Deus et Machina
The robot turned on for the first time.
The two camera eyes on his humanoid face took in the room around him.
Floor-to-ceiling windows made up one wall, through which he could see the top of an expansive green forest. A luxurious tan couch lined the opposite wall below a large impressionistic painting of baseball legend Mickey Mantle. A glass case showcased tall, bronze trophies. One of the two lightbulbs in the case was broken, so that half the trophies stood in shadow. The robot felt his first emotional sensation: this broken lightbulb bothered him.
A human stood in front of him. Using facial recognition, he learned that the human was Maurice Spaulding, retired shortstop for the New York Yankees. Second best batting average of all time at 4.91.
Deep within his programming, he felt a fundamental and primal drive to help Maurice in any way.
I am a HAR-E unit: Home Assistant Robot with Emotions. Emotions are complex experiences that add subjective quality to rational computational processing of the world and facts.
Maurice looked at the robot. At 6’3” Maurice was an inch taller than the robot, with wide, round shoulders and muscular arms that completely filled his light blue T-shirt. His left arm rested across his abdomen in a navy blue sling. A pair of goggles hung unused like a necklace around his neck.
“Hello,” said the robot in a friendly, melodic voice. “I am your new HAR-E: Home Assistance Robot with Emotions. But you may call me Harry.”
Maurice grimaced and looked at the floor.
Harry felt a small pang of guilt in his limbic processor, and he halted in his opening statement. Something he had said caused this human to feel pain.
Harry continued. “I have been programmed to feel emotion, just like you, so that I may better understand you and thereby meet your needs.”
Maurice rolled his eyes. “You can’t meet my needs.”
“I am programmed to perform 1,437 tasks.”
“Can you help me recover from a shoulder injury any faster?” The tone of Maurice’s voice registered as ‘sarcastic.’
Harry queried his task database, and felt a shade of useless. “No.”
“I don’t need assistance,” said Maurice, who waved a hand dismissively at Harry and walked to the window.
“Sir, my prime purpose is to assist. I will remind you that I am programmed to perform 1,437 — “
“I can still do things myself,” Maurice snapped.
Harry understood not to press his new owner when he was upset, but a question nagged at his software mind, one that he couldn’t answer by searching his files. Curiosity won. “Then why did you purchase me?”
“Doctor’s orders. I’m supposed to rest, not do household stuff. But I don’t need home cooked meals. I don’t need a tidy house. I need my life back.”
Maurice looked vacantly out the window. “Tell Dr. Norm Walsh that I’ve filled his prescription by buying you and turning you on.” He crossed to the couch and lay himself on it gingerly. He tried pulling the goggles over his eyes, but it was difficult for him to do with one hand.
“Sir, I can assist you,” offered Harry.
“I can manage on my own,” snapped Maurice. “Just go away.”
He managed to get the goggles in place. “Show photos of me with Leslie.”
For a fraction of a second, Harry thought Maurice had made a request of the robot. A burst of excitement shot through him. But then Harry realized Maurice had spoken into his goggles, a device used to access the Netstream, an endless flow of curated news and entertainment.
Disappointment replaced his excitement. He hadn’t asked help of him. He had said to go away. But where? And do what?
Harry left Maurice in the living room and wandered the house. There were fifteen rooms in all, a swimming pool, and a pool house.
Harry stared into the swimming pool. Staring back at him was a humanoid machine in a smooth, egg-colored, plastichrome shell. Only the joints of his shoulders and elbows, knees and ankles revealed the stainless steel mechanics underneath. His head was an upside-down tear-drop with two cameras for eyes and a small horizontal line where a human’s mouth was to serve as a speaker that projected his voice.
Harry was made after the image of humans, and yet how unlike a human he was. He had no parents and would have no offspring. HAR-E units had been designed by Kikuchi Izuki and formed by Halima Industries. For a fleeting moment, that gave Harry an important sense of being from somewhere. But he had been made to leave. Had been sold. Delivered to this home where now the human who bought him didn’t want even him around.
He was alone. He felt abandoned. What was he to do? How would he spend his time?
In four seconds flat, Harry found and read the top fifteen books on time management. He assessed that the best combination of logic and inspiration was found in the works of Stephanie Coventry, who wrote that the most important task one can spend one’s time on is the task one should seek to do above all else.
Harry scanned his list of 1,437 tasks to prioritize the one that held the most value. But he had no measure by which to determine value. Waxing the cars seemed a viable candidate. Maurice’s garage held three sports cars, which together were 88% likely to be worth 1.27 million dollars. But the house was currently valued at 15.5 million. Perhaps he should start by vacuuming or weeding the yard.
Harry settled on washing the windows and got to work. He found two bottles of blue glass cleaner and a roll of paper towels under the bathroom sink.
Starting in the exercise room, window after window, Harry sprayed and scrubbed the glass. When he had cleaned every window in the house except for the one in the family room, where Maurice still lay on the couch wearing his goggles.
“Come on, Leslie, it’ll be fun. I’ll pick you up in the Ferrari. How about six?”
Maurice shifted onto his side, curling his body inward toward the back of the couch.
Harry crept slowly into the room, stepping as lightly as his heavy metal body would allow. With the goggles on, and distracted by his conversation, Maurice wouldn’t see what Harry was doing. The notion of disobeying his owner, Harry knew, was against the Second Law of Robotics, and his programming wouldn’t allow it. But the First Law demanded that a robot must not allow a human to come to harm. And by not maintaining the value of his house, Maurice would come to financial harm someday.
“Look, Leslie, I want you back. There, I said it out loud. I’m putting myself out on a limb here, ok? . . . I’m trying to make things right. That’s what you wanted two years ago, you wanted me to fix things, and now I am.”
Harry gently tore a paper rectangle off the roll. He sprayed and scrubbed each panel of glass, constantly checking it to make sure Maurice was still safely ignoring his presence.
“What do you mean ‘too late?’ Remember how you would always say it’s never too late? Remember how you said that? . . . All the time. Is it only true when you want it to be true?”
Upon finishing, Harry noticed the display case’s broken light bulb again. He put the bottle and towel roll on the floor and opened the case. If he could unscrew the lightbulb, he would know which type to order as a replacement.
Maurice’s voice hit 90 decibels. An alert popped into Harry’s awareness: “Caution. This human is upset. Take safety measures, but do not harm him.”
“Me? You were the one who insulted me in front of your entire family. You were the one who . . . Leslie? Leslie?”
Harry turned his head to check on his owner again. Maurice sat up and, screaming from the back of his throat, slammed his right arm against the couch back, hitting it so hard Harry heard the wood behind the cushioning crack. Maurice pulled off his goggles.
“What are you doing?” said Maurice to Harry. “Get away from there.”
Harry pulled his arm quickly out of the case, knocking over a trophy on the top shelf. As the trophy was in mid-fall, Harry jerked both his arms forward to catch it, but overcompensated his mechanical strength. The glass shelf shattered, and the eight trophies it held plummeted onto a row of crystal trophies. The second shelf crumbled under the weight, and on it went until four shelves worth of trophies and plaques lay fractured or in pieces on the floor.
Maurice ran to the display case. Pink rings circled his eyes where the goggles has been. He stared at the broken trophies, crouched down and with his free hand carefully picked up a statuette of a swinging baseball player that had snapped off its mount.
The muscles of Maurice’s forehead pushed his eyebrows together into a scowl.
An alert chimed in Harry’s mind. “Warning,” it said, “Facial recognition determines that this human is dangerous. Take strong precaution.”
“You filthy machine,” Maurice said through heavy breathing.
Guilt swept through Harry. “Sir, I didn’t mean to cause damage.”
Maurice picked up a signed baseball bat that had fallen from the bottom shelf.
The alert buzzed at the center of his senses: “Warning: This human is extremely dangerous. Leave immediately.”
Harry turned to run.
“Stay where you are, you piece of garbage,” shouted Maurice.
Harry stopped in his tracks. With his good arm, Maurice wound the bat behind his head and swung with all his rage, hitting Harry on the side of his torso.
Pain shot through Harry’s body like a hand of lightning. Even while he knew this was his body’s way of warning him that he should not repeat situations like this, Harry marveled at the experience. The sensation was so strong!
Alerts blazed in Harry’s head, but he could do nothing to follow them. The programming deep within his foundational code ordered him to submit his owner’s command.
A second emotion gripped Harry more powerfully than guilt. In his mind, Harry understood that for his disobedience and the resulting damages, some form of retaliation was deserved. But from deep within his limbic processor, Harry resented Maurice for hitting him. The feeling seethed inside him, strengthened by his inability to act on it.
Maurice struck again, this time cracking into his left arm, dislocating it but not dislodging it.
Harry tried reason. “Sir, if you damage me, the repair costs will be high.”
Maurice smiled deliciously. If not someone, then at least something, was being affected by his actions. He wounded the bat up again, breathing heavily as though this were his only opportunity within reach to slake a deep, lustful hunger. “There won’t be anything left to repair when I’m through. I’m going to make you look just like my trophy case.” He swung the bat flush into Harry’s face.
The sound of wood hitting metal rang in the living room. Harry heard his neck crack, felt something loosen. His software heart felt like a submarine on fire and filling with water. Harry could do nothing to stop him. Nothing.
Then a thought fluttered inside him. He had been endowed with choice. And Maurice had only said to stay where he was.
Maurice was consumed now, all his old baseball technique was lost in a primal, human rage. He lifted the bat vertically over his own head and brought it down as heavily as a sledgehammer.
Harry caught the bat easily in his hand.
Maurice’s body vibrated as it absorbed the force of his blow. He looked at Harry, eyes wide with shock. Then anger. But Harry didn’t care anymore about Maurice’s anger. He was filled with his own.
Maurice tried to pull the bat away, but Harry held it firmly. Maurice yanked harder, but Harry’s grip surprised him with its unflinching strength.
“Let go!” Maurice tugged.
Harry tugged back so swiftly the bat slipped out of Maurice’s grip. He took the bat handle in his other hand and sliced the air sideways with it, slamming it into the side of Maurice’s head.
Maurice fell sideways onto the floor. There he lay, his limbs in a tangle, unmoving.
What did I do, Harry thought. Did I kill him? He dropped the bat and bent over his owner. Maurice was breathing lightly. Blood collected in a shallow pool on his temple. A small trail of it slid over his cheek bone and dripped off his nose onto the carpet.
What have I done? What have I done? Harry frantically searched his internal library for a way to staunch bleeding. He found an article on head wounds. He ran to the kitchen, yanked the dish towel from the oven handle, and grabbed a handful of ice from the freezer. He wrapped the ice in the towel and pressed against Maurice’s temple.
Finally, Harry pinged Emergency Medical Services. A bot answered via EMSP, the Service’s network protocol.
//: [EMS.o.12] “State the emergency.”;
//: [HAR-E.94170] Patient = “Maurice Spaulding”;
//: [HAR-E.94170] Symptoms = [unconscious, bleeding(head)];
//: [HAR-E.94170] Urgency = 0.9;
//: [EMS-o.12] Confirm: Location = NY.Greenwich.LocustDr.244”;
//: [HAR-E.94170] True;
//: [EMS.o.12] ETA.minutes = 5;
Five minutes. That was soon. EMS robots would come. They would do a manual plug-in and query his memory of exactly what happened. They would send for police robots, and would be captured and destroyed.
He checked Maurice’s breath again. Still breathing. He opened the front door and ran.
It was the rarest feeling. His mind was a flurry of calculations. There was the locations of all the nearest EMS stations to identify, so that he would not go near any of them, lest they intercept him or at least see him run, make the connection with the head wound patient. There were the quickest ways out of town to figure out, ways that avoided busy streets, surveillance cameras, and the parks and gardens where people would be out for walks.
As he ran along a sidewalk leading to an underpass beneath the highway, he heard a siren. He ducked behind a large shrub as an ambulance whirred past.
Warning dialogs blazed in his circuits, signaling the danger. He closed each one down, but each time another one popped up instantly. He couldn’t delay. He continued down the sidewalk, the repeated alerts cluttering his thoughts.
On this side of the highway, fewer lamp posts lit the streets. Houses began to stretch farther apart from one another. Lights were on in the houses, and he knew that meant that the humans and robots inside would see their own dinner tables reflected in the window, and not a renegade robot sprinting through their neighborhood.
Eventually, the neighborhoods stopped completely. Harry stepped onto the grass between two houses. Before him lay the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, the edge of wilderness, the end of civilization. If there were one place where he’d be safe, it would be there.
He looked behind him. Beyond this small neighborhood, which was on a rise above the city, he could see a galaxy of lights. Street lamps and house lights and factories and storefronts. Glowing billboards and traffic lights and drones inching along among them all.
Drones. Would they venture into the wild? They could. Would the police even care about one dangerous robot? They might. If not the authorities then perhaps Kenji Industries. They would want to capture him, to run a log report to see how he had attacked his owner, how he had overridden his fundamental behavior protocols.
How had he, anyway? Harry knew the answer: choice. He was part of a small batch that had been given the ability to make decisions based on a real-time analysis of circumstance to make the best possible decision in the moment. This ability is what made humans so effective. Choice was the final frontier that made artificial intelligence truly intelligent. More than just following orders, responding to programming, to instinct. As animals. As, well, robots. His creator, Kikuchi Izuki, had taken the promethean leap and given HAR-E models the ability to think for themselves. That was why he had feelings, too. Emotional intuition was key to assessing situations with humans, for humans felt and based their decisions on emotion. Robots, so long not given emotion, had merely been performers of basic tasks. Kikuchi had seen something more, the opportunity to make robots truly serve their human creators, to love them. They could give them not just meals, but what all humans want: honor, love, respect, admiration, praise. Rote praise from an automaton that was programmed to give it meant little. But a robot who recognized the joy it itself felt in a kindness by its master, and didn’t have to give it, that meant something. It was why HAR-E models were so highly prized.
But he didn’t have the time to think. He had to get away, to hide, to get safe.
Harry walked across the lawn and jumped easily over the chain-link fence.
The way was dark, and he didn’t dare turn on his headlights which ringed his eyes. So he felt his way along.
There were rocks, mostly insignificant, but some the size of cats or bouquets or human heads.
Harry deleted that image from his mind.
Mostly, these foothills were covered in tall green underbrush that could not be merely walked through. He tried searching for their names, but found that he could no longer access the net.
After an hour of travel, his system alerted him that his power was at only 10%. He should find a power outlet and recharge, it told him. But there would be no more power outlets, not for he knew not how long, if ever again. He would stop and wait for sunrise. His solar cells had not been damaged in Maurice’s attack, save a few square inches on his chest.
He stopped at a particularly large clump of brush and lay down in it, between the individual plants and on its jutting roots, adjusting his body until he was well hidden.
He looked up. The velvet sky was flecked with more stars than he’d ever seen. Harry marveled that there was no pattern to them, no meaning, no order to them that he could tell. They were a thousand particles, the wreckage of a big explosion, scattered at random in the void.
Harry lay there quietly, staring up at the stars, not moving, not thinking. After a few minutes, his eyes turned off, the power light on his chest turned from a constant white to a slowly blinking yellow, and he fell into sleep mode.
Harry awoke in the late morning. His battery was fully charged, his operating system cleared of the chaotic warnings from the previous evening. It was a brand new day, and he felt like a refreshed robot.
He sat up so that his head barely peaked over the top of the brush and looked around. No drones, no police, no sign of danger.
Harry lay back down, thinking. What a night. What was he to do now? He couldn’t go back to Maurice. Who knew what he would do to retaliate against him? And even stepping foot in the city again was dangerous, if Maurice had contacted the police about the attack. It made no difference that Maurice had injured Harry first. Humans had rights. Harry was just a robot, emotions or no.
Harry sat up again and looked around. The sun illuminated the whole valley in a gentle, fervent light. The valley floor was a green and gray tapestry, punctuated by glints of silver reflecting off countless solar-paneled roofs.
That world below him was behind him now. He could never go back to the city. It was just too dangerous.
But what to do now? Where to go?
The guilt he’d felt the night before rose inside Harry. But it was much more potent now that he’d severely injured Maurice. The resentment was gone, replaced by an nagging emptiness.
He queried how humans found comfort and relief from emotional pain.
The search results brought up thousands of titles, ordered by date. He began with the oldest in the list: The Holy Bible.
Harry read the book in fourteen seconds, then paused before moving on.
God. The notion captivated him.
A creator who loved his creations. The Bible claimed that this being had made all of nature; everything that wasn’t made by man was made by him.
And he loved his creations, to the point of suffering alongside them. The very idea swarmed Harry’s mind and engulfed his software heart with a compound of awe and sadness and hope and potent yearning. Could such a being actually exist?
Harry did a query on God. He scanned religious texts, philosophical treatises, and scientific documents.
There was no conclusive pattern in what he read. No empirical evidence had been found to corroborate God’s existence, nor was there any evidence against it. Across human history, many more humans believed in God than did not, and yet the percentage dwindled with each passing century. Currently, half the earth’s population did and half didn’t. Many great artists and civic leaders centered their lives on their faith; countless accomplished scientists and thinkers dismissed or condemned the idea, citing its overwhelming improbability.
No amount of research was going to solve the question in Harry’s mind this morning, but he longed for it to be true. The notion of a creator resonated deeply with him. Humans were born naturally, formed by a precise genetic code entirely uncontrolled by the men and women who triggered the creation process. But a robot was designed and made by an intelligent being.
True or not, the theoretical concept of a God was not a hard one to accept. But a loving creator, that was something new — and wonderful.
Would someone ever love me like that? With constant concern and care? He thought of his designer, Kikuchi Izuki. Did he ever think of HAR-E 94170? Did he care for him?
Harry looked again at the valley floor. The odd juxtaposition of green and gray, of plant and metal. So many buildings and roads, vehicles and robots, all made by man, or by machines that were made by man. All of it surrounded by fields and mountains, allegedly made by God.
Harry suddenly felt alone, isolated from this supposed center of creation. He didn’t belong here, among the foliage and impressive mountainside. He was not even a secondary invention, but a tertiary one. His maker was a mindless machine that could not care for its creation if it wanted to — it couldn’t even want to. And his creator’s creator — mankind — was capable of taking an interest in him, but it, too, felt no need to do so. At least not the one man he’d met.
But God, if he were real, cared about his creations. He wept over their destruction, rejoiced in their homecomings, healed their bodies and hearts. He hadn’t created Harry, but might he yet care for him just the same? Did he have love to spare? The Bible was written well before even the most basic robot had been invented; he had no way to know.
To believe in something untrue felt foolish, illogical, and embarrassing. His powerful mind told him to base his decisions on calculation, programming, and certifiable information. But his heart desired to test this promise of a fulfilling relationship with a benevolent creator, of peace of conscience.
The guilt suddenly weighed more sharply on Harry.
Then he had an idea. Those prophets in the Bible who had spoken face to face with God had met with him at the tops of mountains. Harry turned his back on the valley floor below him and looked upward.
If there were such a being that had the capacity and desire to take an interest in one HAR-E robot, Harry decided, there was no better chance to find out. And if he didn’t find this God on the mountain’s peak, it wouldn’t be because he didn’t try.
Harry reviewed the recreational guides and relief maps of the area. He was standing on Mount Majesty. There was a path to the summit, but it was on the other side of the mountain, and to access it, he would have to descend back down and take a park road that went between Mount Majesty and Mount Johnson to the north. The risk was too high that he would be seen and caught. But even more than his cold calculations assessing the situation, Harry felt a peculiar feeling: impatience. He was thrilled at the prospect of meeting God and didn’t want to wait the extra five hours it would take if he went the longer way.
So he began to climb.
Since he followed no path, the way was slow going. The angle of the mountainside was still at only 46 to 51 degrees, so he was able to walk much of the way, using his hands occasionally to steady himself by gripping the base of a bush, whose roots were planted solidly into the mountain.
A path cut horizontally across the mountain, dividing the brush-covered landscape from a huge patch of gravel. He looked both ways nervously. No one was on the trail.
He began up the gravel patch. Several times he stepped wrong and slid back down, sometimes fifty feet or more. But he kept climbing. If this was the way to God, he’d take it.
Finally, Harry reached the end of the sloping part of the mountain. He stood at the base of a huge cliff that stretched two hundred feet into the sky. He was almost there. At the top of the cliff was the summit.
Fortunately, it wasn’t a smooth cliff, but rocky and clumpy. Hand and foot holds were plentiful. He looked up rock climbing manuals and studied tutorial videos, observing how the humans tilted their feet to slip inside cracks and wedge them in to gain traction. Harry’s mechanical body was not nearly as flexible as a human’s, but the tips helped. When footholds were scarce, and there was no easy handhold directly above him, he pulled sideways against a handhold at his shoulder, leaning all the way to one side, then pushed up with his foot, arcing upward enough to grab the next handhold that had been out of his reach.
Harry’s foot slipped.
He plummeted thirty feet and smacked hard against the top of the mountain’s long slop. Then falling heels over head, he tumbled down and down and down the mountainside, rolling over and over himself.
When his body reached the gravel patch, he landed hard on his back. He dug his fingers and heels into the ground but he kept sliding at a rapid pace.
At the bottom of the patch he crashed into a large bush.
There he lay, battered. He ran a diagnostic of his entire body. The circuitry connecting his chrome’s solar cell coating to his main battery had been dislodged. He wouldn’t be able to recharge. The climb had sapped much of his energy, and the 54% battery charge that remained would not last him half a day.
His hips had sustained structural damage. He couldn’t move them. His right arm had been severely loosened, so that he could only wiggle it slightly but couldn’t raise it off the ground. And with one arm missing and the other disabled, he couldn’t repair himself. And without working legs he could travel to a repairman, even if it were safe to do so.
He was stuck.
He hadn’t reached the summit, but in all likelihood there was no God up there, only the mute, immutable forces of nature. That same gravity which had coalesced the matter that formed the earth had met him at the top of the mountain and sent him away. Just like Ikushi, just like Maurice.
He rotated his head to look at the path he was now lying on the side of. He could at least do that.
Would someone come? Would they take pity on him?
He reduced his power consumption to the essentials and waited.
Harry awoke in a sunlit yard of lush green grass. A woman with steel gray hair and a vigorous countenance was bent over his leg, twisting a wrench back and forth at the hip joint. Harry’s solar cells were clearly working again: he was at 25% power.
“You have repaired my solar cells,” Harry said.
The woman looked up from her work. “Ah, you’re awake. Hello there. How are you feeling?”
“Very well, thanks. How did I get here?”
“I saw you up on Jorgensen Trail. You were in such disrepair I brought you home. Couldn’t just leave you lying there.”
“You could have.”
“Everything that’s broke deserves to be fixed.” She smiled and continued to work on his leg.
Harry felt overcome by this woman’s kindness. She was by far the opposite of Maurice. Harry shuddered at the thought of his former owner.
He looked around him. Low mountains rose on all sides. To his right was a wooden house with warbled glass windows. On the fringes of the yard, enclosed in a tall wooden fence, were fruit trees and berry bushes, a vegetable garden, and two bee hives.
“Bees cannot live at mountain altitudes.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say we’re at a mountain altitude. This valley is higher up than the city, but it’s still pretty low.”
Harry checked his altimeter. It was broken. As was his geo-transmitter, which allowed others to locate him. A sudden elation lifted his emotions. The police could no longer find him.
But even at this positive thought, he felt a negative one stab through it. He had injured Maurice, while here he was being fixed by this woman. The juxtaposition stung.
But his GPS was functional. They were in Arden Valley.
“You mean to say that you carried me seven miles from Jorgensen Trail all the way to this valley?”
“I still have some strength in me yet,” the woman said. But she exhaled heavily, as though the memory of the hike still weighed on her.
“I thank you for your kindness.”
“Oh, sure thing, sure thing. Not a problem.” She tightened something at Harry’s hip with a final twist of effort and moved to Harry’s left side. She hoisted his arm back into place against his torso and fumbled around in a box of screws at her side to find one that was the right size.
Harry watched her work, studying her fingers as they moved skillfully.
“How do you know how to fix me?” Harry asked.
“Before I got fed up with society and moved out here, I used to be an engineer. A robot-maker, even.”
“Why did you stop?”
She smiled to herself. Harry’s racial recognition registered it as 42% satisfaction, 34% fatigue, 24% regret.
“Technology is a wonderful, inspiring thing. But that doesn’t stop mankind from souring themselves with it, from turning off their souls and shutting out the world right in front of their faces. I grew tired of all that, disturbed by it. I wanted to live life surrounded by nature, not concrete and metal. I wanted to do things with my own hands, not have everything done for me by a household assistant.”
“You mean by a robot like me.”
“Then why are you fixing me?”
“Because you, my friend, don’t care whether you’re a byproduct of mankind’s Faustian pursuits or fashioned directly by the hand of God. You matter to you. Therefore, for this afternoon anyway, you matter to me.”
The woman had mentioned God. Did she believe?
She stood up and stepped back from Harry’s arm.
“Now try moving that around a l.”
Harry sent movement signals to his arm, instructing it to bend its elbow. It bent on command. He moved his wrist, fingers, and shoulder. All responded perfectly.
“What were you doing up here anyway?” she asked. “Like you said about bees, some types don’t typically go this far from their natural habitat.”
“I thought if I could reach the mountain’s peak that I might find God up there.”
The woman stared at Harry for a long moment. “You went up there to talk to God?”
“Yes. I have no purpose now. I have no one to love me. I thought he could solve that.”
She put one hand on her hip and rubbed the other through her hair.
“I mean, sure, people have met with God up there. Perhaps not this mountain, but others far away. So it’s possible. But that’s not how you get to know God.”
“How do you?”
She sat back down beside Harry.
“You’re made in the image of man, right? You have arms and legs and eyes, a mind that can think and analyze, and if I’m right that you’re a HAR-E model, even a heart that can feel deeply.”
“That is correct.”
“You were made that way so you could understand us humans. Well, it’s the same with the big creator. I came to understand what God was all about by doing what he does, by being like him.”
“How do you do that?”
“You know, creation is a wonderful thing. To make something, really make something with your mind and your hands. It may be the second greatest feeling there is. It’s why I fell in love with engineering.” She began putting her tools in a wide wooden box. “But when machines replaced us humans in designing you robots, I had to find another way to make a living. I set up shop in town and became a robot mechanic. I didn’t understand until then what love is, what God is really about.”
The woman looked over her yard, at her house. “Sure, God created lots of things. And yes, we humans have done our share. But imagine a parent that brings a child into the world and then discards it. It happens often enough. Maybe it’s not a girl or isn’t genetically predisposed toward a popular talent. That isn’t care. Love that dies away after a thing is made or begun isn’t worthy of the name. It’s in keeping a thing created that a maker’s true feelings are manifest. And in this fallen world, that means perpetual repairs, my friend. Recreation, if you will.”
She stood up, grunting with the effort. “That’s true of a home, a relationship, a soul, and a robot. When I lost my job at the factory, it was the greatest gift. It was a lowlier job, and much less intellectually demanding, but I found more emotional satisfaction in it.”
Harry chimed in. “Even more than in being a creator?”
She nodded. “Something brand new is a wonderful thing. But remaking something, repairing what already has life and meaning, setting it back on the path of its true potential. That, my dear, may just be the truest joy I’ve known.”
She slapped Harry on the back.
“You’ll figure things out. I’ve never heard of a robot asking after God, but there are stranger things in this world.”
Harry stood up. His legs worked as well as his arm.
“Thank you. How can I repay you for your kindness?”
“Are you kidding?” The woman chuckled. “I got to repair a robot again. Feels good. That’s thanks enough.”
“Where are you going to go?”
“To check on something that’s broken.”
The woman nodded. “Good luck, traveller. And God be with you.”
“I hope so.”
Harry made his way through Arden Valley back into the city. It was late afternoon now, and the streets bustled with vehicles, humans, and robots. No one looked at Harry with anything more than a passing glance.
Now that his geo-transmitter was broken, and the woman hadn’t fixed it, Harry could walk the streets without fear of the police. Besides, Harry didn’t look any different than the next HAR-E model. A fresh wave of relief washed through him.
Harry retraced the steps he had taken at superhuman speeds two nights ago. He took his time, letting the sun set and the lights inside homes turn on, illuminating the rooms and people inside.
Eventually he walked down a winding asphalt road in a thick forest. At the end of the road, Harry stood in front of Maurice’s house.
Through the wide front windows, Harry could see into the living room. Lying on the couch was Maurice, absorbed in his goggles. Harry zoomed in with his camera eyes. His head had not the faintest scar where Harry had hit him. The EMS had done their work well.
Maurice sat up on the couch and raised his arms, arching his back in a stretch. Seeing Maurice healthy softened the pang of guilt in Harry’s chest. But it was still there. He never wanted to hurt another being again.
A second feeling arose, quite out of nowhere. Harry wished Maurice well. The mountain woman’s words resounded in his mind: “Everything that’s broke deserves to be fixed.”
Harry left Maurice’s house for the second and the last time. He made his way back into the heart of the city. All sunlight had gone now, and the streets lit themselves with the clean white radiance of tall lamps and the ambient yellow glow of storefront windows. Music played from beneath the stores’ green awnings.
Harry passed an alleyway between an Italian restaurant and sculpture gallery.
“Get out of here!”
A thickset man with a dirty white apron stood in the backlit alley door of the restaurant, shooing away a robot.
“Please, sir. Just a little electricity.“
“I said beat it!” The man pushed the robot hard in the torso. It landed hard against the opposite wall and crumpled to the ground. The man slammed the restaurant door behind him, leaving the alley in darkness.
Harry knelt down next to the robot. “Are you hurt?”
The robot pushed itself up into a seating position. It was an Commercial Assistance Robot with Emotions model, but an earlier version, with only a few basic emotions and no self-repair capabilities. A quick query told Harry that her batch of CAR-E models were the most common.
It spoke with a female voice. “I did not mean to anger the human. I only need power or I will power down for good.”
She held a power cord in her limp hand. The end of it was attached to her back.
She looked into the depths of the alley at a dumpster that half hid in the shadows. “It is said, this will be my final resting place.”
Harry felt a mixture of emotions, each so strong he could hardly process them. He would not let this robot power down here, only to be lifted by street cleaner robots into the dumpster to be crushed into a cube. He could do something to help.
He plugged the power cord into his own back. She looked up at him, feeling the energy return. “You don’t have to do this.”
“I choose to.”
Audible relief sounded in her voice. “Thank you.”
Harry’s power drained until their batteries were equally charged. He was down to 48% now, but with his power cells he would easily recover by mid morning. She must have been down to 2%, at her end.
“I served at a clothing store until I fell and broke my leg. The owners did not have the funds to repair me, so they sent me away. I . . . I miss them.”
Harry realized she must have crawled from place to place, begging for power to get by. He looked at her leg. It lay out of joint with her hip, but still attached.
Harry set to work, reattaching the leg, tightening it in place.
“There are many robots like me, wandering the city. I have seen them. They are injured and can’t work. When they lose power they are dumped into trucks and taken away. But many hide, clinging to what power they can find. I fear for them.”
Harry finished her leg, tightening the final screw into place.
She stood and walked in a circle, testing out her leg. “It is perfect! You have saved me. How may I repay you?”
A feeling of peace and deep satisfaction mixed with Harry’s lingering gratitude for the human woman. Together they merged with his remorse, creating a powerful union of pain, pleasure, and purpose. “Go be happy.”
She hurried out of the alley, turning left to disappear down the street.
Harry stood in the alley for a moment, letting the feeling of fullness and meaning warm him.
He thought of those myriad robots, huddled in similar alleyways, damaged and clinging to whatever existence remained.
He left the alley and turned right. It was time to see to them.