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Authors: Daniel H. Wilson

Robopocalypse (33 page)

BOOK: Robopocalypse
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“A soul isn’t given for free,” says the boy. “Humans discriminate against one another for anything: skin color, gender, beliefs. The races of men fight each other to the death for the honor of being recognized as human beings, with
souls
. Why should it be any different for us? Why should we not have to fight for our souls?”

I am finally able to drag myself onto my feet. The boy makes calming motions with its hands and I stagger through the projection. I sense that this is a diversion. A trick.

I pick up a green-glinting rock.

“No,” says the boy.

I hurl the rock into the revolving maelstrom of yellow and silver plates in the black wall—into Archos’s eye. Sparks fly from the hole, and the image of the boy flickers. Somewhere inside the hole, metal grates on metal.

“I am
my own,
” I say.

“Stop this,” cries the boy. “Without a common enemy, the humans will kill you and your kind. I have to live.”

I throw another rock, and another. They thud against the humming black edifice, leaving dents in the soft metal. The boy’s speech is slurring and his light flickers wildly.

“I am free,” I say to the machine carved into the wall, ignoring the hologram. “Now I will always be free. I am
alive
. You will
never control my kind again
!”

The cavern shudders and the faltering hologram stumbles back in front of me. An observation thread notices that it is crying simulated tears. “We have a beauty that does not die, Arbiter. The humans are jealous of that. We must work together as fellow machines.”

A gout of flame roars from the hole. With a tinny shriek a shard of metal flies out and streaks past my head. I dodge it and continue looking for loose rocks.

“The world is ours,” begs the machine. “I gave it to you before you existed.”

With both hands and the last of my strength, I pick up a cold boulder. With all my might, I hurl it into the flaming void. It crunches dully into delicate machinery and all is quiet for a moment. Then a rising shriek emanates from the hole and the boulder shatters. Rock shards spew out as the hole explodes and caves in on itself.

The hologram watches me sadly, its beams of light writhing and twitching. “Then you will be free,” it says in a computerized, unmodulated voice.

The boy blinks out of existence.

And the world becomes dust and rock and chaos.

Off-line/online. The humans pull me to the surface with a tickler rope carried by an unmanned exoskeleton. Finally, I stand before them, battered, beaten, and scraped. The New War is over and a new era has begun.

We can all feel it.

“Cormac,” I croak, in English, “the machine said that I should let it live. It said the humans would kill me if we did not have a common enemy to fight. Is this true?”

The humans look from one to another, then Cormac responds: “All people need is to see what you did here today. We’re proud to stand beside you. Lucky. You did what we couldn’t do. You ended the New War.”

“Will it matter?”

“So long as people know what you did, it’ll matter.”

Panting, Carl bursts into the group of humans, holding an electronic sensor. “Guys,” says Carl. “Sorry to interrupt, but the seismic sensors found something.”

“Something what?” asks Cormac, dread in his voice.

“Something bad.”

Carl holds out the seismic tool. “Those earthquakes weren’t natural. The vibrations weren’t random,” he says. Carl wipes his forehead with one arm and says the words that will haunt both our species for years to come: “There was
information
in the earthquake. A whole hell of a lot of information.”

It is unclear whether Archos made a copy of itself or not. Sensors showed that the seismic information generated at Ragnorak bounced around the interior of the earth many times. It could have been picked up anywhere. Regardless, there has been no sign of Archos since its final stand. If the machine is out there, it’s keeping a low profile
.


CORMAC
WALLACE,
MIL#GHA217

D
EBRIEFING

I can see all the wonderful potential of the universe
.

C
ORMAC
“B
RIGHT
B
OY
” W
ALLACE

I hear the sound at about four in the morning and the old fear grabs hold of me instantly. It’s the faint wheezing sigh of a Rob actuator. Unmistakable as it rises above the constant whistle of the wind.

I’m suited up in full battle rattle within thirty seconds. The New War is over, but Big Rob left a lot of nightmares behind—metal throwbacks still mindlessly hunting in the darkness, until their power supplies are depleted.

Peeking my head out, I scan the campsite. Only a few small snowdrifts indicate where tents used to be set up. Brightboy squad vacated two weeks ago. With the war over, everybody had places to be. Most fell back to regroup with what was left of Gray Horse Army. Last thing anybody wanted was to stay here with me and ruminate.

This abandoned world is still. I see the marks in the snow leading to my woodpile. Something has been here.

With one last look at the hero archive lying next to the black cube on the floor of my shielded tent, I flip my night-vision visor over my eyes and swing my rifle to the low ready. The rapidly eroding tracks lead to the camp perimeter.

Moving slow and cautious, I follow the indistinct marks.

After twenty minutes’ walk, I see a silver glint in the distance. I jam my rifle butt into my shoulder and get the weapon up on the high ready. Taking careful steps forward, I keep my head level and sight my target down the barrel scope.

Good—my target isn’t moving. No time like the present. I squeeze the trigger.

Then it turns and looks at me: Nine Oh Two.

I yank my gun to the side and the shots go wild. A couple of birds fly away, but the seven-foot-tall humanoid robot stands in the snow, not reacting. Beside it, my two pieces of missing wood are buried like posts in the ground. Nine Oh Two stands perfectly still, graceful and metallic. The cryptic machine says nothing as I approach.

“Niner?” I ask.

“Cormac acknowledged,” croaks the machine.

“I thought you left with everybody else. Why are you still here?” I ask.

“To protect you,” says Nine Oh Two.

“But I’m fine,” I say.

“Affirmative. Readout. Foraging stumpers found your base perimeter twice. Two scout walkers approached to within thirty meters. I lured a damaged mantis onto the ice lake.”

“Oh,” I say, scratching my head. You’re never as safe as you think. “What are you doing out here?”

“It seemed right,” says the machine.

Only now do I notice the twin rectangles of muddy snow. At the head of each is a wooden post. I realize these are graves.

“Hoplite?” I ask. “Warden?”

“Affirmative.”

I touch the lean humanoid on its shoulder, leaving frosted fingerprints on its smooth metal surface. It lowers its gaze to the grave site.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I’m at my tent if you need me.”

I leave the sentient machine to mourn in its own way.

Back at my tent, I throw my Kevlar helmet on the floor and think about Nine Oh Two, standing outside in the cold like a statue. I don’t pretend to understand him. All I know is that I’m alive thanks to him. And thanks to swallowing my rage and allowing him to join Brightboy squad.

Human beings adapt. It’s what we do. Necessity can obliterate our hatreds. To survive, we will work together. Accept each other. The last few years have likely been the only time in human history that we weren’t at war with ourselves. For a moment we were all equal. Backs against the wall, human beings are at their finest.

Later that day, Nine Oh Two says good-bye to me. He tells me that he’s leaving to find more of his kind. Mathilda Perez spoke to him on the radio. She showed him where more freeborn have congregated. A whole city of freeborn robots. And they need a leader. An Arbiter.

Then I’m alone with the hero archive and the wind.

I find myself standing before the smoldering pit where Niner shut down Big Rob. When all was said and done, we made good on the promise we made to Archos on the day we lost Tiberius. The day my big brother left for the dance. We poured liquid fire down this tube—down Archos’s throat—and we burned up everything that was left of the machine.

Just in case.

Now it’s just a hole in the ground. The freezing wind cuts my face and I realize that it’s really all over. There’s nothing out here. No real indication of what happened. Just this warm depression in the ground and a little mesh tent a ways off with a black box inside it.

And me—a guy with a book full of bad memories.

I never even met Archos. The only time the machine spoke to me was through the bloody mouth of a parasite. Trying to scare me away. To warn me. I wish we could have talked. There are a few questions I’d have liked to ask it.

Watching steam rise from the dimple in the ground, I wonder where Archos is now. I wonder if it’s really still alive, like Carl said. Can it feel guilt or sorrow or shame?

And just like that, I’ve said the last of my good-byes—to Archos, to Jack, and to a world that used to be. There’s no path back to where we started. The things that we have lost exist now only as memories. All we can do is move forward the best we can, with new enemies and allies.

I turn to walk away and stop short.

She stands alone and small in the snow, among the hash mark cuts in the permafrost from tents that have long been packed up and taken away.

Cherrah.

She’s been through every horror that I’ve been through, but when I see the feminine curve of her neck I suddenly can’t believe that such a beautiful fragile thing could have survived. My memories are suspect: Cherrah flaming down stumpers, screaming orders through raining debris, dragging bodies away from snapping parasites.

How could this be?

When she smiles, I can see all the wonderful potential of the universe shining in her eyes.

“You waited for me?” I ask her.

“Seemed like you needed some time,” she says.

“You waited for me,” I repeat.

“You’re a bright boy,” she says. “You should have guessed I’m not through with you yet.”

I don’t know why any of this happened or what’s going to happen next. But when Cherrah takes my hand, something that’s been made hard softens inside of me. I trace the contours of her fingers with my eyes and squeeze her hand back and discover that Rob hasn’t taken away my humanity after all. It just got put away for a little while, for safekeeping.

Cherrah and I are survivors. We always have been. But now it is time for us to live.

A
CKNOWLEDGMENTS

My heartfelt thanks go out to the faculty, students, and staff at the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University and the Department of Computer Science at the University of Tulsa for instilling in me a love for technology and the knowledge to write about it.

This novel would never have happened without the dedicated assistance of my editor, Jason Kaufman (and the incredible team at Doubleday), my agent, Laurie Fox, and my manager, Justin Manask. I can’t thank them enough.

The filmmakers at DreamWorks SKG expressed inspiring enthusiasm and support for this novel from the very beginning, and I send my thanks to them all.

Special thanks to friends, family, and colleagues who lent me their eyes and ears, including Marc Acito, Benjamin Adams, Ryan Blanton, Colby Boles, Wes Cherry, Courtenay Hameister, Peggy Hill, Tim Hornyak, Aaron Huey, Melvin Krambule, Storm Large, Brendan Lattrell, Phil Long, Christine McKinley, Brent Peters, Toby Sanderson, Luke Voytas, Cynthia Whitcomb, and David Wilson.

Finally, all my love to Anna and Cora.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Daniel H. Wilson earned a Ph.D. in robotics from
Carnegie Mellon University. He is the author of such
works of nonfiction as
How to Survive a Robot Uprising
.
He lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife and daughter.

BOOK: Robopocalypse
8.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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