The Mad ScientistGiando Sigurani / Science Fiction
The Mad Scientist
A Short Story by
Copyright 2012 Giando Sigurani
Cover by Jason Nelson
The Mad Scientist
Dwayne was a very nice man. All his life, he had made an effort to improve the quality of life for those around him. His greatest tool was unrelenting politeness.
Should anyone wish to enter the same building as Dwayne, Dwayne would make an effort to be first at the door, and to hold it open for them. Should he need to pass by another within close proximity, he would make an effort to say ‘Excuse me,’ to alert others of his presence.
He tipped very well at restaurants.
He said “Thank you” to store clerks, no matter how unpleasant they might have been to him.
He always gave spare change to anyone on the street who asked it of him.
And yet, despite all of this, he found himself harboring violent, murderous emotions towards the Green Line bus driver.
It had caught Dwayne quite by surprise. Never before had he wished even the slightest amount of displeasure towards anyone. He was of the opinion that if everyone else was happy, he could be happy. His record of this assertion spoke for itself.
It was the little things, Dwayne thought. On one occasion, he was two pennies short of his fare, and instead of the bus driver allowing him on like any decent human being might do, Dwayne was booted off the bus. If Dwayne had pulled the stop signal cord a hair too late, and the bus driver was not able to stop at the designated area on time, he would keep going to the next stop a mile down the road, instead of just twenty feet past the last one.
Whenever Dwayne said “Thank you” as he got off, the driver would look straight ahead and start the bus driving again the moment Dwayne left, without saying a word in response.
The driver refused to engage in small talk.
The driver always stopped at the train tracks and opened the door as the law states, even though a train hadn’t crossed those tracks in twenty years.
If Dwayne was ten paces away from the bus stop as the bus got there, the driver would pass him by, no matter how frantically Dwayne might be running towards it.
The driver insisted on following every single minute rule and ordinance of the Bus Driver Handbook to the very letter, no matter how ridiculous it seemed. And every time he did, Dwayne felt like driving a sixteen-pound bowling ball through the back of the driver’s shiny, balding head.
It rather worried him, in fact.
And yet, Dwayne could not deny that aside from these faults, his nemesis was a very good bus driver. He was always on time, always following the rules, yet doing so in such a way that it triggered the bottled-up rage Dwayne was rather upset to discover he had.
It was because of these out-of-place thoughts that, every time Dwayne got off the Green Line bus, his hands were in his pockets, his shoulders were sagging, and beads of worried sweat were running down his face.
This was the very state Dwayne was in when he met the Mad Scientist.
The morning sky was cast over with dark storm clouds looking for an excuse to open up and soak the citizens below. A man in a white coat was standing right in front of the door of the bus, grinning nervously. When he saw Dwayne, he grinned even more.
“Hello,” he said. “I’m a Mad Scientist.”
Dwayne did not know what to say to this, so he responded the same way he did for everyone. “Hello,” he said. “My name is Dwayne.” And he extended his hand.
The Mad Scientist did not know what to do with the extended hand, so he shook his head and blinked. He went back to grinning. Dwayne put his hand back down, and went back to sweating.
“That bus driver,” said the Mad Scientist, his grin perfectly ordinary, not flinching a muscle, “I don’t suppose you want to... kill him, do you?”
This caught Dwayne completely by surprise. His eyes widened, and he looked around frantically. “What?” he said in a hushed voice. “How did you know?”
The Mad Scientist’s grin was wiped away. He shook his head. “Oh, no,” he said, cradling his head. “Oh no, no, no.”
Dwayne stood politely. He was rather good at it.
“Oh no,” continued the Mad Scientist. “This is not good at all.”
“Why is it not good?” Dwayne asked.
“It means he was a failure,” the Mad Scientist said, still shaking his head, still not making eye contact.
“Who was a failure?” Dwayne asked politely.
“Timmy,” the Mad Scientist said. “My robot. The bus driver. He was a newer model, you see. I tried to upload an older firmware into him, because the new ones aren’t working so well, but all it’s done is make everybody want to kill him.”
Dwayne was confused, but on some very small level within him, relieved. “That bus driver... is a robot?” he said.
The Mad Scientist stopped shaking his head and stared directly into Dwayne’s eyes, a piercing, focused stare. “Well, of course!” he said. “He’s a civil servant, isn’t he?”
Dwayne continued to stand politely.
“All civil servants are robots,” the Mad Scientist continued. “Haven’t you ever been to the DMV, or the IRS, or the post office?”
“Can’t say I have,” said Dwayne.
“Well, they’re all our units,” said the Mad Scientist. “And from what most reports claim, people seem to feel a nearly irresistible urge to grievously injure or kill our units almost immediately after meeting them.”
“That sounds like a serious problem,” said Dwayne.
“It is,” returned the Mad Scientist. “That’s why I’m visiting you personally. We don’t usually do that. We usually use anonymous field reports from undercover agents.”
“But how do you get him to look so... real?” said Dwayne. It had been on his mind since the moment he found out about the true nature of his bus driver. He did not have much personal experience with machines, but from what he knew they were not usually covered in completely realistic-looking human skin.
“Oh, our team has developed a rather effective process that makes them look quite lifelike,” said the Mad Scientist. “Don't worry, it's perfectly harmless, and absolutely ethical.”
“Why do you call yourself a Mad Scientist, then?” asked Dwayne.
“Oh, it’s just a job title,” said the grinning one. “Nothing to worry about.”
“Why are all these machines doing people’s work?” asked Dwayne. There were too many questions for him to restrain himself. “I mean, filing paperwork and driving buses can’t be that hard.”
“Maybe not hard,” said the Mad Scientist. “But our field reports indicate that holding such a position for more than two years leads to a type of utterly incurable madness.”
“And robots that instill murderous hatred in random people is better?” said Dwayne, surprised at his own poignancy.
The Mad Scientist scowled. “I didn’t say we got it right,” he said. “It probably wasn’t going to work right away. That’s why I’m here.”
“So how, exactly, do these robots make people have these violent feelings?” Dwayne asked.
“I have a theory,” said the Mad Scientist. “You see, people only seem to like other people. Real people. And human beings are able to tell whether someone is a real person or not remarkably easily.”
“I see,” said Dwayne.
“But they don’t know it, you see. It’s on some sort of subconscious level. Most people call it the “Uncanny Valley,” that feeling that there's just something off about this person, without knowing what it is, precisely. We thought it was the smell. Pheremones. But it goes much deeper than that. That’s why I developed this new firmware.”
“What’s a firmware?” Dwayne asked, politely, as usual.
“It’s a series of behaviors,” the Mad Scientist said. “The way he reacts to situations.”
“You mean the way he always follows every single ridiculous rule and regulation, to the very letter?” Dwayne asked, noticeably less politely than usual.
“Yes,” said the Mad Scientist.
“And the way he doesn’t ever say a word, unless it’s to enforce one of said ridiculous rules and regulations?” said Dwayne, even less politely.
“Yes,” said the Mad Scientist.
“And you never stopped to consider that this might cause immense irritation to people he serves?”
The Mad Scientist’s mad grin turned solemn and ashamed immediately. “It’s not my fault,” he said. “It’s a newer unit... the old firmware seems to clash with it. And for some reason, instead of acting more human, he acts like... well, like a civil servant. Unfortunately, I don’t have much time to fix it.”
“Why not?” said Dwayne.
“Well, you see, the bureaucracy has been expanding quite a lot lately...”
Dwayne folded his arms.
“And the demand for bureaucracy workers has increased greatly,” the Mad Scientist continued. “We Mad Scientists