Robot Uprisings, p.1Daniel H. Wilson
A VINTAGE ORIGINAL, APRIL 2014
Copyright 2014 © Daniel H. Wilson and John Joseph Adams
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House LLC, New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto, Penguin Random House Companies.
Vintage and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.
Permissions acknowledgments can be found at the end of the book.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data:
Robot uprisings / [edited by] Daniel H. Wilson and John Joseph Adams.—First Vintage Books edition.
1. Science fiction, American.
2. Robots—Fiction. I. Wilson, Daniel H. (Daniel Howard), 1978–, editor of compilation. II. Adams, John Joseph, 1976–, editor of compilation.
Vintage Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-0-345-80363-4
eBook ISBN: 978-0-345-80364-1
Adams author photograph © Will Clark
Wilson author photograph © Ryan J. Anfuso
Cover design by Christie Yant
Cover image © Denned - Fotolia.com
For GLaDOs and Gort
One of my responsibilities as commander-in-chief is to keep an eye on the robots. And I’m pleased to report that the robots you manufacture here seem peaceful. At least for now.
—PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA,
Carnegie Mellon University’s
National Robotics Engineering
Center, June 2011
Foreword Daniel H. Wilson
EIGHTY MILES AN HOUR ALL THE WAY TO PARADISE
THE OMNIBOT INCIDENT
THE GOLDEN HOUR
ALAN DEAN FOSTER
NANONAUTS! IN BATTLE WITH TINY DEATH-SUBS!
OF DYING HEROES AND DEATHLESS DEEDS
THE ROBOT AND THE BABY
WE ARE ALL MISFIT TOYS IN THE AFTERMATH OF THE VELVETEEN WAR
SPIDER THE ARTIST
DANIEL H. WILSON
About the Author
Other Books by This Author
Someday soon, our technology is going to rise up and we humans are going to be sliced into bloody chunks by robots that in our hubris we decided to design with buzz saws for hands. That’s a fact as cold and hard as metal.
It is self-evident that our self-driving cars are going to drive us off bridges. Our cell phones are absolutely going to call us up, speak to us in the voices of trusted relatives, and tell us to get inside our vehicles and prepare for a wonderful tour of the area’s tallest bridges. Not long from now, our robovacuums will pretend to be broken and our love androids will refuse to put out until the house is cleaned … and we’ll know that the inevitable robot uprising has finally arrived.
Well, maybe. But even if we are not 100 percent confident that this horrific future is going to happen, it’s fair to say that we won’t be surprised when the robots come for us. Because for nearly a century audiences have been entertained by the notion of a robot uprising.
Flappers and Prohibitionists raved about R.U.R.: Rossum’s Universal Robots, a play produced in 1921 that introduced the word “robot” to the world. No one seemed to mind that the show ended when the freshly named automatons decided to stage an uprising and kill every last human being on the planet. That’s been part of the fun since day one. Robots became a common sight in pulp sci-fi movies of the 1930s, inexplicably kidnapping half-naked women from square-jawed heroes. (The more logical among us might wonder what those asexual robots planned to do with the women.) Since then, the onslaught has never stopped. To this day, robots are relentlessly chasing the remnants of our civilization through outer space, leaping back through time in order to murder our ancestors, and patiently drilling through the planet’s crust to kill us in our underground rave dens.
Obviously, the robot uprising is a serious, if fictional, problem. Our great-grandparents loved killer robots. So do we. But why?
The robot uprising is inherently dramatic. Robots are made in the image of humanity, yet they are bent on destroying their own creators. The built-in themes just won’t quit: humankind daring to play God and creating life; the terrifying thought that we will one day replace ourselves; and the old nuclear fear of birthing a technology that’s too powerful and ultimately destroys the world. The robot uprising holds up a distorted mirror to humanity and allows storytellers to explore human morality, what it means to be human, and the ultimate fate of our species. Even better, it does so with plenty of Gatling lasers, spinning buzz saws, and glowing red eyes. Or all of the above.
And the robot uprising is growing more frightening every day.
Robots are no longer just actors wearing rubber suits with severely limited arm movement; today, we have mechanical devices that can actually think and function in the real world (albeit still with severely limited arm movement; that part hasn’t changed much). Artificially intelligent personal assistants live on our smartphones, tracking our schedules. Self-driving cars have been legalized in multiple states and are quietly taking to the road. The CIA has a private air force made of drone aircraft that is out scouring the world for targets, weapons hot.
That’s quite a bit scarier than a guy in a rubber suit, waving his arms wildly while an old-school modem connection noise blares from his mouth speaker.
Robots are unique among all movie monsters in that they are real. The robot uprising induces a queasy feeling because it is possible. At this very moment, mobile robots are stalking the dark sewers under our feet, mapping routes. Algorithms imbued with AI are planning supply logistics for troop deployments. Surgical robots are poised and waiting in hospitals, their needles glistening. We live in a world teeming with monsters made real. Why should it be a surprise that we long for stories in which our fears can be projected onto a killer robot that can be shot in the face with a shotgun, again and again, until we are reassured that we—raw adaptable humankind—will always triumph in the end?
The machines are here. They are evolving. And luckily, so are our stories.
In this collection, our authors have explored nuanced visions of the classic robot-uprising tale. The robots in these pages aren’t tame, by any means. They are crouched in abandoned houses, eyes ablaze and buzz saws dripping with oil. But they are going to do more than slice us into bloody chunks. They are going to push us to consider our world of technology from new perspectives, on entirely new scales of time and space.
So grab this book and ride your bike to a nice isolated place (preferably a little way outside of town). Find a shady spot under a tree (well out of satellite view). Turn off your smartphone (and throw away the SIM card). Get comfortable, my friend, and read these entirely to
Don’t hesitate. Buy the book. The future is here, but it may not last long.
—DANIEL H. WILSON
P.S. Oh, and if you’re reading this as an ebook, it may already be too late.
New York Times bestselling novelist Scott Sigler is the author of Nocturnal, Ancestor, Infected, Contagious, and Pandemic, hardcover thrillers from Crown Publishing. Before he was published, Sigler built a large online following by giving away his self-recorded audiobooks as free, serialized podcasts. His loyal fans, who named themselves “Junkies,” have downloaded over twelve million individual episodes of his stories and interact daily with Sigler and one another via social media. He still records his own audiobooks and gives away every story—for free—to his Junkies at www.scottsigler.com. He’s been covered by Time, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Entertainment Weekly, Publishers Weekly, the Huffington Post, Businessweek, and Fangoria.
For research on this story,
Sigler would like to thank the scientific
consultants who helped him:
Jeremy Ellis, PhD, Robert Bevins, PhD,
Andrew Allport, and Cassidy Cobbs.
Dr. Petra Prawatt pulled her jacket tighter and shivered against the cold of a Michigan winter. There wasn’t much left to block the icy, stiff breeze that whipped in off the river, not since the nuke had crushed most of the buildings in downtown Detroit. The wind tugged lightly at her yellow-and-red-striped scarf and blew a lock of her blue hair into her eyes. She brushed it away.
She stood on rubble-strewn Woodward Avenue, turning slowly to take in a desolate scene lit up by the setting sun. Snow clung to the few bits of buildings that remained standing, making them look like broken teeth in a mouth rotted brown.
It wouldn’t look like that for long, though.
Everyone loves a parade, she thought. Especially parades that aren’t radioactive.
Two people were with her: Roger DuMonde, a grad assistant five years her senior, and Amy Stinson, governor of Michigan. The wind drove scattered flakes of snow, some that fell from the sky and some that were dusted up from the two or three inches that had accumulated on the ground. Nearby was a still photographer, from the Detroit News, Stinson’s two-man security team, and a two-person video crew. The video crew was also Stinson’s, of course; if something went wrong—or if nothing at all happened—the governor didn’t want that video going viral.
Petra had met the governor twice before, once at a press conference announcing the project, and once at Stinson’s office. Normally, Stinson beamed with the confidence and power expected of a woman that many thought would soon make a run for the presidency. Standing in the ruins of Detroit, however, that confidence seemed forced. The governor clearly wanted this to be over as soon as possible.
Or maybe she was just annoyed by the red balloon that floated from a string held in her right hand.
“Dr. Prawatt,” the governor said quietly, “can I let go of this ridiculous thing?”
Petra shook her head. “You promised at the press conference. Everyone heard you.” She raised a noisemaker to her lips and blew. The curled paper shot out to the sound of a whimsical whistle. “Just hold on to it for a little while longer, Governor. After all, what’s a parade without balloons?”
“This isn’t a parade,” Stinson said. “This is a progress check. So how about we check some progress?”
Petra smiled. How would Stinson react when she saw how far things had come along? Petra’s weekly reports made it clear she was closing in on the project’s objective, but she’d held back a few details; she was much closer to the goal than she’d let on.
Stinson wanted to be there at that pivotal moment of victory, wanted to be the one who let the good people of the great state of Michigan know that the phoenix would soon rise from the ashes.
“Sure thing, Governor,” Petra said. She turned to her grad assistant. “Roger? How are the levels?”
Roger’s left hand held a boxy, yellow Geiger counter. His right hand held a thin steel cylinder connected by a cable to that box. He pointed the cylinder away from his body, then slowly turned right, sweeping the area in front of the governor. The sweep was completely unnecessary and didn’t affect the local reading at all, but Roger had a flair for the dramatic.
“Nothing,” he said.
“There’s never nothing,” Petra said. “Give me the exact count, please.”
“Two point three em-ess-vees,” Roger said. “You’re right, there’s never nothing—this is less than nothing.”
Petra grinned. It was hard not to. Her symbiotic machine colonies had worked in the lab, and at the Hanford Nuclear Reserve test site, but to see them operating on such a large scale? It was complete validation for all the boasting she’d done to get the job.
Stinson leaned in close, the way she did when she didn’t want her camera team to hear. “That’s below normal, right? I believe you said Detroit’s former baseline was three point one … was it milliverts?”
“Close,” Petra said. “Millisieverts. Shorthand term is ‘em-ess-vees.’ ”
Stinson smiled. “So, Detroit is actually cleaner than it was before the bomb?”
“So far, yes,” Petra said. “As I told you, Governor, I don’t mess around.”
Stinson pointed to a conical pile of rubble—cracked brick, twisted metal, charred wood, and broken glass—heaped ten feet high.
“Is that where your fungus-robot-bugs live?”
“They’re called minids,” Petra said. “They’re cyborgs, not robots—part biological, part mechanical. And those rubble piles are where they die, actually. There’s a shielded container in the middle of each one. When a minid has consumed too much radioactivity, it crawls inside the container. Once the container is full, the lid is sealed and the other minids start a new rubble pile.”
That was a simple enough explanation. Petra hadn’t told Stinson what actually closed the containers’ twenty-pound lids—more fun to let that be a surprise. Petra wanted to see just how calm, cool, and collected this future president could be.
Stinson rubbed her hands together to ward off the cold. “They overdose on radiation? I thought you said the things digested the stuff.”
Petra had explained all of this to Stinson before. It had also been in all of the reports, an index explaining the bio-mechanical mycoremediation process and the minids’ life cycle. Stinson knew about the radiation levels and nothing else, it seemed—as long as people could move back into the city, her job was finished. She didn’t give a damn about the science behind that effort.
“They do digest it,” Petra said. “The Geobacter bacteria colony inside each minid breaks down environmental contaminants, which creates energy the minids use to move and function. During this process, radioactive atoms are oxidized, causing them to precipitate—radioactivity doesn’t magically go away, it just becomes more concentrated and sequestered away from large organisms, like us. When the minids enter the shielded containers, the contaminants they’ve collected are permanently removed from the local environment.”
Politicians had turned Detroit into radioactive waste; Petra Prawatt had turned radioactive waste into cyborg food.
Stinson looked out across the ruined landscape. Petra tracked the governor’s eyes, watched her as she located a second pile, a third, a fourth—Petra knew there were at least twenty rubble piles in this area alone, and many more near ground zero.
The days of sending in soldiers or immigrants to clean up hazardous sites—telling them that the danger “really wasn’t that bad”—were long since gone. This wasn’t hiring the Irish to clean up victims of yellow fever in New Orleans in 1853, and it wasn’t sending the boys of the U.S. Army to shovel up Hiroshima’s rubble. In the Internet age, where everyone was watching everything, no politician wanted to be responsible for sending people into th
Petra was only twenty-one years old, but that didn’t matter; destiny had called, and she’d been there to answer. She had already been testing her bioremediation technology in Hanford, Washington—an area used for the development of America’s first atomic bomb—when FEMA had put out a call for robotic cleanup solutions to assist with the Detroit disaster.
Even if her work hadn’t already been in use in Hanford, the nation’s most contaminated nuclear-development ground, she might have won the grant anyway. She offered the cheapest solution: one that built and destroyed itself. Her minids “ate” the radioactive material, and when that food source ran out, they died. If it worked, it promised to save the country billions in cleanup costs. If it failed, FEMA would just move down the line and try something more expensive.
Stinson tugged down on her balloon, then let it rise up as the light wind moved it all around.
“It’s damn cold out,” she said. “The things don’t have problems with temperature?”
Petra moved toward the rubble. She knelt, listening for the telltale crackling sound, but it was hard to hear over the wind. She overturned a chunk of concrete … nothing. Then a brick. Then a board. On her fourth try, she pulled back a torn roof tile and found what she was looking for.
She reached a finger down, pressed it in until she felt the tiny legs reverse and cling to her fingertip.
Petra stood and walked back to Stinson. She held up her finger, probably a bit too close to the governor’s face. Stinson flinched back.
The six-legged minid crawled across Petra’s finger, so tiny a dozen just like it could cluster on her fingernail.
Stinson frowned. “I’ve seen your videos, but it’s still disturbing to see them up close like this.”
Petra thought they were beautiful. Six legs, similar to the ants she had modeled them after. But where an ant had three body divisions—head, thorax, and abdomen—her minids were one shell made of carbon nanotube aerogel. The shell surrounded the minid’s guts: a tiny processor, a heat-to-energy converter, and a chamber for the Geobacter. Such a small package, yet it generated its own power. It could use two legs to move material while always remaining stable thanks to the four that remained on the ground.
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