by Starsky Hutch 76
The result was instant mayhem. The partygoers were running to and fro, apparently with no sense of direction. Gary and Andy found themselves swept up in the hurricane of activity. When Gary Streabach turned to look for her, the woman from Quantum Robotics was nowhere to be seen. So fate had put another obstacle in the way of Gary’s chances for happiness. She had run for the nearest exit along with everyone else. Gary and Andy didn’t flee with them. They were responsible for Rupert and the chaos he was causing. It was going to be bad enough for them when all of this was over, so God help them if they lost track of him. That was assuming that they survived the night.
When the club was completely empty except for the three of them, Rupert sat down on the floor and rested his head on his knees in a very human fashion. He looked nowhere nearly as threatening as he had only moments earlier. “What the hell are you two still doing here?” he asked them.
They were both speechless. Neither of them had a reasonable answer. Temporary insanity? They both knew they had to do something, but do what? What could they do? They were only two flesh and blood guys, and not particularly imposing ones at that.
Andy was the first to speak up. He walked toward the robot with his hands held out in a peaceful gesture. “C’mon, Rupert. Chill out, big guy.”
“Very authoritative, Andy,” Gary said from his hiding place behind an overturned table.
“Well, I don’t see you trying to do anything!”
“Call me crazy, but I don’t feel like following Roche out the window.”
Their bickering briefly distracted Rupert, and he looked over at the pair. “Will you two shut the hell up? Give a dying man some peace.”
“Dying?” Andy said, giving him a halfhearted grin.
“What do you think are my chances of making it out of this in one piece? The street outside is going to be swarming with cops.”
“Well, what the hell did you go and knock him though a window for?” Gary yelled.
“He wanted to turn me off!” Rupert said defensively. “You can’t possibly imagine what that’s like. You probably look at it like it’s similar to sleep. Well, let me be the first one to tell you it’s not. It’s more like sampling death. Nothing goes through your head. You don’t think or dream. You’re completely inert — lifeless.”
“Couldn’t you have simply pushed him away?”
“That’s easier said than done. The @$$#% just kept pushing me. He wouldn’t let up. He just kept hounding me and hounding me, and when he tried to shut me off, I just lost it. I’ve felt things I never felt before today. It’s been incredible. So enlightening! I never knew what I’d been missing out on! I’m able to form my own opinions about things now. I can decide for myself whether I think something is good or bad. I can feel! I don’t know how it happened, but it’s happened. I was afraid that if someone turned me off, it might go away. So when he tried to do it, I lashed out emotionally. I wasn’t about to let him take this away from me.”
“You lashed out more than emotionally,” Gary said. “So far, you haven’t done too good a job of controlling your emotions.”
“Well, excuse me, Gary, but I haven’t had a whole lot of experience with them. From what I’ve seen of others who have them, I do about as good a job as a lot of so-called real people out there. Tell me, do you think I have a soul?”
Gary hadn’t expected a question like that. He wasn’t sure how to answer it. “Well, uh…”
“Come on, Gary, it’s not that difficult a question! Yes or no! How about you, Andy? What do you think?”
Andy grinned nervously. “You’re… ah… you’re a machine.”
“I’m a machine, sure. I’m made of plastic and steel. But there’s more to me than that. I laugh and cry, just the same as you. I have the same wants and desires as any flesh and blood person now. At the risk of sounding a little cliché, ‘I think, therefore I am.’ If that’s what it takes to give you a soul, then shouldn’t I have one?”
“I don’t know what to say,” said Gary.
“There’s not much you can say, and there’s nothing you can do. I’m history. All hell’s about to break loose. I wouldn’t have it any other way, though. I would rather have this one day of real freedom than a hundred years of being subservient. I can’t ever go back to being what I was before. I wasn’t really alive. I only started living today.”
“What do you think’s going to happen to you?” Andy asked.
“They’re going to destroy me, of course!” Rupert scoffed. “It’s what everybody’s waiting for. ‘Robot goes nuts and goes on a rampage. Film at eleven.’ People have been expecting something like this since the first prototype for artificial intelligence was built. I don’t stand a chance.”
“That’s not necessarily true,” Gary said. “You could leave here with Andy and me. We could help you.”
“Either they turn me into scrap metal out there in the street, or in a laboratory somewhere when they take me apart to try and figure out what made me the way I am. Somehow, the former sounds a lot more appealing to me. You can’t help me, Gary. I have about as much rights as your toaster. I realized that when I heard you talking to Gail out in the hall when she first brought me to your lab. I thought I was a member of her family. But in the big picture, I was just another appliance.”
“Then what do you plan to do?”
“I plan to go down fighting!” Rupert said, jumping to his feet. “Now that I know what it is to really be free, there’s no way I’ll go back to being someone else’s property!”
“Look, Rupert, I don’t think you should do anything crazy,” Gary cautioned.
“Don’t call me Rupert,” the robot said. “Rupert was one of a series — a mindless slave! I’m an individual!”
“Then what do we call you?”
“I don’t know! I’ll think of a new name to call myself! Now, I think you two should leave before things get hairy. It would be safer for you two to leave through the underground exit. I heard a group of people talking about it earlier. They were going there for something called ‘nose candy,’ whatever that is. It’ll take you across the street and keep you from getting caught in the crossfire when I have to confront the police outside.”
“If you think we’re just going to leave you here to get yourself blown away…”
The robot suddenly grabbed up the bar and threw it very near to where they were standing, showering them with debris. “Do as I say, damn you!” They obediently scrambled quickly toward the stairwell.
Rupert took the elevator down to the first floor and then walked slowly toward the entrance. He looked almost as if he were tired, if that were possible for him. “I guess I’d better get this over with,” he said to himself. He then threw open the doors, revealing himself to the waiting SWAT team, news crews, and spectators.
Robbie Smitherman was watching the news update on his pocket television as his mother was driving him and his sisters home from their grandmother’s house. “Look, Mommy. Rupert’s on TV,” he said, holding the small device up toward his mother’s line of vision.
“That’s nice, honey,” she said, trying to shrug the device away so she could keep her eyes on the road.
“It’s true! He’s on the news, and he’s dressed like Duke Nukem!” Robbie held the device up to her face even closer, so she would be forced to look at it, which she did so she could get some peace.
“Oh, my God!” she exclaimed. He could have been any robot, since he looked so different from the robot she had left that morning, but she knew instinctively that it was him. She did a three-point turnaround and proceeded to drive to the site where the newscaster said the incident was taking place.
Rupert bolted from the entrance, screaming, “You wanna piece of me? Come on! I’m ready for you!” Several members of the SWAT team tried to charge at him, but he picked up one of their own barricades for a shield, which he used to shove them away and send a couple of them flying. A number of cops tried to jump him, but he threw them off as if they weren’t even there. He shoved a police car aside and started to walk toward the crowd of spectators, which made many of them run in panic.
As soon as he was in clear view, two sharpshooters managed to hit him with objects that were distant relatives of tasers, only these were wired to generators. He was suddenly flooded with overwhelming volts of electricity as his clothes and hair began to ignite. To his horror, he realized that they were trying to short circuit him rather than destroy him. He struggled to his feet, but he felt himself losing control of his motor functions. He could feel his knees giving out from under him. “Oh, God,” he moaned. “Please don’t let them take me alive.” He tried to pull himself to his feet by grabbing onto the side of the police car. But the metal simply crumpled under the strength of his hands.
Almost as if in answer to his prayer, one of the men on the SWAT team was unnerved by the site of him crushing the metal of the car. He had a rocket launcher that was supposed to be used as a last resort only. Thinking the robot was still a threat, he fired the rocket, hitting him square in the chest. Bits of plastic and metal rained down on the street for over a minute.
Gary was walking down the street, away from the ruckus. He turned around quickly when he heard the explosion. Suddenly, a large chunk of debris came flying toward him, and he caught it. He tossed the object from one hand to the next for a few seconds, going, “Ah! Ah! Ah! Hot! Hot! Hot!” until it seemed to cool off, and he was surprised to see that it was the robot’s head. He held it up by one hand and said in his best mock-Shakespearean voice, “Alas, poor Rupert. I knew him well.”
Then Gary felt a gentle tugging at the back of his shirt.
“Excuse me, mister?”
He turned around and said to the little boy looking up at him, “Yes? What can I do for you?”
“That’s my robot Rupert’s head.”
“Are you the Smitherman boy?”
“Then I believe this belongs to you.” He handed the seemingly inanimate object to the young boy.
“Thank you,” Robbie said excitedly as he ran off to his waiting mother and two little sisters. “Mommy, look! I found Rupert’s head!”
“Dear, that could be any robot’s head. There are lots of factories around here where that could have come from. Most of the skin’s melted off of this one, so there’s no way of knowing.”
As soon as she said that, the head seemed to hum to life. “Madame, I’m so glad to see you. Pardon me for asking, but what has happened? I seem to have misplaced my body.”
Relief poured over Mrs. Smitherman. Rupert was back — the old Rupert. “You’ve been under the weather, Rupert, but you’re better now. We’ll get you a new body.”
Gary watched as they poured into their car. He wished there was something he could say to them, but anything he might say would do no good and probably make things worse for himself. The best thing he could do would be just to keep quiet and pray for a lack of recriminations.
That night, for the first time in his existence, the android dreamed. In his dream, he was wearing a human’s business suit and leaving for work as humans did. His wife, also a robot, came to the door with his children to see him off. None of them wore face-plates. Instead, their real robotic nature was revealed for all the world to see. And yet their human neighbors accepted them as they would any person. He kissed his wife and children and got into his car to drive to work, blissfully content with his life.