by John Birge

Machinery loves company, regardless of species or forum.

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"Given that sexuality is polymorphic, why should not evolved consciousness be able to morph? And can the process be reversed? Given our current technology and the limited means at our disposal, I would say the chances of recovery are slim. The patient is to be wholly credited for any improvement as reversal of the condition will require technology that is currently science fiction."

—Dr. Arnott, transcribed from review meeting.


It was a gamble. Nobody dared to say exactly what the consequences would be. Eventually, it was decided that considering how far gone he was, the risk of aggravating him was worth taking if there were any beneficial effects at all; the boy had to be drawn out of his shell. If he refused to be human, which he had adamantly done for years, any momentary piercing of his cold exterior of imaginary alloys would be a success.

The slavering press had a field day when the police released the details of the gut-churning Gunn case. The papers had called the boy's father "the vilest paedophile of the decade" and "the most evil man alive". This was an overstatement in light of an ongoing corporate genocide in Africa, but then again, their crimes against humanity were only more brutal in terms of quantity, not in quality.

At the age of twelve, shortly after his father had been stabbed to death in jail, the boy had decided to take on a new persona. This had seemed reasonable at the time, but it had consequences a systematically abused twelve-year is excused for not foreseeing. Besides, the alternative was unthinkable. And that was how the life of Daniel Robert Gunn ended.

He had decided that the best course of action was to be a robot, like those he had seen in movies and cartoons. Incapable of emotion and by correlation incapable of being harmed, he became R.DG1, the robot child.

And he remained so. Three years passed, but in his padded cell the robot found the serenity of indifference. If not ordered to do anything, he sat still as he assumed robots do until the lights went out. Once, in a note he secretly handed to the night watch, he expressed an almost human wish; he wished that his regenerative cycle—what the watchman would call sleep—was shorter. But he never talked about it again and soon came to believe that he was damaged beyond repair, though he could not say how or why.

* * *

A few days ago, the therapists were excited because R.DG1 had expressed an interest in interaction. This was considered a major breakthrough by the white coats, but their hopes were ground into flakes of steel when they realised that the robot boy only wished to interact with other robots. And he would read about them first, in books.

He was, in human terminology, eager to meet robot friends. He wanted to know what the other members of his species were up to, and he decided to do some research. However, he was outraged by the treatment his fellow robots received in the stories, finding both characters and authors equally condescending. Robots were portrayed as either tabula rasa constructs which made them obedient idiot automatons or they were menacing, emotionless murderers.

During his brief time on Tellus, he knew that the vast majority of people didn't fit into these two categories at all. It didn't feel right that these writers should appropriate these traits to slander robots who, to the best of R.DG1's knowledge, had never done any wrong and quoted the robot dictum in an e-mail he sent to his therapist; "robots don't hurt people, people hurt people".

He thought he would feel anger, but felt no emotion, just the calculating pseudo-neurons in his head working at a greater efficiency than they usually did. His breathing became fully autonomous, his vision focused and his eyes became slits as he felt his blood circulation increase.

A tantrum and two sedatives later, he was escorted back to his cell. But Dr. Arnott did not give up on him just yet, nor did R.DG1 abandon his desire to interact with his fellow robots and two days later he was allowed to interact with an "unevolved" version.

They had described the MMI to him. It was shockingly crude, incapable of polyanalysing problems and too primitive for independent cross-verification. It was in fact ancient, which presented somewhat of a problem, for he was unsure how he would interface with the inanimate computer.

The boy who was a robot sat motionless in front of the computer. Grudgingly, his thin arms placed his hands on the keyboard. And nothing happened.

"What can it do?" he asked the therapist.

"You can find everything you need on robots on the net. It's like a database."

The boy locked eyes with the machine, but did nothing.

"Maybe you should have just killed me," he said, shattering a silence saturated with human expectation. "When I was made, I mean. I will never be human again and there's no point in trying."

"What do you mean?" asked his therapist. He couldn't even remember her name.

"Expecting me to interact with this computer. It's clearly designed for a human interface, not a robotic."

"Well, what's the difference?"

R.DG1 said nothing.

"Here, I'll get you started. Just give one of them a try."

The therapist interfaced with the machine and the screen changed. She was searching for something.

"There we go," she said and disconnected from the interface. "It's all yours now. See if you can't find a story you like more. Lots of people write about robots, you know, they're all over the place."

"It's just that I'm the only one in here," he said matter-of-factly and attempted to interface. To his surprise, it worked. He mastered the primitive equipment with ease and soon found a plethora of robot stories.

If his psychiatrist was going to hold her breath until he found a story he liked, one that treated robots truthfully, she would have asphyxiated herself, which he could not allow.

"I'm fine," he said. "Just leave me here and I will call for you when I am done."

She left him, closing the door behind her. He knew she could be staring at him through the camera eye, but he couldn't be more unaffected.

After attempting to find something redeeming in two stories, he gave up and decided to look into other things, but paused when he saw the left-hand navigational menu.

"Guidelines," he read. "There should be something here about robot hate." He fixed his ocular senses on the screen and began to read. Surely it would be in everybody's best interest to legislate—or at the very least formulate an accurate guideline—on how robots should be depicted in stories. Human beings can be anything from saviours to mass murderers and the story will remain truthful, because some humans are saviours and some are mass murderers. Robots, however, are unchanging; a fixed point of permanence in an ever-changing world.

Then he read it. And again. And for the first time in years, he experienced mild surprise. Because even though he had expected, well, something like this, he had not been sufficiently prepared for the impact it would have on his positron brain.

"Nobody really wants to read "Teh time The Robotz Conquered It's H8," it told him.

R.DG1, incapable of dealing with the problem, had off-loaded it to the defunct, human side, probably to dispose of it like he did with so many other irrelevant things. But this time, the fried circuits fired something back from the abyss—a reaction.

Nobody saw it, not the camera eye, not the surveillance guy. In fact, it was barely visible. Nothing but a smile, a slight tremor of muscles and lips.

It might mean nothing. Daniel is merely a ghost in the machine, systematically repressed and nearly eradicated. A random result of flawed data input, he felt amusement only like an amputee would feel the missing arm in the middle of the night. No, Daniel was gone forever. But even so, perhaps, given time, there could be a new beginning—a new life.







Copyright © 2007 John Birge

A B O U T   T H E   A U T H O R:

John Birge: AA traveller, visitor and writer of worlds, John Birge is a young off-beat writer who wishes he was a astronaut rock star. Although primarily a prose writer, he experiments with poetry with equal brutality and glee. Primarily interested in textual telepathy, absurdities and good old-fashioned human stupidity. Vendettas include Joaquin Phoenix's role in "Space Camp". Also, see www.johnbirge.com for more madness.

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