Chapter 1. New Beginnings
“So, have you decided on a new name yet?”
Derec waited expectantly for a moment, then looked around in exasperation from the newfound robot to his companions. Ariel and Dr. Avery were both grinning. Wolruf, a golden-furred alien of vaguely doglike shape, was also grinning in her own toothy way. Beside Wolruf stood two more robots, named Adam and Eve. Neither of them seemed amused.
The entire party stood in the jumbled remains of the City Computer Center. It was a testament to Dr. Avery’s engineering skills that the computer still functioned at all, but despite the thick layer of dust over everything and the more recent damage from the struggle to subdue the renegade robot that now stood obediently before them, it still hummed with quiet efficiency as it carried out Avery’s orders to reconstruct the city the robot had been in the process of dismantling.
The robot had originally called itself the Watchful Eye, but Derec had tired of that mouthful almost immediately and had ordered it to come up with something better. Evidently the robot had obeyed, but…
“Ask a simple question,” Derec muttered, shaking his head, but before he could ask a more specific one, such as what the new name might be, the robot spoke again.
“I have chosen the name of a famous historical figure. You may have heard of him. Lucius, the first creative robot in Robot City, who constructed the work of art known as ‘Circuit Breaker.’”
“Lucius?” Derec asked, surprised. He had heard of Lucius, of course, had in fact solved the mystery of Lucius’s murder, but a greater gulf than that which existed between the historical figure and this robot was hard to imagine. Lucius had been an artist, attempting to bring beauty to an otherwise sterile city, while this robot had created nothing but trouble.
“That is correct. However, to avoid confusion I have named myself ‘Lucius II.’ That is ‘two’ as in the numeral, not ‘too’ as in ‘also.’”
“Just what we need,” Or. Avery growled. “Another Lucius.” Avery disliked anything that disrupted his carefully crafted plan for Robot City, and Lucius’s creativity had disrupted it plenty. In retaliation, Avery had removed the creative impulse from all of the city’s robots. He looked at his new Lucius, this Lucius II, as if he would like to remove more than that from it.
The robot met his eyes briefly, its expression inscrutable, then turned to the two other robots in the group surrounding it.
“We should use speech when in the presence of humans,” Adam said after a moment, and Derec realized that Lucius II had been speaking via comlink.
“Is this your judgment or an order given to you by humans?” asked Lucius II.
“Judgment,” replied Adam.
“Does it matter?” Ariel asked.
“Yes. If it had been an order, I would have given it higher priority, though not as high as if it had been an order given directly to me. In that case it would become a Second Law obligation.”
The Second Law of Robotics stated that a robot must obey the orders of human beings unless those orders conflicted with the First Law, which stated that a robot could not harm a human or through inaction allow a human to come to harm. Those, plus the Third Law, which stated that a robot must act to preserve its own existence as long as such protection did not conflict with the first two Laws, were built into the very structure of the hardware that made up the robot’s brain. They could not disobey them without risking complete mental freeze-up.
Derec breathed a soft sigh of relief at hearing Lucius II refer to the Second Law. It was evidence that he intended to obey it, and, by implication, the other two as well. Despite his apparent obedience since they had stopped him, Derec hadn’t been so sure.
Lucius II was still his own robot, all the same. Ariel’s question had been an implicit Second-Law order to answer, and he had done so, but now that he had fulfilled that obligation, Lucius II again turned to Adam and Eve and said, “We seem to have much in common.” As he spoke, his features began to change, flowing into an approximation of theirs.
Adam, Eve, and Lucius II were not ordinary robots. Where ordinary robots were constructed of rigid metal and plastics, these three were made of tiny cells, much like the cells that make up a human body. The robot cells were made of metal and plastic, certainly, but that was an advantage rather than a limitation, since the robot cells were much more durable than organic cells and could link together in any pattern the central brain chose for them. The result was that the robots could take on any shape they wished, could change their features-or even their gross anatomy-at will.
The other robots in Robot City, with one exception, were also made of cells, but Dr. Avery’s programming restricted them to conservative robot forms. Not so with these three. They were not of Avery’s manufacture, and without his restriction they used their cellular nature far more than the City robots, forgoing hard angles, joints and plates in favor of smooth curves and smooth, continuous motion. They looked more like metal-coated people than like the stiff-jointed caricatures of men that were normal robots, but even those features weren’t constant. They imprinted on whomever was foremost in their consciousness at the time, becoming walking reflections of Derec or Ariel or Avery, or even the alien Wolruf.
At the moment, Adam mimicked Derec’s features and Eve mimicked Ariel’s. Lucius II, his imprinting programming struggling for control in unfamiliar company, was a more generic blend of features.
Derec found it unnerving to watch the robot’s face shift uncertainly between a copy of a copy of his own and of Ariel’s. He decided to get the thing to focus its attention on him, and said, “One thing you all have in common is that you’re all a lot of trouble. Lucius-Lucius II,” he added, emphasizing the “II” as if making a great distinction between the former robot and his namesake, “-did you give any thought to what you were destroying when you started this-this project of yours?”
“Didn’t you care?”
“I do not believe I did, at least not in the sense you seem to give the word. However, you may be surprised to know that my motive was to restore the city to normal operations. “
“By destroying it?” Avery demanded.
“By rebuilding it. The city was not functioning normally when I awakened here. It was designed to serve humans, but until you arrived, there were no humans. Therefore, I set out to create them. In the process, I found that the city required modification. I was engaged in making those modifications when you stopped me.”
“What you made was a long way from human,” Ariel said.
Lucius II had nearly adjusted his features to match Derec’s; now they began to shift toward Ariel’s again. “You saw only the homunculi,” he said. “They were simple mechanical tests run to determine whether complete social functions could be programmed into the later, fully protoplasmic humans. Unfortunately, they proved too limited to answer the question, but the human-making project has enjoyed better success.”
In the voice of someone who wasn’t sure she wanted to know, Ariel asked, “What do you mean? What have you done?”
By way of answer, the robot turned toward the computer terminal at Avery’s side. He didn’t need the keyboard, but sent his commands directly via comlink. By the time everyone else realized what he was doing, he had an inside view of a large, warehouselike building on the monitor. The building was missing a corner, torn completely away in the destruction of only a few minutes earlier, but they could still see what Lucius had intended to show them.
The floor was acrawl with small, furry, ratlike creatures. Lucius II said, “Whereas the homunculi you saw and dissected were completely robotic, and were, as you said, ‘a long way from human,’ these are actual living animals. In fact, they each carry in their cells the entire genetic code for a human being-all twenty-three chromosome pairs-but certain genes for intelligence and physical appearance have been modified for the test run. Once I am convinced that the process has no hidden flaws, I will use the unmodified genes to create humans for the city to serve.”
“You will do no such thing!” Dr. Avery demanded. “That is an order. When I want humans here, I will put them here myself.”
“I will comply with your order. However, you should know that there was no indication of your wishes in the central computer’s programming.”
“There will be,” Avery promised. Derec suppressed a grin. No matter how much he denied it, his father’s city was still in the experimental stages as well. He and Derec had both had to make many modifications in its programming to keep it developing properly. True, the complications Lucius II had brought about were not Avery’s doing, but the city robots’ underlying desire to find and serve humans-and thus, in a sense, Lucius’s project-was.
Ariel was staring, horrified, at the creature on the screen as it picked up a scrap of something between its teeth and scuttled out the hole in the wall and out of sight. “That’s human?” she whispered.
“Not at all,” Lucius II said. “It merely uses altered human genes.”
“That’s-that’s awful. It was human, but you twisted it into something else.”
“It was never anything other than what it is.”
“It could have been!”
“Certainly. The raw materials making up this city could also have been used to produce more humans. So could a large percentage of the atmosphere. However, the depleted resources that would result from such a usage would not support those humans in any degree of comfort. I made a logical deduction that no thinking being would wish for every combination of chemicals that could possibly become human to actually do so. Was I in error?”
“Yes!” Ariel stared at him a moment, slowly realizing the true meaning of what she’d said, and went on, “I mean, no, you weren’t in error in that particular conclusion, but to apply it to already-formed genes is different.”
“The genes existed only as information patterns in a medical file until I synthesized them.”
“I don’t care! They were still-”
“Hold it,” interrupted Derec. “This is neither the time nor the place for a philosophical discussion of what makes a human. We can do that just as well at home, where we’re more comfortable.” Of his father, he asked, “Have you finished your reprogramming?”
“For the time being,” Avery replied. “There’s more yet to be done, but there’s no sense fiddling with the details until the major features are restored.”
“Then let’s go home. Come on.” Derec led the way out of the computer center, through the jumble of wreckage in the corridors-wreckage that robot crews were already at work cleaning up and repairing-and out into the street.
The destruction outside was less evident than what they had seen in the computer center. Entire buildings were missing, to be sure, but in a city that had changed its shape as often as Adam or Eve changed their features, that was no indication of damage. Only the pieces of buildings lying in the street revealed that anything was amiss, and even as they watched, those pieces whose individual cells were still functional began to melt into the surface, rejoining with the city to become part of its general building reserve once again. A few fragments were too damaged to rejoin, but robots were already at work cleaning those up as well, loading them into trucks and hauling them back to the recycling plant.
Avery smiled at the sight, and Derec knew just what was going through his mind. Transmogrifying robots meant nothing to him; entire cities were his palette.
A row of transport booths waited at the curb just outside the computer center’s doorway. The booths were just big enough for one passenger each, little more than meter-wide transparent cylinders to stand in while the magnetic levitation motors in the base whisked their passengers to their destinations. They were a new design, completely enclosed and free-roaming rather than open to the air and following tracks like the booths Derec was used to. Either the destruction had been too great to allow using the track system immediately, and these booths were a temporary measure until the old system was restored, or the City had taken advantage of the opportunity to change the design and this was to be the style from now on. It didn’t matter to Derec either way. The booths were transportation, whatever their shape.
Derec boarded one, felt it bob slightly under his weight, and grasped the handhold set into the console at waist level. “Home,” he said to the speaker grille beside the handle, trusting the central computer to recognize his voice and check his current address.
Through his internal link with the city computers, he expanded the order. Bring the others to the same destination, he sent, turning around to focus on the other members of the group, who were each boarding booths of their own. He sent the image with his order, thus defining which “others” he was talking about.
It was probably unnecessary in all but Lucius II’s case, since everyone else knew where they were going, but it never hurt to be certain.
Acknowledged,came the response.
On a whim, Derec sent, Patch me into receivers in the other booths in this party.
He could have listened in without going through the computer, but his internal comlink got harder and harder to control the more links he opened with it. Much easier to keep one link open to the computer and let it make the multiple connection.
Derec heard Ariel echo his first command: “Home.” Or. Avery boarded his booth and stood on the platform in silence. Derec smiled. His father was always testing him. Now he was waiting to see if Derec had had the presence of mind to program all the booths.
Send Dr. Avery to same destination via Compass Tower, emergency speed. Do not accept his override,he sent.
The Compass Tower was a tall pyramid a few blocks away from Derec and Ariel’s home. Before moving in with Ariel and Derec, Avery had had an office/apartment in the apex of it; perhaps he would think that the literal-minded transportation computer had misunderstood Derec’s order and was taking everyone to their ownhomes instead of Derec’s. He wouldn’t realize Derec had played a trick on him until the transport booth failed to stop there. Nor would he be able to change the booth’s destination; Derec’s command carried exactly the same weight as would his, so the computer would follow the first order received. It was a subtle warning, one Avery would probably not even perceive, but Derec was fed up with his father’s little tests, and lately he had taken to thwarting every one of them he could. Avery would never consciously decide to quit, but subliminally, where the impulse to see his son prove himself originated, perhaps he could be conditioned.
Wolruf stepped aboard her booth, saying in her deep voice,” Follow Derec.”
Derec’s booth had already started to move, but he could still hear the communications going on behind him.
Adam, via comlink, sent, 8284-490-23. The apartment’s coordinates.
Eve sent, Follow Adam. Interesting, Derec thought. Adam would rather give the coordinates than admit to following a human, even though he was compelled to do it. Eve, of course, would follow Adam to the end of the universe.
Lucius II, on the other hand…
Lucius II sent, Manual control.
Denied,the computer responded.
Human command override. Derec has already programmed your destination.
I may also be human. I wish manual control.
Derec’s eyebrows shot up. What was this? He’d just convinced the silly thing it was a robot less than half an hour ago!
A loud voice interrupted. “Hey, where are you going?” It was Avery. “Cancel destination! Stop! Let me-”
Cancel link to Avery,Derec sent.
Link cancelled,the computer replied, and Avery’s voice cut off in mid-word.
The computer had been simultaneously responding to Derec and continuing its conversation with Lucius. Derec heard - reason for believing that you are human.
I was grown, not assembled,Lucius II responded. I am a thinking being, with wishes and desires of my own. My connection to the city computer is completely voluntary.I perceive my own intellectual potentials independent of my programming.
Visual scanning shows that you are composed of the same cellular material as Robot City robots, or a variant thereof. You are not human.
Lucius II replied, A robotic exterior means nothing.Check your memory for Jeff Leong.
Derec gripped the handhold in his transport booth with enough tension to pull a lesser handle from the wall. Jeff Leong! Did Lucius II really think he was a cyborg like Jeff, a human brain in a robot body? And how had he known of Jeff, anyway? That whole incident was long past; Jeff had his human body back again and was off to college on another planet.
Obviously, Lucius had been digging through the computer, accessing records of the City’s past, records that Derec had been painstakingly replacing after Dr.Avery had wiped them in his reprogramming over a year ago. It had been Derec’s intention to give the City computer-and the robots who used it-the continuous memory of its past that he couldn’t have for himself, but that might not have been such a good idea after all, he thought now. Some memories could be dangerous.
Argument understood,the computer responded. It is possible that you are human. However, I cannot give you manual control even so. Derec ’ s order takes precedence.
This time, it did. But if Lucius II began issuing orders of his own, next time it might be Derec whose orders weren’t obeyed. That wouldn’t do.
Lucius II is not human,Derec sent. He is a robot of the same nature as Adam and Eve.
Derec’s transport booth slowed, banked around a corner, and accelerated again. Behind him the others, minus Dr. Avery, executed the same maneuver.
Cancel link to other booths,Derec sent.
Derec cancelled his own link to the computer, then focused his attention on the last booth in the line and sent directly, Lucius, this is Derec.
Is there another Lucius, or do you mean me, Lucius II?
I mean you. The original Lucius is - Derec was about to say “dead,” but thought better of it. No sense fueling the robot’s misconceptions with imprecise language. - inoperative, he sent. That means there isn ’ t much chance for confusion. I will simply call you “Lucius” unless circumstances warrant your full title.
I have no objection. I was not aware that you had a comlink.
There are lots of things you don ’ t know about me. Or about yourself,I believe.
That is true.
I have information you can use.
You ’ re wrong in assuming you ’ re human. You are an advanced experimental design of robot, just like Adam and Eve.
How do you know this?
I ’ m the son of the woman who created you.
Lucius thought about that for a long moment. Perhaps we are brothers, he said at last.
Derec laughed. I ’ m afraid not.
Perhaps we should ask our mother.
I wish we could, Derec replied.
Why can ’ t we?
BecauseI don t know where she is.
What is her name?
Idon ’ t know that, either.
What do you know about her?
Very little.I have an induced state of amnesia.
This is unfortunate.
Isn’t it, though? Derec thought. In a way, his and Lucius’s past-and Adam’s and Eve’s as well-were very similar. The robots had been planted on three different worlds with nothing more than their basic programming and inherent abilities. It had been up to them to discover their purpose in life, if life is what you wanted to call robot existence.
Similarly, Derec had awakened in a spaceship’s survival pod on an ice asteroid, without even the memory of his own name. “Derec” was the name on his spacesuit, a name he had kept even after finding that it was the name of the suit’s manufacturer. Like Lucius, he had found himself with only robots for company and questions for comfort. In the time since, he had discovered a few things about himself, most notably that his father was responsible for his condition-it was to be the ultimate “test” of his son’s worthiness-but on the whole he had found out pitifully little about his identity. Even now, with his father cured of his megalomania, he still had more questions than answers.
No wonder Lucius had suspected he might be human. For a time, Derec had wondered if he was a robot. In some cases it was a slippery distinction.
I, too, lack a past,Lucius sent.
Learn to like it,Derec replied.
Avery was waiting for them when they arrived. Derec wondered how he had managed that, then realized that it was his own doing. He had sent him off at high speed. Even the long way can be a shortcut if you go fast enough.
“Very funny,” Avery said as Derec stepped from his booth.
Derec grinned. “You needed to loosen up.”
“I’ll remember that.” Avery turned and stalked into the apartment building, determined, Derec was sure, to do nothing of the sort.
Derec waited for the others to climb out of their booths, then followed after Avery. The apartment was on the top floor of what was currently a twenty-floor tower, but the height was subject to change without notice. Derec had considered ordering the City to leave the building alone, but in the end had decided against it. Variety was the spice of life, after all. Why should he care how tall the building was? On days when it was too tall for stairs, he could always use the elevator.
Avery had already done so, but the car was already descending again. When it arrived, Derec and everyone else packed into it, and Derec commanded it to take them to the top.
The apartment filled the entire floor. The elevator opened into a skylit atrium filled with plants, surrounding a fountain that Derec had copied from an ancient design. From either side of the pool a solid stream of water arched upward in a parabola, the two streams carefully balanced to meet in the middle and spray outward in a vertical sheet of water. Derec was about to lead on past it, but Lucius paused when he saw it, then reached out and interrupted the path of one stream of water with a hand. The last of the stream continued upward as if nothing had happened, but when the gap reached the center, the other beam arched over to splash against the top of Lucius’s hand, just opposite the other water beam. It was obvious that the two beams followed exactly the same trajectory, and could meet anywhere along their paths.
Lucius removed his hand and the two streams met headon again, the point of contact slowly climbing back up to the center.
“Interesting,” he said.
“I call it ‘Negative Feedback,’ “ Derec replied. Unable to resist a little dig, he added, “It’s a useful principle. Think about it.”
If Lucius understood his implication, he gave no sign of it. “I will,” he promised.
Ariel walked on past them, through a massive simulated-wood double door and into the apartment itself. It was a palace. The living room took up one whole quarter of the floor, its glass walls on two sides affording a view of half the city stretching out to the horizon. From the main entryway, a wide, curving hallway led off into the rest of the apartment, one glass wall facing the atrium and the other studded with doors leading into the library, computer room, bedrooms, video room, dining room, kitchen, game room, fitness room, swimming pool, and on into unused space that remained unused only because no one could think of anything else they wanted to fill it with.
The apartment was big and ostentatious, far more than three humans and an alien needed, but as the only inhabitants of an entire city full of robots they had decided to enjoy it. In this particular instance, there seemed little advantage in moderation.
Another robot waited for them in the apartment: Mandelbrot, Ariel and Derec’s personal robot. Mandelbrot was a standard Auroran model, made of levers and gears and servo motors, save where damage to his right arm had been repaired with an arm salvaged from a Robot City robot. That arm could have been any shape Mandelbrot-or his masters-wished, but he had chosen to make it match his other arm as closely as possible.
“You beat us home,” Derec said when he saw him. Mandelbrot had been in the Compass Tower, helping direct the city’s reconstruction from there.
“I left as soon as my task was finished, reasoning that you would come here soon after,” the robot replied.
“Right, as usual,” Derec said, patting Mandelbrot’s metal shoulder in easy camaraderie. He nodded toward Lucius. “Here’s our troublesome renegade, ordered to behave and given a new name to remind him of it. Mandelbrot, meet Lucius.”
“Hello, Lucius,” Mandelbrot said.
“I am more properly called ‘Lucius II,’ “ Lucius said, “to distinguish me from the artist; however, Derec has pointed out that among those who realize the original Lucius is no longer operative, there is little danger of confusion in calling me simply ‘Lucius.’”
“That seems reasonable,” Mandelbrot replied.
Ariel had already disappeared into the apartment, as had Dr. Avery, but from the soft, synthesized music coming from the living room, Derec knew where at least one of them had gone. He waved the robots into the living room as well, then went into the small kitchen just next door. It held a small automat that provided light snacks and drinks for anyone who didn’t want to walk or send a robot all the way to the main kitchen. Derec dialed a number from memory, and the machine delivered up a glass of dark brown, bubbling synthetic cola, one of his own experimental creations.
“Betelgeuse, anyone?” he asked loudly.
“Yecch”‘ Ariel said from the living room.
Wolruf padded into the kitchen. “I’ll ‘ave one,” she said, holding out her hand. Derec gave her the one he had already dialed for, then ordered another for himself and a glass of Ariel’s favorite, Auroran Ambrosia, for her.
From the library Avery said, “Mandelbrot, get me a mug of coffee.”
The robot entered the kitchen behind Wolruf, waited patiently for Derec to finish with the automat, then pushed buttons in the sequence for coffee. Derec shook his head in exasperation. Avery had a whole city full of robots at his command, but he still loved to order Mandelbrot around. No doubt it was because Mandelbrot was Derec’s robot, and Ariel’s before him. Derec had considered telling Mandelbrot to ignore Avery’s picayune orders, but so far he hadn’t felt like provoking the conflict that Avery so obviously wanted.
Ariel was already sitting in one of the single-person chairs in the living room, her back to the glassed-in comer looking out over the city.Adam and Eve and Lucius were seated on a couch at an angle beside her, looking like a triple reflection of her. Wolruf followed Derec into the room and took another chair opposite the robots, leaving Derec with the choice of a chair beside Wolruf or one across from Ariel. Or
Convert Ariel ’ s chair into a loveseat,he sent to the apartment controller, and the malleable Robot City material began flowing into the new shape. The chair’s right arm receded from Ariel while more material rose up from the floor to fill in the space.
“What the-oh. You could warn a girl.”
“But you’re so pretty when you’re surprised. Your eyes go wide, and you breathe in deep…”
“Thank you.” Derec handed her the glass of Ambrosia and sat beside her.
He took a long pull at his Betelgeuse. It felt grand to relax. It seemed he’d been going full tilt since he’d first heard of these strange new robots. But now, with Lucius tracked down and ordered to stop his human-creating project, the problems he had caused were over. Completely. One nice thing about robots; once they accepted an order to do something-0r not to do it-they were locked into whatever behavior pattern that entailed.
Which, come to think of it, didn’t necessarily mean no more trouble. No amount of orders could cover every eventuality, not even a blanket order like, “Don’t cause any more trouble.” Not even the Three Laws, built into the very nature of their brains, could keep them from occasionally damaging themselves, or disobeying orders, or even harming a human, however inadvertently. It kept such harm to a minimum, surely, but it didn’t prevent it entirely. Nor would anything Derec could do keep these robots from letting their curious nature draw them into unusual situations. They were like cats; only dead ones stayed out of mischief.
“So,” Derec said, stretching out and putting an arm around Ariel. “What are we going to do with you three?”
Ariel snuggled into Derec’s side. The robots looked to one another, then back to Derec. At last Eve spoke. “You need do nothing. We are perfectly capable of taking care of ourselves.”
“And causing all sorts of problems in the process. No, sorry, but I think I want to keep an eye on you from now on.”
“As you wish.”
Lucius said, “I am happy with that arrangement. I will be glad for the opportunity to observe you as well. You are the first humans I have encountered, and since I have been ordered not to create any more, it seems likely that my time will be most profitably spent in your presence.”
Still operating under the decision to use speech rather than comlink when with humans, Adam turned to Lucius and said, “Eve and I have observed them for some time now. We are attempting to use our experience to determine what makes humans act the way they do. We intend to formulate a set of descriptive rules, similar to our own Laws of Robotics, which will describe their actions.”
“That was one purpose of my project as well.”
“When you get it figured out, let us know, okay?” Derec said facetiously.
Lucius fixed his eyes on Adam. “What have you learned about them?”
“We have learned that-”
“Hold it,” Ariel interrupted. “New datum for all of you. Humans don’t like being discussed by robots as if they weren’t in the room. If you’re going to compare notes, do it somewhere else.”
“Very well.” The three robots got up as one and walked silently out of the living room. Derec heard footsteps recede down the hallway, pause, then a door that hadn’t been there before closed softly. The robots had evidently ordered the building to make them a conference room at the other end of the apartment from the humans.
“Those robots are spooky,” Ariel whispered.
“ ‘Ur rright about that,” Wolruf said.
“If they really are my mother’s creations, then I’m not sure I want to meet her,” Derec added. “They’re so singleminded. Driven. And once they do figure out their ‘Laws of Humanics,’ I’m not sure if I want to be around for the implementation, either.”
“What do you mean? No robot can disobey the Three Laws, not even them. We’re safe.”
“Famous last words. What if they decide we’re not fit to be our own masters? What if they decide-like Adam did with the Kin on the planet where he awoke-that they would make wiser rulers than we could? The First Law would require them to take over, wouldn’t it?”
“You sound like an Earther. ‘Robots are going to take over the galaxy!’”
Derec grinned sheepishly, but he held his ground. “I know, it’s the same old tired argument, but if it was ever going to happen, now’s the time. Avery’s robot cities were spreading like cancer before we stopped them, and for all I know they could take off and start spreading again. Now these robots show up, and one of them has already made itself leader of an intelligent race. It wouldn’t take much for them to combine their programming and come up with robots who could reproduce themselves faster than humanity can, and who think humans need supervision.”
“Not much, except that they can’t do it. The first time a human told them they were hurting its normal development, they’d either have to back off or go into freeze-up with the conflict.”
“That’ s the theory, anyway,” said Derec.
“Gloom an’ doom!” Wolruf said with a rumbling laugh. “‘Uthink ‘u ‘ave trouble; what about me? I don’ even have that defense.”
“You don’t sound very worried about it.”
“ ‘Ulive where I come from, ‘u’dknow why. Robots-even alien ones-would make better rulers than what we’ve got.”
She had a point, Derec thought. When he had first encountered Wolruf, she had been a slave on an alien ship, using her servitude to payoff a familial debt. He doubted that a robot government would allow that kind of arrangement to continue.
But would they allow creativity? Adventure? Growth? Or would there be only stagnation under the robots’ protective rule? Derec spent the rest of the day wondering. They were all just abstract questions at this point, but if his parents, reckless experiments got any farther out of hand, the entire galaxy might have the chance to find out the answers.