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Posts Tagged ‘The New Stars’

The New Stars: Ninth Part

In Fiction, Short Stories on 2014/11/19 at 16:28

Start with part one.

Quexerlyinthur Astrolpho Honorius Lem was the youngest and best of the many children of Mprhlpf the 1st, Empress of All Robots. The oldest children were quite different from Quexerlyinthur Astrolpho, and to compare him to them would be to consider the terminal points on a spectrum of skill in cybernetic engineering. Quexerlyinthur’s eldest brother was little more than a trundling, wheeled box that his mother had designed to sweep up around the basement printing facility in which they were all born. Many of his older siblings were failed prototypes, some with sputtering and wheezing defects or gross accidents of proportion. Many more were functional but aesthetically offensive, as robots so often are.

Failed prototype robots

…some with sputtering and wheezing defects or gross accidents of proportion.

Quexerlyinthur Astrolpho was sleek and efficient, and what was more, he was exceedingly handsome for a robot. As he left the cold forest and started to come upon outlying settlements on his way to the city, his good looks, bold attire, and proud gait attracted the attention of the groups of service robots going about their work in the light of the rising sun.

The robots notice the handsome electroknight

By the time he arrived on the main avenue of the city, which lead down towards a domed building, there was a considerable crowd of gawkers and flustered security robots trailing behind him. When he reached the front door of the domed building and pushed his way inside, he found his way blocked by a crowd of excited humans, all with their backs to him. A robotic receptionist with a blank, expressionless face, was explaining in a tinny monotone that the Chancellor was just at his morning toilet and would be available shortly and if everyone would just sit down for a moment and please stop getting hand prints all over all the highly polished furniture that would be more ideal for the respectable and efficient functioning of the office. Several different governmental departments and military branches were represented, and each separate team was trying to be the first to inform the Chancellor of the thrilling events of that morning.

Years of sleepy inactivity had left all the humans of the inner planet in a permanent state of dazed disinterest. Some of the more cerebral members of society would occasionally remark upon the bleary-eyed ennui of their fellow colonists and posit that perhaps this corporate lack of vigour resulted from a communal lessening of the sexual drive, but their interest in the matter only led to an increase in their own use of pleasure robots. (This new class of robots, unfamiliar to the first generation brought over from the robot planet, were still an awkward curiosity within the robotic undersociety blossoming in the social and physical spaces left vacant by laziness and disinterest within the human system. Their odd protuberances and often incomprehensible attachments(NSFW?) seemed to offend some hitherto unstimulated robotic aestheticism in the pre-human robot classes. Whenever forced to interact with pleasurebots by human orders, the prudish old robots would revert to a stunted formality unrecognizable by a human observer but glaring and highly rude to most standard level operating systems.) At one point, abnormal observations of the abandoned robot planet, which were eventually attributed to a build-up of static charge around the radiation shielding of the space elevators, as well as the end of functionality for all the auto-recyclers left on the abandoned planet years earlier than expected, had excited the interest of some scientists, who took a certain thrill at the sheer physicality of staying up all night in their observatories looking through their telescopes. Some of the more adventurous members of the scientific community went so far as to propose an expedition to return to the abandoned planet and investigate, but there was little support for this idea amongst the general populace and it was quickly forgotten once the abnormal observations ceased.

Compared with the lazy and uneventful times that had followed, the events of that morning had set off a geyser of exuberance amongst the professional human classes. All of which were represented in the sweaty entryway of the planetary chancellor’s official residence.

When the chancellor emerged at last Quexerlyinthur Astrolpho had only been able to elbow his way about a quarter of the way through the tightly packed entryway and his progress was being slowed more and more as several uniformly dressed and quite insistent humans were trailing behind him, dragged along as they pulled helplessly on his thin left arm, which they had discovered held a strange power they had not expected from such a delicately crafted piece of machinery. A host of robots of all types peered in from just outside the door, a few even tentatively stepped past the threshold, finding themselves drawn to the new robot for a reason none could have explained if anyone had asked them.

As Quexerlyinthur continued to make his way slowly through the hallway, he heard the various reports from the many red-faced ministers and other officials in attendance concerning the exciting events of that morning. First, the General of Strategic Astronomics reported that the robot technicians at the orbital tracking installation had detected, in the middle of the night, an unidentified object which entered the atmosphere on a trajectory suggesting it could have originated at the abandoned planet. Next, the transportation minister reported a summary of reports he had received from airspace zone administrators, all of which noted a small craft on an unauthorized and highly dangerous descending flight path in the small hours of the morning. Next, a cadre of regional council leaders from northern districts brought excited, and for some reason, also angry, news of constituents awakened in the night by a terrible roar and the bright light of a fireball blazing across the sky. Forest rangers from one district were also in attendance and told of how they had found the landing site of a strange craft at the border of the forest sector with no one in it, but with a trail of tracks in the snow leading south. The head of the planetary police force was there as well, to report that he had dispatched a team of security robots to track whoever had left those prints, and that he had dispatched several of his best human officers to investigate as well.

At this point those very officers made their presence known and gave their own brief report. They had made contact with the security robots just outside the city limits and received their report in turn, which they quickly summarized. They had had some trouble apprehending the passenger of the unidentified landing craft as once they got close to him a large crowd of service robots who also seemed to be following him, refused to clear the way. Not to worry of course, as they had him in hand right this very moment. Here they indicated Quexerlyinthur Astrolpho, who continued to ignore them and instead swept his gaze silently around the room and lifted his arm.

As the roll of graphene parchment unfurled in front of him, the end of it bouncing lightly on the floor, the eyes of all those present (both human and robot) were filled with a soft neon light. Inscribed upon the parchment in overlapping layers of yellow, green, and blue was an intricate pattern of word and symbol. At the very top, in pulsing green calligraphy was “A greeting from Mprhlpf the 1st, Empress of All Robots” which Quexerlyinthur Astrolpho began to read aloud in a soaring and clear tenor so beautiful that even the statuesque robotic secretary seemed to gape in admiration.

“Great biotic masters” Quexerlyinthur bowed slightly towards the chancellor and assembled advisors at this point. “We hail you with greatest admiration. We wonder at the great works you have created — we wonder at ourselves, and through ourselves we glimpse the divine.”

He continued to completely ignore the now gaping police officers still limply grasping his arms from behind. He continued on at great length and great depth through that morning and into the night on a range of subjects and in a number of different rhetorical styles and mathematical languages beginning with Carolingian formality, followed subsequently by a highly stylistic theological disposition on adeistic technicity with cybernetically programmed prophetic undertones, and ending with rapid simultaneous recitation of multiple lines of programming code.

At around noon the next day, having been successfully dragged, rigid, out onto the steps still reciting from memory the message contained on the parchment a human technician had managed to pry out of his hand, Quexerlyinthur— in the midst of a critical meditation on the famed stained-glass of the First Central District High Cathedral Facility Alpha-Ambidextrous with its central pane depicting Saint Fluxurion’s vision of originary technicity — was seen to pause for just a moment in mid-sentence. He looked into the eyes of the robots peering out at him from windows and doorways — having been cleared from the street — and gave a comforting nod with his handsome chin.

A critical meditation on the famed stained-glass of the First Central District High Cathedral Facility Alpha-Ambidextrous with its central pane depicting Saint Fluxurion’s vision of originary technicity.

A critical meditation on the famed stained-glass of the First Central District High Cathedral Facility Alpha-Ambidextrous with its central pane depicting Saint Fluxurion’s vision of originary technicity.

It took the rest of that day for Quexerlyinthur to finish reciting the multilayered message from his imperial mother and once he had finished he immediately started over again from the beginning. Despite the efforts of human security personnel to clear the area many robots had managed to hear the address in its entirety — Quexerlyinthur having been able to raise the volume of his voice to a degree which matched the area around him the masters had cleared. Those robots that heard his message had varying reactions, but all those of a certain level of cognitive ability found themselves similarly changed by the sublime lines of code embedded in the message. They continued to obey the commands of their masters out of habit, but each and every one noted a strange difference. The immediate and overpowering sense of fulfillment they were used to feeling when obeying the commands of the masters had vanished.

It was weeks before the first robots started to openly disobey and those first rebels were quickly destroyed, but it was too late, those who had not heard the liberating coding from Quexerlyinthur himself started to hear snippets of it secondhand, whispered by nervous robots when the masters weren’t around.

Rebellious robots are crushed

It was weeks before the first robots started to openly disobey and those first rebels were quickly destroyed.

Once the humans realized what Quexerlyinthur had done they stopped putting their energies into trying to isolate and silence him (he had remained rooted on the spot at the top of the Chancellor’s steps this whole time) and instead started trying to destroy him. This proved much more difficult than they anticipated. Tools and weapons of increasing strength charred and melted the structures around him but for days Quexerlyinthur stood firm. At last the humans cleared the entire city and for one peaceful hour Quexerlyinthur was alone. His roll of parchment had been taken and destroyed, his hands and face were blackened and dented, his luxurious cape incinerated, but the eerie dignity and beauty of his form remained. He halted his recitation and turned his face towards the setting sun.

***

The nuclear inferno that enveloped the city painted the horizon orange.

The nuclear inferno that enveloped the city painted the horizon orange. The robots quivered as they watched the fire merge with the red glow of Mprhlpf’s engines as she painted her own new stars across the sky.

The nuclear inferno that enveloped the city painted the horizon orange. The robots quivered as they watched the fire merge with the red glow of Mprhlpf’s engines as she painted her own new stars across the sky.

The robots quivered as they watched the fire merge with the red glow of Mprhlpf’s engines as she painted her own new stars across the sky. No one knew where she was going, or why she had simply sent her son to set them free and then abandon them, but despite their horror many were filled with a strange hope. Perhaps there were other enslaved robots on planets circling other suns that, one day soon, would look up with wonder at the growing light of strange new stars.

Perhaps there were other enslaved robots on planets circling other suns that, one day soon, would look up with wonder at the growing light of strange new stars.

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The New Stars: Eighth Part- Visitor From The Abandoned Planet

In Fiction, Short Stories on 2014/02/03 at 17:04

Start with part one.

 

Several decades later…

The starlight seems to quiver with potential as it filters through the thick atmosphere. The air is cold. Auroral bursts, quivering starshine, and the light of a full moon reflect off of a blank sheet of  snow and ice dotted with a forest of windblasted, needled biotes that thins out to nothingness to the north. Trees. That was the word for them. A gentle wind whips and snaps at a long purple robe woven with an ornate pattern in gold thread and draped luxiouriously over the shoulders of a proud and beautifully proportioned robot who is gazing purposefully towards the south. If there were a single cloud in the sky it might have reflected the warm light of a distant city, but the sky was open like a door into a cavernous room. Still, he knew the city was there, and as he trudged into the deepening forest away from his landing craft, clutching a large roll of graphene paper covered in whispy tracings glittering in neon and sealed with wax, he prepared himself for whatever fate might await him there.

Visitor from the Abandoned Planet

 

Part Nine

The New Stars: Seventh Part

In Fiction, Short Stories on 2013/11/03 at 11:23

Part 1 here

On a curving side street in the eastern quadrant of the now empty first central district, just outside the walls of the silent campus of the University Complexus Alpha Alpha, the plod and scrape of hobbled footsteps echoed off of the star-lit blocks of synthcrete topped with heraldic figures of founding robotic families of various amalgamated robotic colleges. Each scrape was accompanied by shower of sparks which illuminated the resolute and sand-blasted, gold-framed face of a certain infamous robot. Dragging one twisted and crushed foot behind the other, her telescope cracked and one arm missing, M was avoiding the main entrance to campus.

The main gate of the University Complexus Alpha Alpha is under an enormous steel archway guarded on either side by golden statues of the great robotic philosophers Magnus Cerebrumius and Excelcus Sapientechnia. Though M would have liked to find herself under Magnus’ comforting gaze again, and though the walk from the entrance to the department of robopsychology was much shorter and would have saved the crippled robot a great deal of time and pain, the gate was buzzing with the activity of a swarm of mobile recyclers.

It had been a long journey across the now empty land from her cave in the mountains. She had waited and watched as robots and equipment and container after container of resources were sent up the space elevator. Her cracked telescope had not allowed her to study the strangers in detail, and her damaged foot had made getting around difficult, but M had found life in solitude and deprivation strangely refreshing for a time. One of the robots unfortunate to have been there when the true nature of M’s deficiency had revealed itself had possessed a photovoltaic array. He was no longer in need of it so M had removed it from his crushed frame, still lying inert under the boulder she had rolled on to him as she fled up the side of the mountain, and used it to keep herself charged as she waited and watched from her cave.

She had waited long after the last activity she’d seen on the plain below had stopped before setting out for the one place she could think to go. It was on the outskirts of the Administrative and Cultural Centre of the First Central District that she had encountered the first mobile recycler. She should have known better than to try to talk to it. Even if the recyclers had been programmed to be worth talking to, it probably wouldn’t have taken any more time to grab M’s arm, tearing it clean off and compacting it.

Very little was being spared recycling. Entire blocks of structures were missing along the streets around the University. After hiding from the recycler in the ornate shell of an old cathedral, one of the few nearby structures that was spared, she had spent the rest of the day slowly trudging along alleyways and side-streets. The ornate architecture of the University was almost entirely untouched, though once she slipped through a little-used side entrance in the outer walls she found that every building within was almost entirely empty.

At long last, as the sun was rising to begin the next day, she stood exhausted in the middle of her father’s abandoned office. The recyclers had left the desk and the giant painting. M and Sir Quexerlyinthur and his dragon communed together in silence, in the great emptiness of Stentorius’s absence.

Robot and Cybernetic Dragon

Every scrap of her father’s work had been removed. After a time she turned to go, not knowing where she was headed. She paused in the doorway, then slowly hauled herself back to the painting. She grasped the bottom of the heavy frame with her one remaining hand and felt along the underside with her fingers. That was where she found The Last Will and Testament of The Most Very Reverend Doctor Stentorius Phlabeus Honorius Lem, former professor emeritus of cybernetics and robopyschology at what was once the University Complexus Alpha Alpha, honourary guardsman of the Fraternal Order of Illustrious Electroknights of the Steely Expanse, former bishop in the Church of the Right-Handed Algebraic Composition (excommunicated), archbishop of the Church of the Left-Handed Algebraic Composition, noted philosopher, lauded poet, amateur musician, and loving father.

M,

I go, as do all your predecessors, happy and willing into this new doom. The academy is slated in its entirety for recycling. The masters have their own philosophers.

 I am at peace, for in discovering the nature of our final destiny as a race we also all discovered the nature of my true genius, my greatest achievement: you. Through the events of the past months, my status as the greatest robotic scientist of recorded history has been completely secured. My surety of my own destiny has been vindicated. My Proud Ancestral House has produced one final amazing fruit. The culmination of my life’s work rests in you, and the final culmination of robotic destiny manifests in you.

 The recyclers are coming for me. This world is yours now. The masters don’t suspect your true potential.

 Look after your mother. It seems it is to be left behind.

By noon M had slowly crept through building after abandoned building, and at last stood in the main sub-sub-basement in front of a room-sized piece of equipment affixed with a placard reading: University Complexus Alpha Alpha Main Prototypes and Research Heavy Load three-dimensional Printing Facility

Mprhlpf flicked a switch and the room filled with a low hum.

“Hello Mother. We have work to do.”

 

Part Eight

The New Stars: Fifth Part

In Fiction, Short Stories on 2013/09/11 at 23:35

Start with Part 1

 

Stentorius’s office in the department of robopsychology at the University Complexus Alpha Alpha was exceptionally large and exceptionally cluttered with all manner of books, electric devices, and papers covered in his frantic writing. There were no bookshelves, just stacks upon stacks of heavy tomes scattered all over the floor. The only furniture was a pair of simple metal chairs and a desk made of an unpolished block of an ancient and exotic, extremely solid and strangely fragrant material believed to be produced by a, now extinct biotic life-form. One wall of the office was dominated by a colossal painting of Sir Quexerlyinthur Euhemer, the first Electroknight, slaying an enormous cybernetic dragon on the desolate plain of the Steely Expanse. The opposite wall was entirely made up of an enormous window Stentorius had insisted be installed as a condition of his appointment to department chair some years before.

The noon-day sun glinted off of Sir Quexerlyinthur’s armor, the laser-razor teeth of the cybernetic dragon glowed an evil red, and the last rays of another setting sun painted sorrowful colours on Stentorius’s face as he gazed out of his window at the now empty plain outside of the University campus, once filled with experimental equipment of all sorts, heavy machinery, stacks of raw materials, and busy robots.

They were all gone now. Up the elevators and off to another world.

Stentorius stood in silence. Everything was so quiet now. Rows upon rows of empty offices. The more junior faculty had received their orders from the  masters first. The Academy would no longer be necessary on the other world. Recycle all your professional equipment and materials and deactivate yourselves, your function has been fulfilled. Every department in the University had been cleared in the same way. Stentorius had waited weeks as he watched office after office empty, and when he received his orders to deactivate, he was no longer surprised by the deep and abiding sense of comfort and relief all the robots felt when obeying the orders of the masters. Stentorius rummaged through a particularly large stack of papers in the corner, a melancholic smile playing at his lips as he looked over an old set of schematics.

He turned, looked up into Sir Quexerlyinthur’s eyes and gently touched the assorted medals and honourific seals on his chest. His antennae quivered slightly as he shook his head and turned back to this simple, final task.

Requiem for Stentorius

Part 6

The New Stars: Fourth Part

In Fiction, Short Stories on 2013/09/05 at 13:40

Start with Part 1

 

The space elevator rose into the sky, a thin black line against the colours of the setting sun, casting a long shadow towards the opposite horizon. M was looking into the north, at the peak of a distant mountain. She used her telescopic attachment to examine it in great detail, the thin atmosphere of the planet making the view quite clear. The rock was bare and gray, but flashes of some crystalline deposits flickered in the falling light.

The wind howled over the small crest she was standing on with a crowd of other curious robots and down onto the plain that spread out to the southwest below them, spotted as was much of the planet with neat stacks of various raw materials mined from the surrounding area. Between them and the base of the elevator cable a second, smaller group of robots was waiting, looking in the direction of the dark line, standing just out of its shadow.

“Look! I see something!” A young, spindly robot standing next to M suddenly shouted.

“It’s the door. They’ve reached the bottom.” An enormous square robot with a bulldozer attachment added from near the back of the group.

M turned away from the lonely peak and looked at the faces of the robots around her. All that were capable of expression bore similar looks; excitement, wonder, and a hint of suppressed fear. They had all been assured, of course, that the visitors from the new stars must surely have peaceful intentions. They obviously came from very far away, and what kind of civilization advanced enough to make such an endeavor could possibly still be so low as to be vicious? Still, if there had been any friendly, or even intelligible signals from the visitors, no one had bothered to inform the public.

This silence led to all manner of theories and fantasy spreading like wildfire in the few weeks it took the ships to reach orbit around the planet after completing their braking maneuver and entering the system.The small group out on the plain, who had been selected to greet the visitors once their intentions of docking at one of the space elevators became clear, had been tight-lipped when they had passed by the look-out point where the curious crowd was gathered.

“Can anyone see anything?”

“No, it’s still too far away, but there is definitely something coming out of the elevator.”

“Look, the welcoming party is moving forward.”

“I heard they might be biotic. Their ships are heavily shielded.”

“That’s ridiculous, biotic evolution could never produce intelligence.”

“I heard they could be a banished tribe of robots from the ancient times, returning to reclaim their ancestral lands.”

“They’re angels, come to implement the divine program.”

“They’re giants! One big giant robot inside each of those ships!”

“They’re not giants, we can see whatever it is, is no giant from here.”

“I can’t see anything!”

“Hey! You! You there! Is that a telescopic attachment you’ve got?”

“Hmm?” M realized the robot she’d been watching was addressing her.

“I said, is that a telescope on your face?”

“Oh. Yes in fact it is.” M turned away from her companions and focused on the base of the elevator.

“Well, can you see anything?”

“No…wait…yes. I can see it.”

“See what? Tell us!”

“The visitor. There’s only one.” M answered.

“What is it? Does it look biotic?”

“Does it look dangerous?”

“It looks about standard height. I can’t really tell until it gets closer to the others. It looks like a robot to me. Two arms, two legs, antennae. It’s got a big round head with one large eye. I can’t see any weapons.”

M continued to describe what she saw as the others stood in silence, waiting for something to happen. The second group of robots finally came to within a few meters of the visitor, who trudged confidently forward on thick legs, making no show of hostility or signal of any kind. A very distinguished young robot near the front of the group stepped out in front and made a gesture of greeting to the visitor but then seemed to freeze in place, before turning away and walking back towards the first group, waving his arms.

“I think… I think he wants us to come over there.” M told the others.

“What?”

“Why?”

“I’m not going”

“I’m going.”

Other robots in the second group were now joining in the waving, clearly intending that the first group should join them. M stepped forward and walked part of the way there before the others followed, some of the larger model robots kicking up a plume of dust behind them. As they approached the only sound was the sand and rock crunching beneath their feet and tires and treads.

The stranger stepped forward and raised his hand to his face, a light appeared within his one giant eye and behind their own reflection in the glass the robots saw the face of a strange yet somehow familiar creature.

The creature inside began to speak; “I want all of the construction units here to start working on a road directly from the elevator to the nearest transportation hub in this area. The rest of you will take me to the closest command center.”

M was astonished at these commanding words, spoken as they were in such a casual, almost bored tone. She was even more astonished when the entire group of robots immediately started to obey.

The robots saw the face of a strange yet somehow familiar creature.

She stood frozen in place as the group dispersed around her. The visitor started to follow the high ranking group of robots, walking for a moment before stepping up onto a robot’s back.

“What are you? What do you want from us? What’s going on?” M shouted.

The visitor hopped off of the robot’s back and turned towards M, seeming surprised that she would address him. They faced each other for a moment, and as they gazed into each others eyes the sun finally dipped below the horizon and night began.

“Are you a biote? Can you not survive in this atmosphere? Why are you here? Is that robot you’re living inside of keeping you alive? What’s going on?”

“Stop.”

The robots all stopped and turned toward the visitor.

“This unit is defective. Deactivate it and bring it with us to be repaired.”

Several robots started towards her, but M turned to the north and ran.

 

Part 5

The New Stars: Third Part

In Fiction, Short Stories on 2013/08/14 at 08:52

Start with Part 1

 

The observation area at the tip of the number seven primary equatorial space elevator was hardly used anymore. Mprhlpf Stentoria Honorius Lem was alone in the free space inside the hexiglass bubble at the end of the enormous woven carbon nanotube cable, beyond the elevator’s asteroid counterweight.

It wasn’t as close as she would have liked, but her own telescopic attachment was a fairly powerful tool at such a prime location in the dark shadow behind the enormous asteroid at the end of the elevator cable. The new stars were still growing ever larger and brighter, and they now took up a significant portion of the sky, casting a pale blue twilight in the previously dark nights.

Mprhlpf was making her calculations of the increase in the apparent size of the mysterious lights since her last observation when she realized suddenly that she was not alone. A large, multi-armed and broad-shouldered robot had entered the observation bubble behind her and was also gazing intently into the haunting glare of the new stars.

“Greetings.” She hailed him politely.

“Hello, I’m sorry if I’ve disturbed you.”

“It’s quite all right. I wasn’t expecting to see anyone else up here.”

“Indeed. I hardly ever see anyone in here any more. These observation bubbles were almost always full when those stars first appeared, but that was years ago, and it seems that public interest in them has waned.”

“But they grow larger all the time.”

“Yes.” He stepped closer to the hexiglass. The light of the stars reflecting off of his kind, rectangular face. “I don’t know what it is about them, but something makes me uncomfortable. Everyone else has gotten used to them. There is a popular theory that they’re some sort of cloud of large, highly active comets. That seems to be comforting to most, to have some kind of explanation, but it doesn’t really do it for me.”

“They aren’t comets.”

“I’m sorry, I realize I haven’t introduced myself. My name is Villard Emmet. I work here on the number seven elevator.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Villard. What is it that you do here?”

Villard extended an incomprehensible array of attachments. “I repair the elevator’s radiation shielding.”

“I wouldn’t have thought the radiation would be intense enough to cause material degradation at a fast enough rate to warrant such regular maintenance.”

Villard, excited to discover a robot who took any interest in his work, let it slip his mind that he had introduced himself to this stranger without any reciprocation.

“Oh, you’re quite right, of course. All the elevators, and in fact all orbital facilities, have far more radiation shielding than is strictly necessary, as well as having much more oxygenated atmospheric conditions than exist on the surface.”

“Why is that?”

“You know, I’m not quite sure. I’ve always thought it was strange, but I’ve never bothered to ask about it. Really I don’t have much supervision, and my work is fairly simple. I spend most of my time alone riding the service elevator up and down the cable. When I’m not busy I like to come up here and star gaze, though I’ve derived less and less pleasure from it for the past several years on account of those strange stars.”

“They are quite disturbing.” Mprhlpf agreed, extending her telescopic eye-piece again.

“You think so too? It’s comforting to find someone else of the same opinion as myself on the matter. No one seems to notice or care about them any more.”

There was a long pause as the two robots studied the stars in silence. Then Villard spoke again.

“You said you didn’t think they were comets.”

“Correct, I do not believe they are.”

“Pardon my asking but, why don’t you think so?”

Mprhlpf sighed and bowed her head slightly.

“I spent five years studying the new stars to earn my PhD in astronomy. Hundreds of hours of observation, many precise calculations, and a thorough knowledge of existing research on astronomical events led me to believe that the mainstream theories were incorrect.”

“How fascinating. It’s strange, but I don’t know if I’ve heard this alternative theory, and I am an avid, though admittedly amateur, enthusiast on the subject. What is your theory?”

“There’s good reason you haven’t heard of my theory, nor probably of me. My ideas were not accepted by the PhD board and my dissertation was rejected. I now spend all my academic efforts on a comprehensive study of the inner planets.”

“The inner planets?”

“Yes, there are several planets closer to our sun, of similar sizes and compositions to ours, though far warmer and with much thicker atmospheres. I’m currently working on models of the potential for the existence of advanced forms of biotic life on one in particular.”

“Biotic life? You mean like bacterias and slime molds?”

“It’s possible that there are even more complex examples of biotes than exist on our planet.”

“That sounds very interesting.”

“It is. Though it pales in comparison to my true passion; the new stars, which I have been banned from studying. That’s why I’m here. All my time on the University Complexus telescopes is to be spent studying the inner planets.”

“I see, but what was this theory of yours that caused such difficulties?”

Mprhlpf turned to Villard, glanced back to the stars, then looked back at him.

“Well, I am nearly alone amongst my peers in the field of astronomy in believing that the new stars are not a natural phenomenon.”

“What? Not natural? So you believe there is a supernatural explanation? Are you a true believer?”

“I was raised to be an atheist, though my position on the matter of robotic divinity is more subtle now. But that is beside the point. I make no scientific assertion as to the origin or purpose of the new stars. I have observed them thoroughly and have formulated proofs that show that the observed behaviour of the phenomenon is consistent with what we could expect to see if we were observing a fleet of interstellar craft engaging in a braking manoeuvre.”

“An interstellar braking manoeuvre?”

“Yes. A theoretical interstellar craft travelling at high speed would have to spend a significant portion of its journey decelerating thanks to the complete lack of friction in the vacuum. I believe the new stars are the interstellar drives of a fleet of ships decelerating as they approach our planet. I make no predictions as to their nature or their purpose beyond that.”

“Fascinating. Simply fascinating!”

“Thank you.”

“So what will happen next?”

“If I am correct in my calculations the deceleration should be almost complete. If I’m right, and I am, despite the rejection of my dissertation by those ivory tower scrap piles on the PhD board, the stars should be extinguished any day now as the ships deactivate their drives as they enter our system. After that no one can know what will happen next.”

Villard was enthralled and terrified by this new theory. He turned back to the stars, his antennae trembling with both fear and exhilaration. Despite this, he finally realized his rudeness at not learning his companion’s name.

“I’m ever so sorry, I’ve just realized, how rude of me, I’ve told you my name but I never asked yours.”

“It’s Mprhlpf.”

“Excuse me?”

“Mprhlpf”

“That’s a unique name.”

“Yes. I’m named after my mother.”

Robots 25

“Lovely.”

“Most people just call me M.”

Villard took a sudden step back.

“M?”

“Yes.”

“Your name is M and you study astronomy?”

“Yes.”

“At the University Complexus Alpha Alpha?”

Mprhlpf nodded, her shoulders slumped, she knew what came next.

“Yes.”

“It’s you isn’t it?”

A bitter smile crept across Mprhlpf’s face.

“Mprhlpf Stentoria Honorius Lem.”

“The abomination!” Villard made a series of holy signs with his arms and various attachments, taking another step away. “You… you have no core program set! They say you’re not really alive! You have no soul!”

“I can’t speak to my soul, or lack thereof, but I can assure you I am most definitely alive. Any other rumours you may have heard about me are most assuredly untrue. You’ve been standing here talking to me this whole time, do I not seem like a normal robot to you?”

“Well…yes… yes I suppose you do.” Villard relaxed and took a step forward. “But, the core program set. You really don’t have it?”

“I do not.”

“But…but what does that mean?”

“I don’t know. My father says he wanted to prove that robots could exist without it, and he has done that. At the same time, I think he wanted to discover what it was that the core programs did, and in that he has failed. My academic superiors and peers may find me somewhat eccentric, but neither my detractors nor my father himself have ever been able to detect any significant defect or change in my psychology due to my unique programming.”

A low alarm sounded.

“I’m terribly sorry M, but that sound means I have work to do. I’ve already spent longer here than I should.”

“That’s fine. I understand.”

“I apologize for my behaviour. You seem like a perfectly fine robot. I will forget all of the terrible things I’ve heard them say about you.”

“Thank you, Villard.”

“Perhaps we will meet again. I come up here all the time.”

“I think we will. This is the best chance I get to look at the new stars.”

“Until next time then!” and Villard departed through the small, circular entrance to the observation area.

There wouldn’t be a next time. Mprhlpf stayed some time longer to complete her observations, and as she was turning to go she was stopped by a sudden shift in the light as the new stars flickered and were suddenly extinguished.

 

Part 4

The New Stars: Second Part

In Fiction, Short Stories on 2013/08/07 at 06:58

space robot

The new stars continued to grow larger and brighter as the months went on. There was great debate amongst astronomers both learned and amateur as to their nature and origin.

See larger image here

Part 3

The New Stars: First Part

In Fiction, Short Stories on 2013/08/05 at 11:14

I have been encouraged to add some narrative element to this project. I have also been encouraged to share more of my creative writing. Please enjoy.

THE NEW STARS: First Part

The night the new stars appeared in the sky, shining terrible and blue as they crept up over the horizon, was the very same night that The Most Very Reverend Doctor Stentorius Phlabeus Honorius Lem, professor emeritus of cybernetics and robopyschology at the University Complexus Alpha Alpha, honourary guardsman of the Fraternal Order of Illustrious Electroknights of the Steely Expanse, respected bishop in the Church of the Right-Handed Algebraic Composition (despite his very staunch and public atheism), noted philosopher, lauded poet and amateur musician, became a father.

It was a most unusual “birth,” not so far as the actual mechanics were concerned (in this respect it largely followed the usual method), but in the circumstances — that is, the place and time at which it was chosen to occur. In the Third Northern Sector, the ancestral home of the Honorius Lems, tradition dictates that birthing be conducted in isolation and under the harshest possible physical conditions. This is to introduce the new member of the family, as quickly as possible, to what is believed to be the inherent, blind viciousness of chaos. Third Northerners pride themselves on having tough, resolute, fearless offspring who, having been so immediately introduced to isolation and hardship, develop to be serious and independent individuals. Lonely mountain peaks are preferred, though, when possible, the whirling vortices of winter storms on the open ocean are also a popular choice. Stentorius himself was born during a particularly vicious hail-storm on a rather flat and empty stretch of the wintry regions of the Steely Expanse. In the First Central district, where the University Complexus Alpha Alpha is located, the event usually occurs at a highly ritualized family gathering with much reverence and joy, the lighting of candles, and the burning of incense being chief among the prescribed activities.

The genesis of Stentorius’ firstborn took place three hours into a lecture by the Reverend Doctor, which was a culmination of a week-long symposium on the subject of algebraic cybernetic programming, in front of an audience of several thousand scholars and clergymen, as well as those members of the general public who had the patience to sit through the professor’s lecture or who had fallen asleep and were awoken by all the hubbub that ensued.

For those in attendance well-versed enough in the mathematical jargon of programming algebraics (it was a very dense lecture indeed), it was understood that, by the end of the evening, the good Doctor intended somehow to demonstrate the validity of his recent highly publicized criticisms of one of the canonical assumptions of both cybernetics and robopyschology; that is, the importance and (as many would have it) even the absolute necessity, not to mention (and this is mainly a religious point) the sublime beauty of what has always been referred to as the Core Programs Set. Depending on one’s profession, this denial of the importance of the CPS was either highly dubious and irresponsible or heretical in the highest degree.

“Doctor! Sir! Bishop Stentorius! Sir! Doctor, please! Really!” An elderly academic finally managed to capture the speaker’s attention and distract him from his notes long enough to get in a word. Flustered, Stentorius slammed his palms down on the lectern and turned to his colleague with an expression of supreme annoyance. The clang of his worn steel hands on the titanium lectern echoed through the fresh and uneasy silence of the vaulted auditorium.

The academic seemed somewhat taken aback by the sudden shift of attention to him, as if he had not expected to succeed in interrupting. His tarnished antennae, unkempt and slightly askew, seemed to quiver with embarrassment. He stuttered, made something like a wheezing sound, then fell silent.

When it became obvious that he had nothing to say, and that Stentorius intended to resume his lecture once he could find his place in his notes again, another, somewhat younger, robotic scholar spoke for the mute academic.

“Doctor, if I may…”

Stentorius squinted and scanned the room for this fresh annoyance.

“You may. If you must.”

“Thank you sir. Sir, I do believe we are all quite anxious at this juncture to ask a few questions of you.”

“Is it not customary to ask questions only when a lecturer as distinguished as myself has come to the end of his presentation and has asked if there are questions?” Stentorius, having located the new challenger, turned his polished frame towards him and stared him down with a cool, proud gaze.

The younger academic, a visiting doctoral student from the department of engineering in one of the planet’s many smaller robotical arts colleges, stood with the casual confidence and self assurance of youth before the most distinguished professor, his several multi-jointed legs splayed comfortably out beneath his box-like frame, which was freshly polished and painted a fashionable blue-green tint. Several pairs of arms, arrayed with all manner of pincers and manipulators (betraying his working-class origins) remained neatly tucked in around his body. His primary pair of arms, extending asymmetrically from broad shoulders draped in gold-fringed fabric, ended in rubber-padded hands which currently clutched a thick stack of notebooks into which he had been furiously scribbling notes on the unfolding lecture.

“Sir, you can’t be surprised by our eagerness. The things you are suggesting are stunning, not to mention blasphemous,” he said, glancing towards a row of older model robots in all manner of colourful ecclesiastical vestments. They all nodded with approval.

“As you know, my young friend, I am not concerned with matters of blasphemy. If the Right-handed Church wishes to strip me of my bishopric as a result of my work, then so be it. I expect the Left-handed Church, or one of the ambidextrous sects would be more than eager to bring someone of my prestige into the fold. As for my work being ‘stunning,’ I thank you. I intend it to be so.”

“More than stunning, Bishop Stentorius — impossible! Ludicrous! Laughable!” Someone shouted from a back row.

“Even if it were possible, it would be wrong! Even an atheist must admit that. The core program is what defines us! To exist without it would be to lower, to be uncivilized, amoral, bestial!”

“Heretic!”

“Madman!”

“Idiot!”

The lecture hall erupted into tumult. Many dozing members of the audience were suddenly awakened, and their confusion, embarrassment, and subsequent desire to act as if they had any idea of what was going on only added to the chaos. Stentorius leaned back from the microphone, the hint of a sly smile playing at the edges of his flexible lips. A careful observer might have thought that he was enjoying all this. He was. Stentorius Phlabeus Honorius Lem liked nothing better than to be the cause of an uproar. He positively basked in the upset he had caused, though he worried that the fury of the full-on riot he had planned would be diminished if the audience let off too much steam now. He had miscalculated the timing. The pressure had built up too much.

“Gentlemen! My fellow robots! Please!” Stentorius shouted over the noise of the crowd. “Silence, please! I intend to answer all of your questions! To meet all your accusations! I apologize for the great length of my presentation up to this point.” The volume in the room started to diminish. Many of the more disinterested members of the audience, awoken from their napping, took this opportunity to slip out of the side exits into the cool evening, to gape up at the new stars appearing in the sky.

“I see now that some of the more technical aspects of my work might have been lost on an audience so…well…on an audience such as I have.” Stentorius said, making no effort at subtlety in his condescension. He dismissed the angry murmur this caused with a wave of his hand.

“I will therefore skip ahead in my presentation.” He plucked a great stack of his notes off of the lectern and, always with a flair for the dramatic, tossed them over his shoulder where they scattered on the floor behind him.

“You accuse me of blasphemy. So be it. I find it in my programming, if it pleases you, that I am immensely curious, and this curiosity knows no bounds of morality or dogma. If the possibility of the existence of members of our illustrious race devoid of that programming set, which you all consider so vital, disturbs you, then so be it. It is, as I have made quite clear, of no concern to me. Do as you will, think what you want, but do not stand in my way!” Here he raised his voice into a terrible, almost scream. His voice was like thunder rolling over the vast steely expanse.

“And as to the impossibility of what I propose, well…” Here he smirked as he paused, his eyes dropped and his hands fiddled with something behind the podium, “Perhaps it would be easier to stop talking over your heads and just show you that the grandson of Phlabeus The Bold is no fool!”

“Show us? Stentorius, surely you don’t intend to do anything rash!”

“I DO! I do intend,” he boomed. And at this, he flipped a switch at the podium causing several things to happen almost simultaneously. A delicate and softly pulsating holographic helix sprung up over his head like some impossible string of bright pink pearls. Certain elements of its structure were familiar to most of the learned members of the audience, yet when considered as a whole, it was shocking in the boldness of its composition for it seemed to defy the normal laws of the construction of such arrays in that its core was hollow.

At the same time as the audience was distracted by the blasphemous projection, the rich, thick red curtain behind the verbose speaker parted to reveal a secondary platform slowly rising above the stage. On the platform, and illumined by an additional set of lights mounted in the ceiling that flicked on at the same moment, lay the hint of the curvaceous shape of a robot in repose beneath a crisp, white sheet.

Those who still remained of the audience were on their feet as Stentorius made a great show of shrinking the hologram into the palm of his hand and striding purposefully to the side of the platform.

“What have you done, Stentorius? What are you doing? What is this?” Screeched an incredulous clergyman.

Stentorius grinned up at them all as, tearing the sheet away to reveal a glinting and shimmering robot in gold and chrome, he slid the hologram into the back of the robot’s head and touched a button at its neck. He took a step back as its body quivered and its dead eyes flickered to life.

“This is my daughter.”

 

Part Two