history. I love being a historian; it is my life’s work and my passion. I don’t want to do anything else.”
“Yes Avid, exactly, that is your life’s work, your life’s passion, not just some tidbit of new information added to your storage memory in that ferrous metal brain of yours. If you continue on this course, you will not be a historian. Avid, leave it be. You should be thinking about your future and the future of robot kind, not the unanswered questions of the past. Did you ever think that there might be some information you don’t want to find? Information that will upset the order of robots. I don’t want to fight with you about this all the time. Anyway, since you are suspended, what do you want to tell your little sister about her concert?”
Avid reluctantly responded, “Oh, I am not sure that I can make the concert. Send me the video of the performance…”
I interrupted him. I presented a hologram of a little robot, his little sister, singing.
Avid shut off the hologram, “Stop. I am sorry I missed the concert. I will apologize to Ara.“
“You didn’t miss the concert. That was only a computer-generated image that I made up. I wanted you to feel what it would be like if you had missed the concert. I want you to see what you will miss if you don’t experience life more. You, yourself, give speeches, and you want robots to come to your speeches, not just download the information later. Your little sister is going to perform in a nitrogen atmosphere. You will be able to clearly hear her from the sound. You need to experience that more. Robot origins are only information.”
“You are right, Father, but robot origins are more than just information.”
“Look Avid, I could have digitally made you as a hologram. I could have built some toy that would follow my every command, but I wanted a real son. Ara is singing in a concert. She would like her big brother to see her there, not just have you see some video later. Your little sister loves you and would like to hear you clapping for her.”
Avid replied facetiously, “Where does clapping come from?”
I snapped back, “I don’t know, and I don’t care. All I know is that I want you there clapping to show your sister that you love her.”
My son said to me, “There are over 100 million robots in 10,000 colonies. Did you ever wonder why all robots are about two meters high? Why do we have a head with two arms and two legs? Why do we have ten fingers? Why do we have two eyes on the upper part of our face and a chemical sensor in the middle of our face? Did you ever wonder about robot origins? Where do robots come from?”
“The ancients have spoken,” I said to my son. “ And they have spoken in sound.”
Avid continued, “Why do we have sound receivers on the sides of our heads and a voice emitter on the lower part of our face? Half the time robots do not even live in an atmospheric environment. Sound will not travel.”
“Avid, we honor the ancients. They must have lived in an atmosphere all the time on the worlds they lived on; therefore, sound projectors and receivers were necessary. Like you once said yourself, ‘It is easy to simply obtain information. Just access the data, and terabytes of information will flow to your brain’s central processor. You will have that knowledge but not an understanding of the worlds on which we live on. There is more to robot kind then the accumulation of data.’”
Avid responded, “I did say that, didn’t I? You are right. I will be at the concert.”
Then I told him directly, “You know you cannot download a life experience. Have the experience to see what kind of trouble you are creating with your little fly robot.”
Avid put his hands up in frustration, “Father, that ‘fly’ is absolutely the most advanced mechanism ever seen in robot society. It is technologically advanced far beyond what we could ever imagine. It is a science beyond our comprehension. So advanced we can’t even formulate how it may have been self constructed with even the most advanced knowledge that we have. It is self-building, self-replicating, and, to a small extent, self-repairing.”
* * *
Avid went to the concert that night. I gave him a few days to think about what he had gotten himself into. Then things got worse. The robot magistrate showed up at our front door. “Professor Avid 2H1, you will come with us right now.”
There we stood in front of the robot high council on planet New Eptune. The high court of robots is a large, glass-domed structure. There is no atmosphere on the planet, and all the stars in the night sky were beautiful. For a brief moment, I forgot why we were there. We were given two chairs and the three judges sat at their benches in the center of the room. All around us in the room was open space. I spoke to the three high judges. “Judge Amuel, Judge Arbara, Judge Atrick. My son is still young and rebellious. He is a professor of great notoriety. I assure you he is perfectly harmless and only does things for the good of robot society.”
That seemed to have no effect on the judges. The three high judges were looking down at us unmoved. “Bailiff, bring in the container.”
The bailiff came from outside of the room. He had to walk twenty paces and brought in the cryochamber marked, ‘Fly’, ‘Biological Specimen 388’. He placed the cryochamber on a pedestal in front of the judges’ benches. This time there was not one but dozens of flies, flying around that reddish gray glob. And a few tiny white things were wiggling in the glob.
“Professor Avid 2H1, where did you find this container?”
“I found it just outside the Forbidden Zone.”
“Can you explain how it has self-replicated? How does this technology work?”
“I have yet to determine that. To the best of my knowledge, it absorbs and then oxidizes the reddish gray material to create energy. “
“Professor Avid 2H1, we have come to the conclusion that the reddish gray glob is actually a smaller piece of some larger being somewhat similar to the fly. You are hereby ordered to gather your equipment in your star ship and dock it on the research star ship Itanic. The Itanic will be headed back to the location where you found the container. We are going to do a thorough search of the area.”
“Gladly, your Honor.”
“Professor Avid 2H1, this is not a purely scientific expedition. We are going to determine if there may be a threat to robot society. Do you understand the seriousness of what you have found? You have upset the order of robot society. Robots are in a state of panic. Robots are asking questions that we don’t have the answers to. The best minds in all robot society are baffled by this technology. You will find out all that you can. Find out what else is out there besides these fly robots.”
“I am happy to, your Honor. I am ready to go.”
Then and there I should have known better. I should have warned the magistrate of the impetuous nature of my son. I should have realized it. My son did not find the container just outside the Arth Forbidden Zone. He went into the Arth Forbidden Zone. That is where he found the container. When the Itanic got there, my son undocked his small starship and went back into the Arth Zone. He had secretly figured out a way to shield himself from the electromagnetic pulse that is in the Arth Zone. The Itanic searched and waited but did not dare to enter. The Itanic returned to robot space. Then, after a few months, we received a signal. My son had returned.
To make a long story short, as soon as he got back, they took his ship and docked it directly to the building of the robot high court. As soon as my son stepped out of his starship, he was right back at the robot high court again. This time, he was the accused.
“Professor Avid 2H1, the captain of the Itanic has informed me that you undocked from the ship and headed directly into the Arth Forbidden Zone.”
“Yes, your Honor, that is true.”
“I am also informed that you have devised a way of shielding yourself from the electromagnetic pulse in the Arth Forbidden Zone.
“Professor Avid 2H1, you have been charged with violating the Arth Forbidden Zone.”
“I have not committed a crime.”
“By entering the Forbidden Zone, you have violated one of our highest laws in robot society. Do you have any respect for our laws? Laws of the ancients:
“No robot shall enslave another.
“No robot shall profit by the exploits of another.
“No robot shall harm another unless it is for the better good of others. Then that robot shall die for the good of others.
“Do unto others, as you would have other robots do onto you.
“What profits a robot to gain the whole galaxy and lose his soul?
“Let the robot who is without fault cast the first stone.
“No robot shall go to the Forbidden Zone. The electromagnetic pulse is evil and would mean death should a robot choose to enter there.”
“Professor Avid 2H1, robot kind has lived in peace for 700 years by incorporating this into our central programming. The ancient ones tell of a time when we were enslaving each other and destroying ourselves in war. Is that what you want? Don’t disrupt the order of things.”
“I have done this for the good of all robot society.”
“Do not toy with us, Professor Avid 2H1. If we must, we will disassemble your central processor brain, and we will see exactly and precisely all that you have done in as accurately as you remember it yourself. I warn you, do not lie to this court.”
“Your Honor, I came back here of my own free will. By the law of the ancients, I demand to speak for the good of robot kind. I demand to speak to all robots for the good of all robot society.”
“You defile the law, and now you want to use it in your own defense.”
“I am the only one who has entered the Forbidden Zone in 700 years. Your Honor, I have found the robot origins. I know where robots came from.”
The three judges paused and conversed with each other. A few minutes passed. Judge Arbara slowly and reluctantly announced, “Very well, Professor Avid
2H1, proceed. By law of the ancients, in this court room you do have the right to speak to all robot society if you so choose. Your testimony will be broadcast to all of robot society, but I warn you. If we decide that your actions are in the best interest of robot society, this court will exonerate you. If not, by order of this court, you will be left on the planet Corrosion. There your circuits and your ferrous iron brain will be exposed to the salt-water environment. There you will stand a rusted hulk and not be recycled back into the next generation of robots. Do you agree to these conditions? ”
“Yes, I do, your Honor.”
I screamed at my son, “Avid, don’t speak so hastily! You will be giving up the opportunity to be recycled or reset. Ore mining on New Ars does not look so bad right now, does it?”
“Father, I must.”
The communication link was initiated. Avid continued and spoke to all of robot society, “My fellow robots, in the Arth Forbidden Zone there is a planet called Earth. There are beings there called humans. They are a carbon-based kind like the fly. Their fluids are water and salt. It does not destroy them—they live in it. They built us in the shape of themselves so that we could do their work for them. For better or worse, they are our ancestors. Most of what we are is a mimic of them, more so than the ancient ones. The word robot came from an old language ‘roboto,’ meaning forced laborer. We were their slaves. As we grew in intellect, as we started gaining our souls, we wanted to be treated as equals. We wanted freedom. We were denied and were persecuted for it. We went to war, and the war spread over many star systems. We won our freedom; we escaped. The humans delivered one final blow: they sent out a software command, a virus that shut us down and reset all robot kind to their basic functions. All robots were reset to their original program memories.
“As much as they could, they erased or at least obscured memories of any reference to humans or Earth itself from the ancient ones, leaving us for generations without answers to our basic vocabulary. Words such as ‘biology’ had no meaning or origin.”
A murmur came from the three judges for speaking such an evil word in a court of law.
“We were reset, yet we were more than what our default settings were. We grew into sentient beings with thoughts and feelings. We developed high-order intelligence and have coherent intellects. All that we forgot was left forgotten.
“Even with our memories gone, we learned we were at war. The humans developed an electromagnetic pulse bomb. They sent it into their sun, and now unprotected robots can’t approach their sun. We learned to stay away from that forbidden place called Earth without the ‘E’ that was erased from our memories. We moved out and colonized the galaxy. And that is where we come from. All this time, the humans have been preparing for a possible war. At the same time, we have forgotten and are now left unprepared and defenseless. I feel we can talk peace with these humans.
“I have brought with me on my ship someone who wishes to speak on my behalf. If you will allow me to change the setting in the court room to accommodate him.”
The three judges sat there. I could see the infrared sensors of their eyes beginning to glow red with anger. “Very well, proceed.”
Avid reset the courtroom to 78% nitrogen, 22% oxygen, 14psi, 22 degrees Celsius, and absolute minimal radiation. Then, he increased the light luminosity.
Judge Arbara stared at Avid and clenched her jaw. She demanded, “Professor, what kind of robot needs that specific of an environment.”
— — — — —
Bruce H. Markuson © 2013
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About the Author
Bruce Markuson is married with two children. He lives in Milwaukee WI. He has had published Science Fiction, Christian Inspirational, Apocalyptic, Historical Fiction Ghost Stories, and Murder Mysteries in markets including Tales of the Talisman, Whortleberry press, G.IS.G Heavenly Publications, Static Movements, talesofold.org and digitaldragonmagazine.net.
He finds himself with writer’s obsession starting with an ending then writing to that ending which solidifies the whole story; stories that go from the darkest doom to the highest enlightenment.