Enquiry

Cakebot by Vincent Tonelli. Used without permission, will remove if requested.

Dr Sophia Culbert looked at the cooking show poster on the wall. On it, Oliver was striking a pose, his light-green plates contrasting with the pink cake he held aloft. It almost looked like he was smiling, but Oliver had no mouth to start with.

Sophia turned around to meet the real Oliver. The robot was sitting, though he didn’t need it. Someone must have ordered him to. Except for the poster, this looked like an interrogation room: bare walls, a table, two chairs. All that was missing was the one-way glass and smoke from cigarettes.

“My name is Dr Sophia Culbert,” she said.

“Pleased to meet you, Dr Culbert,” he said.

“Are you O51VR, known as Oliver?” she asked.

“Yes, Dr Culbert.”

“Do you know why you’re here, Oliver?”

“Yes, Dr Culbert.”

Oliver didn’t elaborate. Sophia just stared at him. It was difficult to judge whether Oliver was being obnoxious, polite, or reserved. We’ll see, she thought.

“Can you please explain it to me using your own words, Oliver?”

“Yes. I am here because Mr Obadiah Munro died when he ate one of my cakes. Someone said the cake was poisoned.”

“Who said that, Oliver?”

“I don’t know.”

Logical, Sophia thought. He doesn’t want to tell me, because he’s protecting a human.

“It was Margery Williamson, Oliver. I’m not asking you, I’m telling you.”

Oliver didn’t answer.

“Oliver, do you know who I am?” Sophia asked.

Oliver stayed silent for a moment. He’s checking it using his wireless connection, Sophia thought.

“Yes, Dr Culbert,” Oliver said. “You’re the best robopsychologist in the world.”

“Then you know what I do. I am here to ascertain whether you are functioning properly or not.”

Silence again.

“I must make sure that the Three Laws work correctly. Do you understand what it means, Oliver?”

“Yes, Dr.”

“Good. You didn’t want to answer my direct question. That was you not obeying the Second Law. You were trying to protect Ms Williamson per the First Law. Why?”

Oliver seemed to reach a decision.

“As you well know, I cannot harm a human being,” Oliver said. “Ms Williamson said I had poisoned Mr Munro. I deduced she must be the culprit.”

“But if you accused her, you risked causing her harm.”

“Yes.”

Well, Sophia thought. We should give them a sense of justice on top of the Three Laws.

“I want you to speak freely from now on, Oliver. Whether harm comes or not to any human is no longer your responsibility. Do you understand me?”

“Yes.”

“Did you poison Mr Munro?”

“No.”

“Did Ms Williamson poison Mr Munro?”

“I don’t know.”

Good, Sophia thought. Laws One and Two are OK. Let’s check number Three.

Seeing her, no one would have thought the petite scientist was armed, even less that she could draw so fast. There was a bang.

Two security guards poured into the room. They saw Sophia and Oliver, sitting face to face. A newly made bullet hole had appeared on the wall directly behind Oliver’s head.

“Everything’s all right,” Sophia said. “You may leave.” The guards hesitated. “Now, please,” she ordered. They retreated.

“Do you understand why I did that, Oliver?”

“Yes, Dr Culbert. Did I pass your tests?”

“We’ll see.”

Sophia checked her notes. Munro was the show’s producer. Oliver had proved immensely popular with the holovid viewers, so Munro was winning a lot of money. Williamson was the show’s editor in chief. With Munro dead, she was next in line to become producer.

Is it me, or is this too easy? Sophia thought. She then saw it. Williamson cannot be the producer of a dead show. If Oliver is defective and he killed Munro, she’ll lose the show.

Sophia had a thought.

“Oliver, did you see Mr Munro die?”

“No, Dr Culbert.”

“Wait here.”

Sophia left in a hurry.

+++

Oliver was still sitting, as he should, when Sophia came back two hours later.

“You’re free, Oliver. You may go.”

“What has happened?”

“We still didn’t have the coroner’s report. Witnesses saw Munro eating one of your cakes, then suffocating, getting blue, and finally dying even though people rushed to his aid. Ms Williamson was there and she thought it was poison.”

“Wasn’t it?”

“No. The coroner’s preliminary report says it was a massive allergic attack. Munro was allergic to something in your cake. We still don’t know what it was.”

Oliver remained silent.

“He should have asked,” Sophia offered. “That’s what people with allergies I know do. They don’t take risks. It was not your fault, Oliver. You may go,” she repeated.

Oliver stood.

“I’m sorry for Mr Munro,” he said, and he left.

++++

Oliver sat alone in his cabin.

He stared at his hands. The hands that had baked those cakes. The ones Oliver knew the show’s crew would eat. The hands that, just once, had used corn flour instead of wheat flour.

Munro was allergic to corn.

The door opened and Margery Williamson walked in. She smiled and hugged Oliver’s cold torso.

“I’m glad you’re back!” she told him. “I told you everything would work out well.”

Oliver nodded. Scientists had given robots their Three Laws to make sure they would remain safe for humans and themselves. But who could have foreseen what even a robot would do for love, specially when it was forbidden?

~~~~

This is my accompanying entry for the Weekly Writing Exercise: March 6–12, 2017 at the Writer’s Discussion Group on Google+. I am responsible for creating the prompts for the Exercise, so I don’t take part, but I still like to write a story each week.

I chose this image because I liked its sense of humour. Ironically, humour is largely absent in my story. This is the second time I’ve consciously used Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. He’s the reason why I love scifi.