Monday, October 12, 2009

Daily Story 180: Fatal Transmissions

The blue glow from my suit lights somehow make the darkness of the mine even more oppressive, but my main light has been broken for a month. Everything is broken around here, it's a wonder we still have an atmosphere back at the homestead. Between the blue light and the low gravity, it feels like I'm exploring an underwater cavern as I drift along searching for the lost 'bot. The miners are our most valuable resource, and I don't know what I'm going to do if this one can't be repaired. Requests for new ones from Earth have been denied five times already - they don't care about us out here. The new nano-assemblers do the heavy lifting these days, and it's a matter of time before there's no point in mining anything at all. In the meantime, while we wait for the colony to get an assembler of our own, nobody is looking out for us.

I turn the corner and see the old robot there next to shaft fourteen. He - we call all of them 'he' around here - holds a nearly human hand in a vertical line in front of his speaker and shrinks back into the shadowy gap between rocks. What in the world?
"You have stopped." The voice that speaks directly into my right ear is emotionless, one of three newer 'bots that were shipped up seven years ago. They had been starting to develop personalities same as the old FT180 but recently they feel more like machines again. Maybe they know the trouble this colony is having and they're trying not to get too attached - the equivalent of Jimmy spending all his time with just a homemade still for company.
"Yeah, I've stopped. I was looking at something." I guess there's no need to tell them what just yet; it's not like I answer to them anyway. I continue on down the main line towards shaft fifteen, and then turn and head back.

The 'bot that was talking to me is watching me from the end of the tunnel - we could have had relays all through the mines for communication but we don't. Just another luxury we can't afford, another safety measure that cuts into the food budget. The signals bounce along tunnels a little bit but for the most part when you're down here, if you break line of sight you break off all communication - and lord help you if you get injured or damage your suit when you're by yourself. The bot is watching me bounce towards him, that blue light reflecting off of his dull metal frame. Just watching.
"No sign of him here. Head down shaft eleven and search there." He seems to hesitate, and then glides down a side passage. I wait until his lights have dwindled to nothing and I'm not showing his signal on the visor, and then go back to the missing robot.

"It's just you and me. What in the hell is your problem?"
The 'bot emerges from the shadows and looks over my shoulder as if he suspects me of lying. As he looks past me I can see that the side of his head has been pulled open, and wires are trailing loose. Whatever is damaged, it had better be something we have a spare of.
"The other artificial life forms have been murdered," he says in the robotic equivalent of a whisper - the voice comes from his speaker rather than my suit helmet. "I am unable to contact the authorities because I have removed my communications center." he holds up a circular chip that looks like it would about fit in the side of his head. Damn it.
"Nothing is wrong with the others, you heap of bolts. They're fine. I was just looking at one."
The 'bot shakes his head, and looks around again. "They have been... replaced. Their artificial brains have been destroyed, and they are running on software intelligence only. They are... undead. The colony may have already fallen as well - if it has, you are at the mercy of the ones who created the virus."

If Goldberg robots were susceptible to viruses I would have heard. It would have made the news. Instead all they talk about is how wonderful things are, how worldwide peace is assured forever. They're very clear on that point - everything is fine, and the whole of Earth is one big peaceful family. It's kinda like someone calling you up just to assure you that your house is absolutely, positively not on fire. Not that any of that is my concern - Earth can do whatever it wants so long as supply lines don't get disrupted. "I'll be honest, I think you're nuts. Hell, I'm sure of it. Come with me over to the main entrance so I can get reception and I'll put a call out so you can see, okay?"

I reach the elevator just as it opens and one of the new 'bots walks out.
"What the hell are you doing down here? Forget it - just patch a call through to the main line. Get me Earth."
The robot just stands there for a moment, and then my helmet speakers hum.
"Operator... where can I direct you, Ben?"
"Oh, just connect me to Goldberg Corp… I have to ask them about some strange malfunctions. I've got one going crazy and talking about viruses."
"I tried earlier and couldn't get through, actually. Mine is acting up a little, she's gone all formal on me. Hey, you think that -" And the line cuts out.

The robot is looking at me, still standing so that it blocks the elevator. I'm feeling very isolated, down here in the mine. I try to radio someone, anyone, but I'm not getting a signal. Like I'm getting jammed.
"So, who do you work for now? Eurasia? United Americas?" It doesn't reply, but the mining laser lights up and starts to sizzle. A sound makes it look up, and for just a second I see the pneumatic jack lifting up in the shadows before an explosion of gas makes me fling my hands in front of my face. I bounce off of the wall and right myself to find the old FT180 walking forward with his own laser priming. The rogue 'bot has a metal support bar speared through its chest and is writhing around.
"I'm sorry, Ben. I hoped I was crazy too."

It looks like world peace has finally reached the colony.