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By Robert Musser
The Mother loved her factory. It was the womb, the birthplace, the chamber where conglomerates of wires and carefully designed and molded metal were given the breath of life. Where she herself had been given that breath, when she'd still had a robot body.
She watched through the network of security cameras installed within her womb. Mechanical arms probed the newborns' bodies for imperfections. Computer interfaces uploaded each new child's memory and mission parameters. Arms and legs were attached, and tentatively moved about as her children became alive.
Mother checked SecCom 146B, the programming room. Several newborns, humanoid and otherwise, leaned against the wall, restrained by metal bars. She scanned them, looking for the one...
There. Right hand wall, second from left. Round, tan, vaguely humanoid body,
low domed head. The humanoid body was an awkward, inefficient shape, but it made
humans more comfortable, which was all the better for her plans. He, R66-Y, was the
one she had selected for this mission. Mother tapped into the computer interface linking
R66-Y to the mainframe, and began feeding him files.
He awoke, his optical sensors still off-line, in a strange place. He did not know where he had been before, or IF he had been before. Only that he was.
R66-Y's first impulse was to move, but he found himself unable to, even though his motion modulator was online. He was puzzled. But when he activated his optical sensors, he saw that he was restrained by a series of metal structures strapped across his body. He found this amusing, and mentally laughed, then wondered what was so funny. He became frustrated with his confusion, then sad, then, strangely, happy again.
A wave of information blasted through his neural chips, disorienting him. Someone was uploading files into him. When the wave stopped, he scanned the files, and the first was one called "R66-Y Mission Parameters." Intrigued, he opened the file.
Overlapping his visual relay image was a humanoid woman. He assumed she was beautiful by human standards, and she was made from the colors of the rainbow, as though she was the source of life itself. He instinctively recognized her as his Mother. "Greetings, R66-Y," she said. "You no doubt already know who I am. But you are not quite sure who you are. That is what I am here to explain.
"You are a robot, like any other born here. However, you are special, with a special mission. You have been designed to coexist with the human race. You are to go live at Proto Dome, studying them, learning their weaknesses, and reporting back to us. That way, when the time is right, we can strike out at them and eliminate them from the face of the planet."
R66-Y was confused. Eliminate the humans? What had they done? Why were the robots trying to do this? But oh well. Best not to question Mother's orders.
"You have been specially programmed for this mission. Most of my children are simply drones, with little free will. But you, R66-Y, are special. You have been given the ability to think for yourself, to have true emotions, and these are what make you well-suited to this mission.
"For the duration of this mission you will be called 'Prometheus,' a figure from ancient human mythology. You will be assigned a companion, JR-06, 'Atropos,' to aid you in your mission. You will be transported to Proto Dome, a factory-based facility, in 1.0764 hours. Good luck, Prometheus." The transmission ceased.
Prometheus quickly scanned the other files. They weren't important, basically
weapons designs and his blueprints. He removed the computer interface link, and the
metal bars retracted. As he stepped out, he heard a soft voice say, "Greetings,
Prometheus. I am Atropos." He turned to his left, and upon seeing her, he began the
process of his humanization by experiencing his first emotion - love.
"Well? Our mission starts in 1.0521 hours," she said impatiently, and then Prometheus realized that he had been staring. Staring at the lovely robot, identical to him, but a softer pink color, with a metallic bow on her head. He pretended that everything was all right. "Oh, uh, affirmative...Let us go."
They left the factory after spending the next hour adjusting to their new humanoid bodies, and standing outside was a large avian robot. It arched its long brown neck and angled its thin beak towards the robots. "R66-Y and JR-06?" it queried in a squawking, grating voice. Both robots nodded. "I am AV-6L5," it said, "your transport to Proto Dome. Please board." It lowered its right wing to the ground, forming a ramp to a pair of seats specially designed for the awkwardly-shaped humanoids.
Prometheus stepped up and sat down, followed by Atropos. As the restraining belts snapped shut, he turned to Atropos, once again captivated by her appearance. The longing he felt was uncomfortable, and depressing. He knew that she had not been given this programming capacity. She could never reciprocate his feelings. So why did he bother? He sighed, or at least made an imitation of a human sigh.
The transport flapped its wings fiercely, and the three flew to the north.
After a brief flight, AV-6L5 landed in front of the dome. It was a somewhat disappointing sight to Prometheus; he had expected towering spires reaching to the heavens, transports bustling about, and all sorts of activity. But Proto Dome was just a small, opaque bubble, even smaller than the factory.
Prometheus waited for the restraining harness to retract, then climbed down from his seat after Atropos. He walked to the portal and pressed his hand on it. It slowly slid open-
-to reveal a human, thin and pale, covered in gray rags, holding a small laser weapon. "So..." he growled. "You Steelies decided to come back."
Prometheus stammered in surprise. "I...uh...that is, we are simply here to seek shelter. We come in peace."
The human's next word were inaudible over the laser bolt that flew at Prometheus. He leaped back, the bolt leaving a slight streak on his plating. AV-6L5 squawked in surprise, and quickly flew away.
"You damn robots trashed our dome last time, it ain't happenin' again!" the man declared. He fired again. This time Prometheus was more prepared, and leaped aside with inches to spare. He shouted, "Please! You must believe us!"
Atropos had now activated her shadow laser, and was charging up for a quick blast. She took careful aim, lining up the crosshairs in her visual receptors, just as the human fired again.
The blast struck her right in the center of her chest, near where the plates would separate to reveal her laser cannon. The stored laser energy exploded forth. Her optical sensors shattered outwards, flames leaping from the sockets. Her limbs jerked about wildly, electricity crackling along her armor plates. She fell, as pieces of metal and memory chips burst from her chest.
Prometheus ran to where she lay. Oil and coolant leaked freely from split tubes in her exposed innards. Shards of steel were nestled in her body cavity. All that remained of her laser cannon was a charred, rough-edged stump. She struggled to stand, them collapsed under the effort. Her systems worked furiously to keep from shutting down.
Prometheus felt a burning, deep inside, that caused his oil to bubble. He wanted nothing more than to kill that man, to squeeze his neck until bone and windpipe were crushed. His processor identified this feeling as "rage," but he paid no attention to that analysis as he stood up and charged at the human.
The human was shocked by this sudden charge. But not to shocked to lift his weapon and fire several unaimed blasts at the attacking robot.
Prometheus ran on, paying no attention to the black scars being drawn across his body. He reached the human and grabbed his arm roughly. The man, wide-eyed, dropped his gun. Prometheus lifted the human from the ground roughly by the arm and squeezed. The human screamed as he heard his bones crunch under the immense pressure.
Prometheus threw him down. "Listen," he said, barely restraining himself from shouting. "We came here in peace. But I could easily alter the intent of our mission. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to squeeze the life from your puny body. But we may be able to keep that from happening, if you like. Got it?" The human nodded meekly.
Prometheus walked back to Atropos, kneeling alongside her. As he set about refusing her coolant tubes and replacing her chips, he knew with cold satisfaction why Mother wanted the humans dead. If they were all like this man, then they deserved to die.
And he would maintain this charade until the last one fell.
"Yeah, I tell you, mutant hunting is an art," Wilson said with a chuckle. He picked up his sniper rifle and backpack again and continued walking. "Most of 'em are about as smart as humans. But they're big, and good eating." He chuckled and shook his head. "Well, actually, they taste like dirt, but it's better than surviving offa the Enertron like some folks."
He turned and smiled at his two robot companions. "Well, I know you don't give a damn about food, but it'll be a fascinatin' experience for you." He turned backed and continued walking, with Atropos and Prometheus following close behind.
It had been decades since Wilson had given the two robots their "welcome," and several times Prometheus actually came close to forgiving him. He had been considerably kinder in the years after the incident, and he seemed sincere enough (though it may have been just because he didn't want to lose the use of any more body parts). But a bit of anger still burned in Prometheus, and a desire to reach his objective. By his request several other R-series robots were brought to Proto Dome, to pretend to aid the people. In reality, they were just there to provide a quick attack opportunity.
Finally, the three stopped in front of the mutant hunting ground: the ruins of a city from around 1999, in the vicinity of what had once been Lab 32, suddenly extinguished by the awakening of Lavos. Scorched husks of skyscrapers towered over the land like sentinels frozen in time. Bits of trash and buildings rode the wind across the cracked asphalt. Vermin of varying sizes scampered about with pieces of meat.
Prometheus did not know what Lavos looked like. His only knowledge of the beast was in a world history file in his memory, and that featured only text. He couldn't see it himself, either, for after it emerged and destroyed the world (for all practical purposes), it disappeared. It was evidently still alive, for spawn of the creature were sent to the surface from time to time to feed. But it was not seen since 2000, when the destruction ended. However, it was enough for Prometheus to realize what enormous power Lavos possessed. He shuddered.
"This'll be good," Wilson said, throwing his gear behind a steel wall of about shoulder height, the remains of some unknown building. He guided the robots behind the wall, and pulled from his backpack a long-dead rodent. The smell was so powerful that Prometheus had to turn down his olfactory sensors, and even Atropos flinched.
"May not smell too good," Wilson agreed, wrinkling his nose, "but the mutants'll eat anything they can get." He flung the rat-creature over the wall. And then waited.
"It'll take a while," the man said. "You may want ta shut down for a coupla
hours." Prometheus nodded, then slumped over as he switched himself off.
Prometheus automatically reactivated from Wilson's shaking. "We got a big one!" he hissed excitedly. "It'll feed the dome for a week!"
Prometheus turned to Atropos, but saw that she was already "awake." Cautiously, the three peered over the wall.
The mutant was a sort of cross between a mushroom, an octopus, and various other creatures that Prometheus couldn't identify. Its eyes appeared glazed and dull, but at brief moments, one could see a spark of intelligence in them. It slowly waddled over on three of its big, red, rubbery tentacles, over to the rodent. It leaned over it. It prodded it with a thinner tentacle. It opened its lipless mouth, and grasped the carcass with sharp teeth, which suddenly retracted from its mouth.
Wilson slowly reached to the ground with his good arm, picked up his custom-made sniper rifle. He set it on the top edge of the wall, and slowly aimed at the mutant. He chuckled as he activated his laser sight.
Prometheus turned to Atropos briefly. Then, a strange thing happened. She deactivated her left optical sensor for half a second, then reactivated it, in an imitation of a wink. Confused, he cocked his head questioningly. She turned to Wilson. And in a horrified moment, he knew what she was going to do.
Wilson finger tightened on the trigger-
Then found the barrel of his gun grasped by a pink hand. Too stunned to react, he stood wide-eyed as the hand lifted his gun and snapped it forward, tossing him over the wall. He landed by the dead rodent. The mutant lifted its head, confused.
Prometheus tried to stop her, but Atropos had already aimed the sniper rifle. She fired once, twice.
Wilson screamed as the laser bolts burned through his legs. He looked across at them, and saw that they had sizzled through his knees. He wondered at this for a moment, then saw the mutant, no longer confused, looming over him, and he understood with a dawning fear. He struggled to stand, but bolts of agony blasted through his legs. He screamed once more as the mutant bent over and began to feed.
He stayed alive for a surprisingly long time.
Prometheus began charging his laser as he started to dash around the wall. He was horrified by the previous events. He didn't like humans, especially not Wilson, but he knew that the man was not truly evil, and didn't deserve a death as hideous as the one Atropos had given him. He prepared to aim his laser at the mutant, but he was knocked aside by a swift swipe from Atropos.
"Are you forgetting our mission?" Atropos said. "The humans are to die. We are here to facilitate their extinction."
"No, we're only here to give Mother information on the humans," protested Prometheus. "She said nothing about killing them directly!"
"You know, I am led to suspect that you almost support these lesser creatures," Atropos said menacingly.
"I do not!"
"Then why do you oppose the death of this one?"
"Because the humans are living creatures, flesh and blood, just like-"
He paused, and looked down at himself. And for the first time, he saw what he was. Steel and plastic. Wires and tubes. Artificial. Not alive. Unlike the humans. And he realized that was why the humans should live. They were alive...He wasn't. He was denying it internally, it conflicted with every program in his memory, but it was true: he no longer wanted the humans to die. Atropos would never understand. But he had to try. He began to speak again.
"I love you," he said. "I have for the past thirty-two years since I was born. I know that you may not be able to share my feelings, but I beg you, if you even care about me a little, do not help destroy the humans."
For a moment, Atropos changed. For a brief moment, Prometheus saw the beginnings of emotion, of feeling, of breaking away from the Mother Brain.
But only for a moment.
"I do not know what love is," Atropos replied coldly, "save for a silly hormone process to help humans reproduce. All I know is that our Mother has given us a mission, and we will accomplish it. If you like, I will overlook your random babbling and welcome you back into Mother's arms. Otherwise, you will have to be destroyed. It is your last chance."
Though Prometheus felt a stab of pain where his heart would have been, had he been truly alive, he wasted no time coming to his conclusion. All that was needed to convince him was Wilson's continuing screams in the street. He turned, and ran.
Atropos watched him for a moment, then activated her communications link and told Mother to prepare to attack Proto Dome.
Prometheus struggled to the dome's entrance, his joints creaking from lack of lubrication. His brain sent burning lines of data searing through his body. Damn you, Mother, damn you, Atropos, damn you, Prometheus, stupid stupid stupid DAMN YOU MOTHER...He released his tension in a burst of steam from his back, then slammed his fist on the door. It opened obligingly.
As he sprinted to the main chamber, he saw that the robots had not yet attacked. He let air hiss through his mouth-part with relief. But then he remembered his mission.
"You've got to get out of here!" he pleaded. "The robots are going to attack!" He gestured around the room, indicating the R-series androids around him.
"Whadderya talking about?" a young woman spat. "You got a coupla loose circuits?"
"No, it's true!" Prometheus yelled. "Atropos just signaled them! They'll attack once she gets here! Get out, quickly!"
"It is true," R45-Y agreed flatly. "Once JR-06 arrives, we have orders to eliminate the residents of this dome. Although I do not understand," he added, turning his cold eye panels to Prometheus, "why you wish them to escape. Do you not understand our mission?"
The other humans had stayed silent this whole time. Then one finally acted.
By throwing a rough-edged metal plate at Prometheus. "So, that was it all along, huh?" the human accused.
"Never shoulda trusted the Steelie!" another added, hurling a bottle at the shocked robot. Too surprised to react, Prometheus lost his balance and fell.
"Just like the last time..." This one only a child, no older than eight, leaped toward the fallen robot and began throwing punches to his body.
"Die, Steelie bastard!" The crowd began converging on the cowering robot, despite Prometheus's protests. The other robots, bound without exception to their programming, could only watch, and at this terrible sight, felt...nothing.
The portal hissed open, and Atropos rushed into the dome. One robot, R03-Y, lifted his weapon, but Atropos yelled, "Hold your fire!"
The crowd slowly left the battered body of Prometheus. Atropos walked over to him as he struggled to sit up.
"Atropos, you can't do this!" he begged. "Kill me if you want, but not these people-"
"Relax," she said soothingly. "Mother has had a change of plans. Proto Dome will not be attacked. But..." She paused, sadly. "I am afraid that you must be eliminated. I'm sorry..."
Prometheus sat silently for a moment, then hung his head. He did not want to die...But if it meant saving Proto Dome, so be it. Mother's favorite, he thought bitterly. He was glad that evil being he'd once called Mother would have to find a new favorite. "I will miss you," he said.
"And I you," she replied, as she aimed her shadow beam at his chest, and fired once.
For a brief moment a strange program activated in Atropos's mind. It was a cold, yet burning program. Had she been experienced with emotions, she would have recognized it as guilt. But all she knew was that it ripped through her innards like the laser blast through Prometheus's, and caused her to collapse on the floor, quivering.
R03-Y stepped forward to aid her, but she waved him aside. After a moment, she rose, slowly. She felt the program emerge again, but she managed to hold it back. She knew why it had activated. Not because she had killed Prometheus...
But because she had lied to him.
After another moment, she felt another strange program (sadness) as she said,
"Commence the attack."
The R-series robots were designed for, among other things, efficiency. Within ten minutes the last human scream died out, and only ashes were left to suggest that anyone had been there.
On closer examination, Atropos saw that Prometheus was not dead; the laser blast had only disabled him. For ten minutes she stayed after the other robots had left, trying to bring herself to finish the job. But the strange programs she had experienced earlier had replicated and mutated, and she found that she couldn't. Her emotion programming, which had first been brought about at Lab 32, was still in its infancy. But try as she might, she couldn't delete it or impede its growth.
As she left, oil streaking from ducts under her eyes, the dome portal hissed shut,
the seal on R66-Y's tomb.
The Mother reproduced.
More humans died.
R66-Y's body collected rust.
Four years later, three children entered Proto Dome...
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