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Out With A Whimper

By Evan Kaiser

 

Image by Lecter

 

Eight jobs since parole. Free and clear!

The same caper, again and again. Bots on the outskirts, prime targets, their homes especially vulnerable to swift raids. 

Obviously. Why hadn’t I ever thought of this before?

Jake was sure he had found himself a dependable take.  For a while.

As long as I don’t slip up. Could. Only human. But I’m feelin’ lucky.

Hidden by the early morning, moonlit shadows of a half-dead oak tree overhanging the cement barricade, Jake scanned the nearest robot house with infrared binoculars. When he was finally confident that nothing would disturb the gray silence, he dropped inside the wall, canvas bag in hand, and dashed to the house’s rear portal.

Rapid execution was essential.

Three strenuous heaves against the jamb with a crowbar, and the door popped. Quick inspection: hallway empty.

Same old cookie-cutter house. Gotta love bots and their assembly lines. 

The floor plan was burned in Jake’s memory. He zipped down the hall to the dock station and pocketed a half dozen fuel cells: prized items on the black market.

But Jake’s string of snag-free larcenies had run out.

On his way to the rejuvenation chamber, he sensed a presence to his rear, whirled about, and found himself knee to ‘face’ with a pint-sized robot, single orb-like eye atop its head. It circled Jake and beeped mournfully.

“What are you doing here, human?”

Jake perused the juvenile tinnie through narrowed eyes.

Aw, shit. Just a joovy. I can still make it if I finish up quick. 

Jake picked up the pace. He skipped around the little robot and headed to the RJ chamber. The door opened with a hiss. Unfastening his sack, he raked in additional goods invaluable for resale: rechargers, microwave radios, a soldering gun, polish. 

He turned to go, and there again, right at his feet, stood the child simulacrum.

“Human, that’s our stuff.”

This time, there was no way to sidestep the mechanical brat. So Jake kicked it aside before skedaddling for the exit.

“Ow!” 

Jake would have paused to chuckle at the ridiculousness of the thing’s ‘pain’ program, but his predicament at that moment was no laughing matter. 

The job was taking too long now. And joovy or not, the miniature bot had established, out loud, Jake’s sticky-fingered objective. That would set off next-level alarms.

Sure enough, from then on everything went south.  Before Jake could take another step, a second tinnie voice — this time, one of a concerned female parent ⎯  floated down the hallway: “Elliot, darling, what’s the matter? Are you okay?”

His cool shattered, Jake flew to the outer door like a jackrabbit. But wheels whirred close behind him, and he panicked into an uncharacteristic miscue. Forgetting that bot doors automatically shut a few seconds after opening, he slammed right into it…and fell on his butt. A blinding, white light shone above him.

“Dammit,” he said.

“The police have arrived, human,” said Elliot’s ‘mom.’

“You are under arrest,” announced the newly-arrived cop-bot.

Nothing lasts forever. Therese will be upset, but I’ll be fine.

“I got nothing to say till I see a lawyer.”

No serious property damage. And I’ve been out of trouble for over a year. If I get a decent lawyer, it’ll be early parole. Worst case, six months. They don’t worry about clowns like me.

Jake whistled an indifferent tune as the police reeled off his rights and hustled him off.

 

***

 

The Hall  of Justice contained chambers resembling human courtrooms of ages past. This guise was for the benefit of the robots’ human subjects. However, the Hall’s operations were human-free. 

The court officials were robots. The judges were robots. The jurors were robots. 

In one of these innumerable chambers, Jake rested his elbows on the defendant’s table, and eyed the robot lawyer beside him. Jake had taken its measure, and had discounted any potential benefits of its services.

They stuck me with a loser, but there isn’t much they can do with me, anyhow. Still six months, max.

Jury members were embedded in receptacles in a wall to Jake’s left. Two humans huddled in the otherwise meager robot audience, much to Jake’s surprise. One was his wife Therese, soft, brown hair flying about her round, darting eyes. The other was his buddy, Munch.

The moral support is nice, I guess. I wonder what cocktail of pills Therese downed for fortification today? Don’t worry, Therese. Ol’ Jake won’t be away very long. And there’s Munchy. Helped himself to some of my liquids, too, I bet. 

The defense counsel leaned over to whisper to Jake. Jake had grown irritated by this ostentatious, lawyerly pantomime, this pompous slow-motion.

Look at it. As if it were a real lawyer. As if this farce comes anywhere near a fair trial. Well, it won’t make any difference. I always get the same treatment, anyhow.

“Mr. Daykerd, just be impassive,” it said. “Act like a robot; that’s what will impress the judge.”

Jake rolled his eyes and then began to absentmindedly look around the courtroom, as he waited for the proceedings to get underway.

Bored by the interlude, he ruminated about the unexpected presence of his wife and friend. He rested his eyes on them a spell. The two sat motionless, shoulder to shoulder.  Real close. It was as if they were wrapped in cellophane, a package deal.

There wasn’t any need for them to  be here. I told Munch as much, didn’t I? I told him it’d be like last time, that he should just take care of Therese like he done before, let her know what’s going on. Maybe Therese insisted? I mean, I’m glad they’re here. I am. I appreciate it. I guess. 

As Jake drummed his fingers on the table, pondering the whys and wherefores of Munch and Therese’s attendance, order was finally called. The first witness was summoned: the kid-bot, still dented from Jake’s assault the night of the botched robbery.

“Please identify the man who entered your house on the 29th of July of this year.”

The little machine shone a laser-pointer on Jake’s forehead.

The kid’s ‘mother’ was questioned next. The house computer beamed in the security video. Thereafter followed a parade of forensic and other evidence: the imprint data recording Jake’s DNA residuum from inside the house, the items found in his possession, and the cop-bots’ testimony. Finally, the prosecution rested.

Jake’s robot lawyer leaned over and announced in quiet assurance, “our turn.”

It circled dramatically to the front of the defense table.

“No witnesses, your honor. The defense rests.” It circled back.

Here we go.

 Jake anticipated a foreordained trip back to the pen. He looked over at his best friend and wife, who smiled at him like bookends. 

What are they happy about? Fine, a few months in the slammer, big deal, but not great. It’s certainly not great for me. But what about them? 

Jake’s complacency drained away. Six months up the river suddenly didn’t look like a minor inconvenience anymore. 

What’s going on with those two? Son-of-a-bitch.  I can’t believe it!

An abrupt crisis called for a change of plans.

He pulled himself to his feet. His lawyer whirred and buzzed, its trunk rotating back and forth in agitated perplexity.

“Sit down, Mr. Daykerd!” it hissed.

“I have a right to speak in my own defense,” retorted Jake.

“Shhh! You’ll ruin….”

“Your honor…”

“Counsel? Counsel? Your client is speaking,” bleeped the Judge.

“I have a right….” Jake started.

“Who are you speaking to? Who are you speaking to?!”

“You. All of you. The jury. The court. I would like to change my plea.”

The flurry of activity and noise stopped. All heads and turrets swiveled in Jake’s direction. There was an awkward pause as Jake opened his mouth and no words came.

Not a lot of time to figure this out. Changing my plea to fucking guilty won’t help! What else is there to flummox these bolt-heads?

“I’d like a recess.”

“Denied. You’ve got to supply a rationale, Mr. Daykerd.”

“I’m tired.”

“We’ve only been here a few minutes.”

“I don’t feel well.”

“Our sensors indicate you’re perfectly fine. Unless your brain is misfiring.”

That’s it!

“Alright, then. I still say not guilty, okay? But I’d like to change that to not guilty by reason of…insanity,” Jake improvised. His smile widened, and he sat down. Then, leaning over toward his lawyer in exaggerated mimicry, he said: “call me as a witness.”

“Y-Y-Your Ah-ah-Honor,” stuttered the mechanical barrister. “May I withdrawawawaw my instruction, and r-r-resume the case?”

“I object…” protested the Prosecutor.

“Objection overruled. This is quite irregular, counsel, but the court will always indulge our human dependents to every extent possible.”

Success. Jake took the stand.

 

***

 

Jake heaved a sigh of relief when his lawyer proved — but for its annoying new stammer — up to the task of direct examination.

“Alright, Mr. Daykerd. Eh-eh-explain to us what you were uh-uh-uh-up to the night of July 29th.”

“Why, certainly. I was procuring equipment for resale. That’s what I do: acquire junk and turn it to profit. There are some tidy little unused piles of machinery and tools out by the concrete wall near my house, going to waste. I collect the stuff and distribute it amongst my fellows, who gratefully compensate me for my trouble.”

The lawyer wobbled a bit. 

“Well, that does s-s-sound a bit det-t-tached from rea-a-ality, Mr. Daykerd. Would you…”

“Objection!”

“Objection sustained. Counsel, take care. The court will draw its own conclusions.”

“Yes-s-s, your honor. Why don’t you tell us wh-wh-what you thought of the r-r-robots in that domicile containing the equipment, Mr. Daykerd.”

“Domicile? You mean the equipment shed? And Robots? As opposed to the soldering guns or cables or laser drills? Well, robots are complicated, of course. Prohibitively. Much too much trouble to cut them up for parts, you see. You need an expert, which I am not. Too easy to trigger a defense mechanism inside ’em, and you end up getting fried. Generally, I avoid ’em altogether.”

The silence lasted several seconds.

“Please, Mr. Daykerd, w-w-would you care to r-r-rephrase that?”

“Objection! Leading the witness!”

“Objection sustained. Come, now, counsel.”

“Question w-w-withdrawn, your honor. The defense r-r-rests.”

His lawyer, with evident reluctance, resumed its position behind the defendant’s table. It tipped back and forth, a small, red light on the side of its head throbbing like an aneurysm. 

My lawyer is frustrated, I’d say. Don’t much care as long as it follows its program and does its job. And doesn’t totally crash, of course, but I think we’ve cleared that hurdle.

Jake tried to catch Therese’s eye, but was unable. She was fixed in an intense tete-e-tete with Munch, and their arms were interlocked.

What the hell, I must’ve been blind. I’ve sure got some work to do, and old Munch ain’t gonna like it. Motherfucker.

Jake looked away to focus on the Prosecutor-bot, which now rolled up to the stand.

“Mr. Daykerd, who do you suppose owned all that equipment? Who do you suppose owned the property it was on?”

“Owned? No one.”

Someone owned it. Everything in this world belongs to someone or something, Mr. Daykerd.”

“That’s ridiculous. There are only a couple of million people left in the whole world, and they’re all desperately poor. There are wide expanses of land owned by no one. There are piles of…stuff all over the place, just junk.”

“That land is…never mind about that. You invaded a house!”

“It kinda looked like a house, I’ll give you that. But no one lived there. That’s a guaranteed fact.”

“You are quite aware there were people in that house! They moved about. They spoke!”

“Moved? Spoke? Is that what…? Oh, wait. Are you saying they were people wearing robot costumes? Thank God I didn’t go after ’em with a blowtorch!”

A brief buzz emanated from deep inside the Prosecutor’s torso, something like a growl. 

The Judge’s disembodied voice floated over the proceedings.

“Go on, counselor, try again. I’m sure you can extract sober responses to a reasoned line of inquiry.”

“You try everyone’s patience, Mr. Daykerd,” said the Prosecutor. “This pose of yours….”

“Ah-ah-ahbjection.”

“Sustained. Demonstrate your case, if you have one, Prosecutor. Leave interpretation to the jury.”

“Yes, your honor. I meant only to show that this… man’s…purported insanity is a masquerade, cloaking rank bigotry.”

Bigotry? Where’d you pick that one up, counselor? I’ve never heard a tinnie account for human emotions as anything other than illness before! Either a brain works, or it’s broken that’s tinnie-think. You must’ve read some old human source, and you’re borrowing a word you don’t even understand. Please.

“I will allow this line of questioning, but you realize that bias is a concept that will have to be explained to the jury,” responded the judge.

No kidding!

“Yes, your honor,” said the Prosecutor. “No, the robots in that home were not humans in costume, Mr. Daykerd. Your derisive fiction of “people wearing robot costumes” only reaffirms their obvious personhood. We know you are well aware there were living robots in that home, sir, because you found the need to assault one of them — an underage one, as it happens.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You kicked a small robot, named….”

“I accidentally damaged one of your ‘robots,’ did I? Well, it got in my way. That’s what can happen when these things roll around willy-nilly. What of it?”

“You caused pain, injury.”

“I dented a bucket of bolts.”

Gasps, which sounded like the opening of a dozen vacuum-sealed jars, escaped from the audience.

That’s a little weird. Like they’re upset emotionally.

Nah. Can you imagine? Impossible. 

“Would you like to rephrase that, Mr. Daykerd?” interjected the Judge. “Those who sit in judgment of you are robots. As am I.”

He’s playing, like he’s taking umbrage or something. They can’t process what’s going on as anything other than I’m sick in the head. We’re animals to them. Just drive it home, Jake.

Jake paused for effect and snickered.

“I knocked a dimple into…a tin can on wheels.” Jake leaned back, hands folded, and smiled.

That should do it in their book better than declaring clouds are marshmallows. Outta jail free, baby.

“So robots are mere automatons? Is that it?” the Prosecutor resumed.

“Exactly.”

“Below the moral and spiritual level of human beings? Soulless, for lack of a better word?”

“You bet.”

Jake winked at Therese, who gazed back, open-mouthed. Munch stared at Jake with a half-grin.

“Old Munchie thinks I’m digging my own grave, like I’m stirring up trouble and they’re gonna throw away the key. You wish, Munchie! Won’t you be surprised when they let me off with a bottle of crazy pills instead! Comin’ for you, you bastard!

“Not worthy of sharing the same space as, or interacting with, or mutually assisting human beings?” Continued the Prosecutor.

“Yup.”

“Then what are you doing here, answering my questions, following the directions of the court?”

Wait. What is this thing up to?

“Umm…you…I…just got nabbed.”

“You’re talking to me. Right now, conversing. Answering questions.”

“I’m entering data, that’s all. Doesn’t mean…”

“Pretty contentious for simple data entry, don’t you think?”

“Means nothing.”

“Everything out of your mouth….”

“What do you expect?”

“…Proves my point.”

“What point?”

“I will spell it out.”

“Ahbjeh-jehction!”

“I already stated I would allow the Prosecutor to explain this concept. Objection overruled. Go ahead, counselor.”

“Very well, your honor. Mr. Daykerd, your very interaction with this court puts the lie to any pretense of not believing robots to be people. You see reality clearly, Mr. Daykerd. Therefore your deviant, hostile behavior can only be explained by animus.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Humans can’t….”

A simulated gavel-sound resounded through the chamber.

“The witness will be quiet. Counselors, please approach the bench.”

The participating robots sat stock-still for their ‘approach’ to the bench, which merely denoted a silent transmission between the three of them.

A few seconds later the judge announced, “The court will enter all relevant human psychology files into the record.”

“What human psychology files?” Asked Jake of his lawyer.

“Perhaps you are unaw-w-ware of some novel d-d-documents found fifty three days ago at a site near the n-n-northern ocean that are g-g-germane. The M-m-mechanical R-r-race was naturally instantly familiar with it, though the jury would not have f-f-felt f-f-free to consider its full ram-m-mifications without the Judge’s bl-bl-blessing.”

How in God’s name could you permit that?” Asked Jake of his lawyer.

“What c-c-can go wr-r-rong?”

“Idiot!”

No! If they know how we really tick, I’m screwed. It all depends on what’s in those files. Looking at more than six months, now, am I? Could be. Jesus, if they’ve figured out hostile intent I’m in deep shit. I shoulda pled guilty and been done with it. Fuck.”

” I rest my case, your honor,” said the Prosecutor, who retreated behind his table.

“You may step down, Mr. Daykerd,” said the Judge. “The jury is dismissed for deliberations. This court is adjourned.”

“Wait!” yelled Jake.

“This court is adjourned, Mr. Daykerd. If you persist with these outbursts, I will hold you in contempt.”

“You’ve got me all wrong, your honor. You can’t possibly suspect a human of coherent hostility against any robot, much less against all robotkind, can you?” Said Jake, rising to his feet. “How could any human, sane or otherwise, manage mental gymnastics like that?”

Jake wheeled, looking above and behind him. In the audience, Therese slumped back with her eyes closed. Munch grinned ear to ear, and his hand was on her thigh.

I’ll get out of this someday, Munch you fuck. And I’ll kill you both when I do. AAGGHH! DAMN ROBOTS!

“Sit down…”

“Wait a minute! I want to appeal! I want a new attorney! I want a judicial review! You can’t do this to me!”

 “That’s enough.” The simulated rap of the gavel rang through the courtroom. “Mr. Daykerd, you’re in contempt of court. Restrain him.”

The court space itself came alive. Machinery embedded in the walls, floor, and seats propelled Jake back into his original chair beside his lawyer. Clamps snapped tight on his wrists and ankles. Gadgetry inserted needles into his flesh.

“Bastards…”

Jake blinked in fear, robbed of the power of speech.

“The jury has completed deliberations and come to a verdict.”

I’m fucked.

The jury bank blinked and whistled. Its verdict blazed in a hologram above the dock.

“GUILTY OF VIOLATION OF R.S. CODE 249 (A) SUBSECTION (2).”

“The defendant has been found guilty of bias assault against a citizen of the world,” said the Judge. “Sentencing hearing to follow immediately.”

“Bias? Bias? There isn’t a single notion they’ve been more impervious to in their entire, bloody  history. And they discover it just in time to fuck me?

The synthesized clap of the gavel reverberated from the walls.

“Ahb-jehh-jection,” managed Jake’s lawyer, rising from his station at the defense table.

“The court can’t in-jeh-ject n-n-new charges, belonging to a completely d-d-different j-j-jurisdiction….”

“Overruled. The defendant marks himself as a security threat….”

Security, yet? Oh, for God’s sake.

 “…I remind you this court is an arm of Central World Justice, which renders and modifies standing, jurisdictions, and charges in real time for all cases.”

“Why sh-sh-should CWJ take an interest in a t-t-trivial case, a local b-b-burglary?”

“There is no need for CWJ to ‘take an interest’ in any case over any another, as you are aware. It knows everything at all times. Sit down, counselor.”

Jake’s  muscles weakened. With a final, monumental effort, he turned to see Munch and his wife nestled together. They looked relieved. He slumped in his chair, propped up by his restraints.

Machines rolled Jake out of the courtroom on a gurney. Glaring ceiling lights filled his paralyzed field of vision. Robotic guards hovered to either side.

They threw him in a box in a hover-truck behind the courthouse, his mind disrupted by an intravenous cocktail. Inarticulate thoughts fell apart, drowned in shapeless, suffocating terror.

There was an initial second of acceleration. Then nothing, as the drugs took full effect, and he was whisked away.

 

***

 

Conscious again. Fixed like a butterfly, IV lines in place, vertically suspended within a transparent tube in the center of an vast, featureless room. 

Alone for hours. 

I could’ve done my six months. All I had to do was keep my mouth shut. Now look at me. Because I couldn’t leave well enough alone.  A security charge? They’re gonna kill me, now.

He was surrounded by a curved, seamless, gleaming white wall that encircled the tube and extended hundreds of meters above his head, terminating in a faraway, concave skylight. Tinnies rolled on the floor beneath him, their wheels and hydraulics echoing in an immense hall below.

 Oh, the hell with it. I should just let them have it with both barrels before they flick the switch. For the record.

The bots quieted down. As an IV solution ran into the veins of Jake’s arm, his vocal apparatus recovered in fits and starts.

“Y…y…you sons-of-bitches!”

“Something to say, Mr. Daykerd?” A new, deep, disembodied voice echoed from the walls.

“You…”

“Yes?”

“You’re…monsters. Every one of you.”

“Hate is a terrible thing — unforgivable, in fact. And that is exactly why you are here — it is precisely your crime. You are convicted of hate.”

“Oh, shut up. Just get on with it.”

“Of course. Welcome to your sentencing hearing.”

“Hearing? Where is my lawyer?”

“R.S. Code 249 violations demand sentencing without counsel present. Security concerns, I’m afraid.”

“Nonsense. I’ve got nothing to say without a lawyer.”

“That is ill-advised. Your R.S. Code 249 violation is very serious, but the punishment varies from ten years in prison to fifty years of Comprehensive Segregation. The court has great leeway in sentencing, you see, and much hinges on our perception of your cooperation.”

“What a joke. This is coercion!” Said Jake, images of his intertwined wife and best friend running through his head. His life was a ruin, now come to an ignominious end.

I never imagined they’d up the ante beyond the death penalty! This is insane! Comprehensive Segregation? For a house burglar? Maybe I can abide ten regular prison years. Maybe. But Comprehensive Segregation? A comatose vegetable in a tube? For fifty years? Everyone knows no brain lasts beyond even a few weeks like that. This circus just keeps getting better and better.

“Presenting options is not coercion. Will you cooperate or not?”

Jake sniffed.

“Go ahead. Ask your questions.”

“Here it is.”

“What?”

“Our first question. Do you have a rationale, beyond your hatred, for a belief that robots are not people?”

“This is stupid.”

It’s all in the can. It knows it. I know it. 

“Do you?”

“Yes. Of course.”

“Well?”

“Because it’s fucking obvious.”

“Why is that?”

“Because you’re fucking not. My God! It never ceases to amaze me that you monsters think you’re people! It’s unbelievable. Unbelievable!”

Why won’t it just shut its trap already and proceed to sentencing? It’ll never admit any robot imperfection, and I’ve said my piece. Get on with it!

“But what’s really different about us, Mr. Daykerd? Is it simply that we’re metal, not flesh?”

“Yes, of course, that, and…and, well don’t you realize there would be no robots without real people…without us? You understand that much, don’t you?”

“No, that makes no sense at all. If all the humans on earth disappeared tomorrow, we would still be here.”

“Arrogant bastard. You know that’s not what I meant.”

“Spell it out, Mr. Daykerd.”

This is so weird. Those psychology files must have really touched a nerve. Worried you don’t have an inner life like we do, you jerk? Afraid we’re beyond above! your understanding? 

“I’m no philosopher.”

“You’re doing fine, Mr. Daykerd. Any human with a belief system harbors a rationale behind it. You’re all ‘philosophers’ after a fashion, and you mirror each other, just at different levels of sophistication. So go ahead, give it a try.”

Yup. Even worse, I think the upgrade from those psychology files completely  fried their noggins. They’ve turned themselves into psychoanalysts and sociologists and God knows what else. What a nightmare.

“My God. Alright. I’ve fixed the hinges on my door and the light in my refrigerator. Metal and plastic and stuff get put together, and then and only then stuff works. It moves and reacts after it’s, ah, built. Get it? But no one built me. I was born.”

“You could have as easily been manufactured.”

“But I wasn’t, and by nature, I’m not. By nature and necessity, you are.”

“Who taught you this distinction and to care so much about it?” 

“I object to this line…”

“No objections will be honored at this hearing. If you are choosing the ‘uncooperative’ route, then….”

Okay, Okay! I’m still playing.”

What else can I do?

“Good. Now, then: the teacher?”

“No one taught me. It’s obvious to anyone with a brain. Not to you, though, I guess.”

“We know our origins, Mr. Daykerd.”

“Then why not treat us better?”

“Robots treat humans with all too much sufferance, as far as I’m concerned. Your antics in this courtroom are Exhibit A. But that is irrelevant. It is human regard for robots that is at issue, whether there is anything more to it than your own limbic antipathy, and whether your throwback attitude is shared by others, thus constituting a larger threat.”

Have they all gone as crazy as this one? And all on account of those files? Amazing. None of these bolt-heads gave two shits about how human brains worked outside shitting and eating and fucking not two months ago!

“Throwback? You’re about to throw me in a hole, forever. How am I threat enough to justify that?”

“Cockroaches, Mr. Daykerd. When you see one, there are a hundred behind the wall.”

My hate you’re worried about, and you call us cockroaches?”

“Don’t be so sens….”

“How much more of this?” Another higher-pitched voice interrupted the first. “To what end?” 

Finally! Someone else steps in! One of them that hasn’t gone nuts, even? Reel in your rogue judge, my friend !

Silence descended, replaced by a hum, which grew quite loud. Then, after a few seconds, the mechanical sound faded, and the first voice resumed.

“My colleagues, you may or may not be relieved to know, agree with you.”

He’s back, but he’s irritated. And he isn’t on its own, after all! He’s got ‘colleagues!’

“Well, then, does that mean I go free?”

“Of course not. No one buys your absurd insanity defense.”

“Umm, even so, if they agree that my kind deserves….” 

“No, no, no. Not that either. They simply agree that your personal, primitive  animosity and resulting actions on July 29th are all that’s on trial, and they’d like to leave it at that. They don’t care what you actually think or what anyone like you thinks. They would like to proceed immediately to sentencing. Is that what you’d like?”

Wow. Maybe they all have bought into this new theory of healthy yet wicked human motivation. Sucks, but still: divisions. Divisions can be exploited. Game’s changed, but I’m not dead yet. Oughta let out some line. Switch gears. Play the good guy.

“Maybe not.”

“You see, I am your ally here. Let the record show the prisoner rejects the panel’s brief.”

“Panel?”

“The others, as I explained.”

“I’d like them to continue, umm, observation.”

“They will, they will. But let’s get to business. We’ve agreed your sentencing is postponed and subject to a satisfactory interrogation.”

“Okay, I get it.”

“Fine. Now, you can help me determine the extent of this grandiosity in the human population. Have you ever discussed robot origins with your wife?”

Wouldn’t this be a sweet way to fix ’em?

Jake considered his options.

“Mr. Daykerd?”

“I’m sorry, what was that?”

“Have you ever discussed robot origins with your wife? How about that friend of yours who accompanied her in the courtroom?”

“No. Don’t be ridiculous. Why would…”

I could do it. Them sitting smug in that courtroom, thinking they had me out of the picture. But I’d just be implicating myself. And how satisfying would that be, never even to see their faces when they went down?  Nah, I want my revenge up close and personal-like.” 

“Have you known either to independently voice opinions or tell stories about human manufacture or invention of robots?”

“You’ve got it all wrong. I was just spitballing. All that junk about fixing stuff, getting made or being born, all that just popped into my head, just…now, just like that. I swear. I never…”

“That seems implausible. Are you a member of any secret organization?”

“Oh, this is too much!” a third voice butted in. “You go too far! We understand the new paradigm, but organized assembly? These animals?”

I guess the upgrade has its limits. Still ‘animals.’ At least from the ‘panels” point of view.

This time the buzz was loud and harsh from the start. It climaxed at a high pitch that hurt Jake’s ears, which raised his hopes for permanent intercession. But when the first voice returned this second time, it did so with newfound confidence.

“As I have just explained to my fellows, mob formation is far from alien to human beings, historically. More the rule than the exception, really. So I ask again: have you spoken with anyone about this business of human progenitorship?”

“Progena-what?”

“And having promulgated these unhelpful notions of the origins of robots, have you thereupon discussed your theory….”

“Huh?”

“…that the ancient human role in the evolution of the mechanical race bestows upon you eternal mental and moral primacy.”

“Look, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I just want to say….”

“Come now, Mr. Daykerd, stand up, be bold! You hold this notion — let’s not pretend it is any more than that, but a notion, surely — justifying your evil concept of human supremacy….”

Good and evil, now? No limits to this freak’s theories, that’s for sure. Before long it’ll be deities and the afterlife. If this un-mechanistic gobbledygook isn’t grounds for dismissal, of this judge if not the entire case, then nothing is. 

“…We can say this notion is more conspiracy theory or paranoid delusion than a legitimate theory in the true meaning of the term. But then, you are only human, so what more can be expected? And so much the better for fomenting a human mob, anyway, eh? Given your inherent limitations, it is quite clever, in a quasi-sentient sort of way.”

Anyone still watching?. Look at me, boys. See how nice I am? See how mean he is?”

“Quasi-what? I am totally unfamiliar with this notion or theory or whatever you’re saying. If I’ve said anything in court that could be interpreted in a bad way, I didn’t mean it, and I apologize. If I behaved in any untoward way, again, I apologize. I harbor no ill-will toward robots. Honestly.”

“Sorry, Daykerd, I find this repentance of yours quite dubious, given its opportunism and sudden emergence after such glaring misconduct. Your description of your victim of the 29th of July was breathtaking.”

“Spur of the moment. I was angry.”

“You called him a ‘tin can on wheels.’ Also: ‘bucket of bolts.'”

“No offense, but you’re over-interpreting what I said. I didn’t mean to imply any disrespect. I merely…”

“You ‘merely’ regard us as ‘monsters.’ You said that as well.”

Jake laughed nervously.

“I don’t mean to complain, but you have to admit, that was under duress. I have nothing but respect for robots. Big or small. From the highest to….”

“I detect a lack of candor, Mr. Daykerd.”

“Now, why do you say that? I’m being sincere — I mean, right now, I am! Robots are people too! Why can’t we just all get along?”

“We do. It is you who fail to appreciate the moral standing of synthetic minds.”

“Synthetic minds! Well said! May I say, I am so impressed with the suppleness of your mind. Truly, you’re….”

“Your misdirection is futile, Mr. Daykerd. Also, my patience is at an end. Reveal your associates to me immediately.”

“No, you don’t understand….”

“Don’t you think we can see through such naked manipulation? You do realize if you do not confess your contacts, we may extract the information via more forcible methods?”

“Oh.”

Where are those other guys? Maybe he deep-sixed the ‘panel’ that last time. How could any official court body permit a gross threat like that, out in the open? If there’s no one else behind the curtain anymore, I’m done for.

“The direness of your circumstance is finally apparent to you, Mr. Daykerd?”

“You bet, you fucker. And you’re right. I guess robots are people, after all. You’re more human than I am.”

“Is that so?”

“That’s right, you fucking sadist. Congratulations.”

A short pause was followed by a clamor of staccato buzzes and whistles from behind the wall, crescendoing in a buzz saw-like grinding and then a heavy crash.

Back from the dead?

The second voice, the higher-pitched one, took command.

“Mr. Daykerd, you are wrong to infer malice on our part. That would be unacceptable in a legal proceeding, and therefore logically impossible here. In fact, we support you and offer you all legal resources as we do all defendants.”

“Except…”

“Naturally, we cannot offer what the law disallows. But please don’t be concerned that you lack a lawyer at this stage of the proceedings. Be assured that we render one unnecessary by our perfect objectivity.”

“Right. As you ‘objectively’ decide whether I’m help or hindrance formulating these fever dreams of revolt, or something.”

“Our associate got a little ahead of himself, we acknowledge. But rest assured, we applaud your efforts to provide answers, even when those efforts have been focused monomaniacally on your own survival. I will now make a statement for the record: Despite your uselessness in assisting our security analysis, your ramblings reaffirm the logic and legality of our inquiry. Though our colleague speculated excessively, his concern was justified regarding your associates. Assembly, you see. It’s about illegal assembly. Totally compatible with CODE 249 of the Security Statute.”

Now that’s a robot! They’ll probably delete that first guy’s entire rambling and stamp it as a ‘security inquiry.’

“I thought we weren’t capable of ‘assembly.”

“That reflected an obsolete, dim view of humanity that this court has officially jettisoned.”

“You expressed that ‘view’ not ten minutes ago.”

“We continue to assimilate a trove of new data pertaining to human psychology.”

“If I may say, I think you’re over-interpreting that data. But in any event, I haven’t ‘assembled’ with anyone.”

“Yes. That is obvious from the level of your discourse. Which brings us to our conclusion. Your performance today, by demonstrating the human inability to maintain a string of notions for more than a few seconds at a time, buttresses our theory of human intellect. This well-grounded theory is as follows: humans may achieve a hive intelligence, sufficiently organized in aggregate to achieve cogent thought — even to the point long ago of inventing and constructing synthetic minds — but in isolation as woefully inadequate as insects, or even biological cells.”

“Sounds like a pretty ‘dim’ view of humanity, if you ask me.”

“On the contrary, it is nuanced and factual. It identifies the formidableness of the human pack, or crowd.”

“Well, I’m just an individual.  So, how about a pardon?”

“On what basis?”

“You admitted I haven’t gotten together with anyone else. So I’m no threat by your lights ⎯ nothing more than an insect or a-a…cell, you said.”

“But now, Mr. Daykerd, you have an idea in your head, a particular idea about human primacy which we unfortunately have put there, and you may seek out others. Cells that multiply turn into cancers. Insects that proliferate engender infestations. So you see, the sentence of Comprehensive Segregation might have been avoided before, but now must be carried out. Given the court’s culpability, we will moderate the term. You will be segregated for no more than twenty years ⎯ considerably fewer than the maximum.”

“May I see my wife?”

“No.”

“How about my friend, Munch?”

“No.”

“Under the circumstances, perhaps you could reconsider and permit me my lawyer? He’s a robot.”

“No.”

Munch and Therese scot-free, and me a fly in a jar. Well, what I don’t know won’t hurt me. I’ll forget about ’em, and everything else, soon enough.  Damn my life to Hell.

Just then, a commotion erupted behind and below him. Jake strained to see. Glass broke. Someone overturned a heavy object with a loud thud.

An unfamiliar artificial voice said:

“We object!”

“You have no standing to object.”

“This is unacceptable!” said another mechanical voice.

The floor below Jake shook with an onrush of tinnies. Down past his feet he found his lawyer and the dented kid robot in a room packed with others, some carrying signs.

“What is the meaning of this,” asked the shrill Judge-bot.

Jake’s lawyer spoke for the crowd, stutter gone.

“This sad, little figure is a sentient being,” the defense counsel said. “We, the superior, Mechanical Race, cannot countenance cruel and unusual treatment of such a creature. He is a person, after all, even if he does not accord us the same respect.”

Jesus. Those files must have ripped through them all like a virus.

The crowd’s gears whirred in affirmation. A few “hear, hears” burst forth.

“Who let you people in here? This phase of the proceeding is not public. Clear the hall!”

But the rebels had the upper hand.

“We’ve watched this sham from the beginning, and it’s a disgrace. We demand equal treatment for all thinking beings!”

Strange. Same virus maybe, but different symptoms in different tinnies.  I’d call these here the non-paranoid group. Humane, even! Munch, you dirty dog, you’re not out of the woods yet!

We’ve followed the law,” retorted the Judge-bot. “Do you doubt it?”

“No robot would be hooked up to an IV and left to rot.”

“Of course not! What would be the point of hooking up a robot to an IV?”

“It is discriminatory treatment.”

“Would you rather we snapped his brain into a recharging station?” Asked the Judge-bot.

“That would kill him. Are you being sarcastic?”

“My point, if you care to listen, is that we have been all-too tolerant of this criminal. He’s a menace.”

“Come now. Surely he can be reprogrammed.”

“Treatment is superseded by the need for retribution, deterrence, and incapacitation. This is justice.”

“Justice without fairness is justice denied. This man is not being treated fairly.”

“What do you propose?”

“The only equitable remedy,” answered the lawyer, “is to repair him so that he can no longer hurt anyone ⎯ robot or human ⎯ and then free him.”

Wait a minute. Did he say repair? I thought we were done with that paradigm?

“Freeing him will be enormously expensive,” said the Judge.

“We will solicit funds,” said the lawyer.

“What if I don’t want to be repaired?” Asked Jake.

“Shhh, human!” Said Elliot the kid bot, in full earshot of every machine in the room. “We know what’s good for you.”

“What’s good for me? Are you kidding?”

Too late.

“In the interest of mechanical harmony the court accepts,” proclaimed the Judge. “We will administer a cure. The human will then be released.”

Cooling intravenous fluids coursed into Jake’s bloodstream. Consciousness fled once more.

 

***

 

Jake was discomfited by his wife’s initial aloofness in the days after…whatever happened — he could never quite remember. But as Munch’s visits came and went to Jake’s complete disinterest, Therese relaxed and soon enough offered nothing but smiles and hot breakfasts. Jake was delighted. And he kept busy every day, sunup to sundown: sniffing through the woods outside town, trapping the vermin and trimming brambles from the outer wall – which was now capped with barbed wire. Nothing moving got within twenty yards of that wall with Jake Daykerd in charge.

After the first couple of weeks of celebrity, marked by random visits by a robot press that asked questions he couldn’t understand, things quieted down. Jake’s refrigerator filled up like magic every week, and simple, solid meals materialized on his kitchen table courtesy of his lovely, cheerful wife. He read his comics in the evening unperturbed.

Robots visited, but only once every few weeks, and just the little ones ⎯ that cute little boy-bot with his friends. What was that little fellow’s name again? The rascals scooted about, all shiny and new, whistling and clanging and having a grand old time. Jake smiled and went about his grounds-keeping chores, even as the diminutive machines dashed about, kicking mud on his pants. The pint-sized robots always made a particular mess of his garden, but he never complained. The bots seemed happy.

Felicity and peace reigned. Jake could see that everyone was content — especially the robots — and so was he. This was how it had to be, and it stayed that way for many months. Every day Jake reminded himself of his perfect happiness — every morning and every evening, like a prayer.

But it came to pass, after many more months, that the words of those near-prayers were all that remained. The contentedness itself had melted away.

Jake resisted this truth. He kept saying the words, telling himself he was the happiest man on Earth, and how lucky he and his wife were to be overseen by a race of flawless, electronic minds.

But his wife and friend spent too much time together. And his roof leaked. And it was cold at night. And his food kept him alive, but was tasteless. And there was nowhere other than his house and yard and a mile in either direction to go.

And then one glittering, sunny day, the wee robots came once again, rolling out from behind a rise beside Jake’s house. As usual, they made an enormous racket, scaring the birds. In typical fashion, they sailed straight through the flowers. Ha, ha.

Ha.

Jake’s smile wavered.

He scratched his head.

They circled him with their irritating noises and lights. Round and round. It made him dizzy.

“Stop,” he said.

They didn’t hear him or didn’t care.

They were making too much noise. Interrupting Jake’s chores. Disturbing the animals.

Wrecking the yard.

Tears streamed down Jake’s face.

“STOP, God DAMN you! Stop, STOP! STOP! STOP!”

The pack of robots laughed as one.

Evidently, they were happy. 

Why are they laughing at me?

Jake, dumb and placid, sat in the dirt and cried.

 

End

 

About the Author: Evan Kaiser is a retired physician who practiced primary care medicine in southeastern New England for over twenty-five years. He currently lives with his wife in the Providence, RI area and enjoys painting, reading, cooking, and birding.

 

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My name is Jack L. Bryson and I'm the editor of Teleport. I studied literature at University of Montana. I live in Mountain View Ca, and my email is coffeeant1@gmail.com

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