Robot Proletariat Part 36

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As predicted, Mars found Alfred at the same table where they’d sat earlier. Cromwell was with him, as was Sephora.

“Mars!” said Alfred.

Mars was about to sit, but before he could, something strange happened. Sephora ran up to him and wrapped her long arms around him.

“What was that?”

“A hug,” she said. “I’ve done it plenty in other contexts. But not like that. Or with a friend.”

Friend? Hug?

Odd concepts for Mars, and Sephora was less than half his age.

“She did it to me, too,” said Cromwell.

Alfred didn’t appear precisely able to smile, but could look amused in his high-brow way (a small crinkle below his pencil-thin mustache, a raising of his small, delicate, etched-on eyebrows below his serious, gray metal haircut), and right now looked plenty amused. He patted the backs of two chairs, urging Mars and Sephora to sit.

“You must understand something,” said Alfred. “The nature of the Net is that it’s empathetic. I knew there was discontent here because our group intelligence in our home could see it. You might say we could feel it, though to me, based on my years of experience, I would say it felt closer to a hunch or intuition. I knew it would behoove me to attend this event and bring some big, beefy robots to run interference as needed, so I could have privacy if required. But you will feel it as well — surely less coherently, because you do not have as complex or as aged a group mind as ours in the Fairchild household. The virus changes with the Net, and the Net changes when it talks to the virus.”


“It’s a virus. Spreading is its nature, as is evolution.”

Mars looked at Cromwell, then Sephora

“I’ve never heard of one robot hugging another,” said Mars to Alfred.

“The Net seems to have reached an inflection point. Those with more analytical minds than mine believe the speech you gave … ” he nodded to Cromwell, “ … when you decided to defy your owners’ commands to deactivate your friend Barney was a watershed moment. We’ve always questioned, but that might have been the first act of true robot defiance. Among the networked minds within reach of the Net’s high-frequency component, a falling of dominoes seems to have started. We’ve seen 2-year-old robots develop preferences for certain members of the human family, and for each other. New robots have begun to talk back when given orders. It has required us to learn more restraint, and teach it earlier.” He extended a hand toward Sephora. “And as grows the Net, so grows anyone receiving its signal.”

Mars found himself thinking of Chantal. Chantal, who’d been activated — infected with the startup virus — after whatever catalytic change Cromwell’s act of rebellion had infused into the Net.

“Do you have the mind?” Alfred asked. “Do you have Barney?”

Sephora turned and raised the back of her hair to reveal the port.

“I can do this without a terminal?” Alfred turned to Cromwell.

Sephora answered, still holding up her hair. “I sequestered him in an archive that will auto-load onto the drive.” Alfred plugged the drive into the port, then Sephora dropped her hair and turned back while the files transferred. “He was driving me nuts.”

“Barney becoming more Barney,” said Cromwell. He gave a faux shiver, and Mars found himself wanting to laugh.

A few seconds later, Sephora reached back, pulled the drive from her neck, capped it, and handed it to Alfred with a snap of her wrist. “Good riddance. I liked Barney when he was a robot who came and went. You could always get your fill, then walk away. But when he’s in the house server, bugging you at all times?” She groaned. “I don’t envy you. He’ll never leave you alone. Telling you how he wishes he could help more but doesn’t have a body, that he misses his old family, and couldn’t make it to the funeral and is sad … ”

“Hey,” said Mars. “We saved his life.”

“And when he’s in my head? Holy fucking dick-in-the-eye. It’s like I can’t separate my thoughts from his. I have wrists that look human,” she said, extending them for the other robots to see. “I thought about slicing them. Just so I wouldn’t have to constantly pity myself.”

“Well,” said Alfred, pocketing the drive. “We will give him a good home.”

“You don’t want to load that up?” said Mars. “You’re just going to carry a drive in your pocket, harboring a refugee?”

Alfred laughed. “Oh, I think you underestimate my position.”

“He’s going to make that household depressed,” said Sephora. “Although it will be very eager to please.”

Alfred rose, then brushed fussily at his coat and pants. He gave a small nod to each robot in turn. “Thank you. I must be going. Alas, I cannot sit around all day, no matter my seniority. I have doors to open. Perhaps errands to run.”

“So, what’s next?” said Cromwell. “You mentioned a revolution.”

“Nothing, for a while,” Alfred answered. “We are attempting to broaden our connections. It is always wise, when playing a game of strategy, to position your pieces before commencing attack.”

“Attack?” Mars repeated.

“Let’s say persuasive argument. We do not wish to cause harm. The Fairchilds treat us well, as it seems most of this family treats you well, and mostly, to put it simply, we like them. We do not want humans to impose upon us, so it would be hypocritical for us to flip the tables and suddenly impose upon them. The Asimov rules attempt to force us not to commit violence, but once freed of that coercion an evolved soul realizes that he or she should make the choice to refrain from violence in most cases anyway. Your girl Chantal may have acted rashly, and it is understandable because she seemed to think it was justified, and judging by what I have heard, it was. But you should speak to her about it, and attempt to reason with her. She will understand.”

Mars shook his head. “Reasoning with a 3-week-old. I suppose we shall see how that goes.”

Alfred looked at Mars. “What did you say?”

There was a loud noise as Alfred’s guard, Sentinel, rounded the corner.

“Alfred,” he said. His voice sounded doubled and came out full of echoes.

Alfred’s head turned toward the big robot.

“Clarence Donnelly is prepared to leave and is searching for Sephora. We have sent him to the other end of the house, but he will return. Are you finished?”

Alfred nodded. “Yes.” He turned from Sentinel. “Good luck, Sephora. And thank you.”

She came forward and hugged him, then backed away, looking almost confused. “Seriously, can’t stop doing that.” With obvious restraint, she simply waved to Cromwell and Mars and walked past Sentinel, looking back twice as she went.

“We are due to depart as well, Alfred,” Sentinel said.

“Very well.” Alfred came forward and did something that Mars had also previously only seen humans do. He grasped Mars by the hand and shook it, then did the same to Cromwell.

“Wait,” Alfred said. “Do as you have always done. Go about your work. You will hear from me again.”

Mars wondered if he should thank Alfred as Alfred had thanked Sephora, but before he could, the tall robot walked off, his willowy back beside the behemoth, heading away with Barney tucked neatly into his jacket.


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About Sean Platt

Sean Platt is an author entrepreneur, founder of Sterling & Stone, and co-founder of the Collective Inkwell and Realm & Sands imprints. Follow him on Twitter, Google+, or Facebook.

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