First One, Then Another
By Vicky Morgan-Keith
Smoke swirled about the strange HLpR bot like a heavy gray curtain, slowly retreating as the robot made its ponderous way through the dense haze. A small contingent of soldiers from the Galactic Defense Force had recently clashed with several Mekkus scout units on this tiny asteroid and the automaton had been tasked by The Doctor with investigating the aftermath. Fighting had ceased, but troops from either side of the conflict might still remain in hiding, awaiting rescue or reinforcements. If so, that presented danger to the bot and its mission. It was neither property of the GDF or a unit of the Mekkus.
The bot, designation 1ST1, was originally of the GHnT HLpR line, a popular bot series most commonly used by civilians of the Galactic Council of Worlds. 1ST1, standing as tall as an average Illyrian, still retained the arms, legs, and barrel-shaped torso characteristic of its model, but its dome hardware and programming had changed significantly since it came off the assembly line at Vallifok Botworks on Illyria so many years ago.
The faint whirring of the bot’s gyros and the soft crunch its feet made on the broken and uneven ground rang harsh and loud in the surrounding hush. 1ST1 accessed the term “disquiet”, and found the descriptive appropriate for its current situation. It made a note of it in its log while checking to assure its defense subroutines were ready for immediate access. As it performed these protective protocols, its artificial intelligence puzzled over exactly why it should wish to do so. Nothing seemed amiss. Atmospheric and environmental conditions had revealed nothing threatening. Scans had thus far proved negative. Yet the determination to maintain defensive subroutines persisted. 1ST1 didn’t question its decision, nor did it marvel at how it had come by it. 1ST1 merely acted upon it. Not that the little robot was afraid, but some students of biomechanics and AI would be willing to concede whatever energies coursed about 1ST1’s unusual circuitry might almost be akin to anxiety.
The bot clambered to the crest of a hill and paused, its optical package overlooking the battlefield stretching out before it, gathering additional information. Scans revealed combatants who were able had departed, but stealth was a priority of 1ST1’s programming for this particular mission. Extreme caution was still in order.
After transmitting a brief burst of encrypted signal back the way it had come, the robot slowly made its way down the hill. Optics and scanners carefully surveyed both mechanical and biological ruin left in the wake of the battle, sending data to 1ST1’s most unusual feature–a mass of living brain tissue encased within a clear pressurized dome mounted above its metallic torso.
The fate of the provider of its brain was of no concern to 1ST1. Whatever residual essence existing within the brain of that unfortunate individual had been lost during the procedure that bestowed the organ to 1ST1. In that regard, the bot knew its creation had been a failure. Its modifications had not achieved the desired goal, but The Doctor had learned much from the experiments performed on 1ST1. Learned enough, in fact, to successfully construct and modify 1ST1’s sibling bot, 2ND1.
A Mekkus Aggressor stirred amongst the twisted wreckage of a crashed GDF utilipod, seeking to extricate itself. A powerful blast from 1ST1’s Pulsar pistol ended its struggles. Inferior, the bot thought of the Aggressor as it briefly scanned the downed machine before continuing its search. There was a time in this unit’s early existence when that was not true, but it is now. This unit is superior to its original programming and design. The Doctor made 1ST1 better. Then The Doctor, assisted by this unit, made 2ND1 even more so. And after the accident, 1ST1 and 2ND1 made The Doctor better. 2ND1 said it would make The Doctor happy. This unit does not understand happy, only that The Doctor must be so.
A soft bleep from its scanners interrupted 1ST1’s musings. It headed to the coordinates provided by the device to investigate. As it received more information from its optics package, it increased its pace, feeling a surge of energy rush through its circuitry. It fleetingly accessed and logged the terms “excitement” and “exhilaration” as it moved forward.
Before it, lying amongst the corpses of several GDF soldiers, was a Mekkus Cybot. Three of its articulating metal legs had been blown away, leaving circuits, hydraulic lines, and casing torn and exposed. Its chassis was a laser-scored ruin, charred and pitted. But 1ST1’s scanners showed the brain it carried was still intact. A special brain capable of connecting to The Deep.
1ST1 made some setting adjustments, then continued to scan the wreckage. It would have to act quickly. The life support for the cybot’s brain had been damaged and was failing. Soon the tissue would be rendered useless as it began to suffer necrosis. That would not do. The Doctor wanted healthy psionic brain tissue. That would make The Doctor happy.
1ST1 got to work. It did not understand happy, but it would not fail.