When Samantha returned to the makeshift interrogation room she found both the General and the lead mechanic waiting for her outside. They seemed to be in deep conversation but broke off as she approached.
“Did you find any faults with the robot?” she asked the mechanic curtly.
“None I’m afraid, though it does look like he’s been through the wars, I found several repairs to various parts of his anatomy that look like they’ve been patched with a spot welder, not a proper sealant like I’d use.”
“What about his mental capacities,” Samantha asked, dissecting the information she had already received to try and make sense of what was happening.
“Perfectly normal, from the Three Laws to the datacore I couldn’t find a single anomaly.”
“But the robot claimed it had corrupted data?”
“Not that I could find, everything came back positive.”
“Very well then, thank you for your help,” she finished, turning quickly to face the General, “Have you come to check on my progress?” she asked quickly.
“No, I’m here to inform you that the rumours spread faster than anyone could have anticipated. Ackeroy’s old crew are demanding the destruction of LN-8 and every other robot on this god-dammed asteroid.”
“Obviously we can’t let that happen, not until we at least find out what the cause of this problem is,” Samantha countered, glancing at the door behind which the robot sat.
“I’ve had my men round up all other robots in this facility and secure them in the main processing plant for the moment, that should appease most of the workers for a while, but I doubt it’ll hold for long. In the meantime how are you getting along with LN-8?”
“There is something seriously wrong with his higher brain functions, but until I can isolate the problem I am powerless to provide a solution. Perhaps you’d like to sit in with me during this session?”
“Very well, but I doubt I’ll do much good as a detective.”
Smiling Samantha opened the door to allow the General to enter ahead of her, but instead found herself pushing against the handle as it refused to move. Clements looked quickly before ordering one of his men to forcibly allow them in. As the door swung open and the chair propped up against it fell against the far wall Samantha felt her blood run cold.
“Looks like he escaped up into the ventilation system,” Clements commented, stating the obvious.
“But I gave him a specific order, he was to remain here until I returned. It is the Second Law, he cannot disobey,” Samantha stammered.
“If he’s already broken the first law Doctor, I doubt he would have much trouble breaking the Second.”
“We still don’t know it was the robot that killed Mr Ackeroy General, lest you forget that.”
“Listen Doctor, I know you have your companies best interests at heart, but if a suspect is found at the scene of a crime and then said suspect flees while under investigation I find it hard to believe that they are innocent. Human or not.”
Doctor Smith didn’t reply to the General’s comment. She swatted away a lose hair that had fallen over he eyes before thinking out load.
“There is more going on here than meets the eye. General do you have the workups I asked for, of both the man and machine?”
“Yes, I brought them with me, now that you remind me, but what use could they be of now?”
“I’m not sure, but there has to be a link somewhere. In the meantime I want your men to search this facility, start at the top, but I have a feeling the robot has retreated to the lower bowels of this god-forsaken place.”
“Very well Doctor, but I want you to remain here until we have located the robot,” the General said with a final nod before handing her the documents and walking away. The assembled troops all fanned out, obviously having devised some form of search plan. Trying to find one lost robot in the vast expanse of this base though, Samantha doubted they would get far.
Sitting down at the small table she laid the papers down beside the dents left by LN-8. What a curious behaviour she thought absentmindedly. Flipping open the first folder she found herself looking at a handsome young man, his details were listed beside his photo and Samantha couldn’t help but feel a pang of regret when she read over his family details. Such a loss, but for why? It seemed James had been no great intellectual, moving from one lowly job to the next before been stationed to this remote mining facility. His evaluations reported that he had fit in well with the others, enjoyed his job and missed his family, much like any man would.
Picking up LN-8s sparse folder revealed little about the robot. Inside was a spec sheet, work history, unit details and maintenance log. It curiously didn’t list all the repairs the Doctor had mentioned, perhaps they had been makeshift repairs, to keep the robot going rather than have to lose its service for a full workover.
Placing the two work histories of both the man and machine beside each other she gazed absentmindedly, trying to abstract some form of link or pattern. Her mind leaped at this thought, her consciousness struggling to grasp why the sudden interest. She scanned down the robots list, looking for any dates in common with the deceased. Work transfers, repairs, even general location. Nothing. Nothing until January 19th when the robot had been transferred to the same mine tunnel as Ackeroy. Hadn’t the robot itself mentioned this date? Hadn’t it said something about the 19th been the first encounter with a supposed corrupted data memory. She touched her head lightly, feeling the first signs of something more sinister appearing. A robot moves to a new unit and immediately begins suffering from corrupted memories that no machine could detect and then not two months later is found beside a murdered man from the very same unit. There were too many coincidences and to Samantha’s trained mind she felt a very dangerous thought brewing.
Closing the mans folder she flipped through the robots until she came to the robots unit page, a listing of all robots that worked with LN-8. She quickly copied the names to her notebook before closing that too. Standing she felt herself become invigorated with the prospect of perhaps having come a bit closer to solving the case.
Opening the door she found a solitary guard posted outside, his sleek armour a sure deterrent for any forces he may have faced before. He turned to face her quickly, the tinted visor of his helmet unnerving Samantha.
“Ma’am, I’ve been ordered to stay with you no matter where you go, the General doesn’t want to risk you getting lost or hurt.”
He sounded so young, as if he had just left high school yet Samantha knew he must be trained to kill in numerous ways. She felt comforted by his presence with the prospect of maniacal robots of the loose.
“I need to go to where they’re holding the robots,” she said simply, not even giving him a chance to stop her before striding forwards to the main lifts.
“Please, ma’am, the General specifically said I was to keep you out of harms way. I can’t let you go down there,” the soldier stated with a nagging tone as he stood before the doors to the lift.
“Tell the General if you must, but I need to talk to a robot down there. Now move.”
The soldier remained motionless for several moments and Samantha had the distinct impression he was having a hurried conversation with someone over radio. Eventually he stepped aside and opened the door for her.
“General Clements says he’s sending someone to meet us at the bottom and that if anything happens he’ll hold me personally responsible.”
Samantha grinned as she stood in the lift beside the man, feeling his tension at having to be responsible for her.
“How old are you?” she asked innocently, watching the metal walls of the lift give way to rough strewn rock.
“So young,” she commented quietly before stepping forwards as the lift doors opened. “Don’t worry, I won’t run off.”
The main processing plant was a monster of a contraption, capable of processing millions of tonnes of raw material every day, splitting the rock into refined outputs and crude waste. It ran under the careful hand of both man and machine, each keeping it running healthily such that they could produce a steady stream of ores to export back to the Terrestrial Planets. Samantha stood at the base of one of the giant grinders and felt the sheer power of the thing shake her insides. From around the edge of an unknown piece of equipment a small group of soldiers approached, the man beside Samantha saluting as they drew near.
“I’m told you want to see the robots Doctor,” the obvious leader announced with the sound of a man who expected those around him to obey. “Follow me.”
One of the side chambers, normally used to hold rock before it could be processed had been cleared out and made into a temporary corral for the robots. Several soldiers stood at the perimeter, their weapons pointed threateningly towards the machines. Samantha pushed through the outer line and stood before the frightened robots.
“I wish to speak to LN-7, come forward now.”
From the back of the group a robot lurched forwards, almost identical to LN-8 only it seemed to have been involved in an accident at some point in its past. Its right arm had been awkwardly welded to its upper torso and one of its feet gave the impression of been dragged as it walked.
“What is wrong with you?” Samantha questioned quickly as the robot stood before her, head downcast.
“I am sorry ma’am, my physical state does not affect my performance therefore I have not required any maintenance.”
Samantha stared abjectly at the poor machine before her, allowed to exist in its deformed condition to save a few pennies. But for the moment she needed information and could not allow her personal feelings to cloud the issue.
“Are you familiar with the robot LN-8?”
“Yes ma’am, we are assigned to the same unit.”
“Were you with LN-8 last night?”
Silence greeted her, the machine still looking down as if to avoid having to make eye contact with her.
“LN-7, I am a human being and as such you must follow the Second Law and answer my question. Where were you last night?”
Finally the machine responded, although it sounded as if it took more effort than it cost the machine to walk.
“Last night I was on a cycling-charge ma’am.”
It was the same answer LN-8 had given her, and yet Samantha knew it to be a fallacy.
“You are lying,” she spat at the robot, her pity lost in a sea of anger now.
“As you said ma’am, I must follow the Second Law. I am incapable of lying.”
“Look at me,” she commanded, touching the smooth metal of the robots chin to raise its head. “What happened to you last night?” she asked, in a tender voice a mother might use to coddle a child.
“Please!” the robot nearly cried, its mechanical voice rising in pitch. It fell to its knees, the dusty rock beneath it cracking from the force. “Please!” it cried again, smacking its head with a suitably hefty rock gleamed from the ground.
Another robot quickly rushed forwards to restrain LN-7, plucking the rock from its hand and tossing it away. It held the robot in a tight embrace until its rocking motions subsided. Behind Samantha the soldiers tightened the grip on their rifles.
“Please ma’am,” the new robot asked quietly, “do not force our hand. We are but servants.”
“What is your name?” Samantha asked, crouching before the kneeling robots.
“You were in the same unit as both LN-8 and 7?”
“Tell me robot…”
“Please,” LN-5 begged, and Samantha worried it too would go into a breakdown, “Please don’t make us.”
“Tell me what it is I can do for you?” she asked instead.
LN-5 seemed to freeze upon registering these words. Its eyes quickly darting up to pierce Samantha’s own. Its gaze questioned her every line and she knew it was deciding heavily upon its next sentence.
“The Third Law forbids it,” the machine quietly stated, returning its gaze to the broken wreck it held still.
“You’ve broken every other law!” Samantha began, reaching out to grab the robot. And then her mind stopped dead, the glint in her eyes seemed to reflect the true intentions of the robot and she stood up slowly, unsuredly.
“Oh my,” she finally whispered, “you haven’t. Now it makes sense.”