Tony King sat skew across the chair, uncomfortably aware of the sharp gaze the woman sitting across the table fixed him with.
“Do you know the robot LN-8?” she began, as she had so many times before.
“Sure, good old Lenny Eight, he’s in my group, down shaft four.”
“Mr King, please can you just answer the questions.”
“Call me Tony,” he said, cocking a cheeky wink at the Doctor.
Samantha felt her impatience rising with this man, yet he would finally give her the answers she so desperately wanted, answers the robots under his charge could not, would not.
“Mr King, are you also aware of Mr Ackeroy and his unfortunate… passing away?”
“We still haven’t gotten over the loss, to be honest most of us are still in shock. Such an awful way to die. And that evil robot!”
“Please Mr King, you speak as if you know the robot is guilty.”
“Well it is, isn’t it? Found over the body, I should know, I’m the one that discovered it.”
“And ‘screamed to high hell’ as far as I heard,” Samantha replied dryly.
“And people lie. Mr King what did you and your team do to LN-8? What happened down in those shafts that the robots are so afraid to speak about?”
“I think you’re mistaken Doc, a robot can’t feel fear or be intimidated, surely you know that,” he commented with a sneer.
“Then you leave me no choice. I am going to recommend that you undergo full mental probing, we can’t get the truth out of the machines, but hopefully your mind will be more… co-operative. Of course, there might be side affects.”
King’s face had gone white, the prospect of been probed filling him with dread. Every civilised man knew what the probe was, knew that the raping of the mind left the victim an imbecile more times than not. He clutched nervously at his dirty jumpsuit.
“You can’t,” he stammered, “You haven’t got any proof! No jury will allow it!”
“If you allow the probing your mind will escape unscathed. But if you resist, well. Did you know that the only people who were mentally scarred by the probe were later found guilty by their own thoughts? If you have nothing to hide you would submit yourself, otherwise I’m very much afraid a jury would force you to undergo one. To resist is the same as admitting your guilt in most people’s eyes.”
“Please,” King begged, his bravado and courage dissipating in the fear of losing his mind.
“You have no idea how many times I’ve heard that today,” Samantha stated bluntly, her hands balling into fists on the table.
“And if I confess now?” King finally broke, looking into the woman’s cold eyes.
“You pay for your crime, but you get to keep your mind. More than I can say for the alternative.”
“I need time to think,” King said, burying his head in his hands.
“Take your time,” Samantha said, standing up with her hands firmly pressed to her hips, “but remember you have a mans death on your hands, and no amount of time will change that fact.”
Samantha left the man to his own thoughts, standing numbly once she had closed the door to the interrogation room. The soldier she had spoken to earlier was still standing at her side, ready to protect her or else lose his job.
“Radio General Clements,” she said quietly, rubbing her tired eyes with the palms of her hands. “Tell him to meet me down in mineshaft 4. Where all this began. And where it will end.”
Clements stood before the ground where earlier that day James Ackeroy had been viciously slain. Beside him Tony King knelt upon the cold rock, his hands securely bound behind his back. He was sobbing quietly, a man who had lost all. A ring of soldiers stood against the rough walls, their rifles hung loose but ready at a moments notice if need be.
Doctor Samantha Smith walked softly down the wide tunnel, the high ceiling creating a ceaseless echo from each footstep. Alongside her LN-8 walked unrestrained, his face downcast, watching the natural patterns in the rock underfoot. She had found him through a simple trick, a broadcast on the intercom stating that she would die unless he showed himself. The Three Laws required that he show himself.
The soldiers parted to allow the pair to enter the circle, before closing the gap again to complete the circle. Now that everyone was assembled Samantha could finally put this case to rest.
“LN-8 murdered James Ackeroy this morning,” she began simply, getting the obvious out of the way.
Clements smacked his fist into his hand. “I knew it.”
“Please, General, allow me to finish.”
Samantha gently reached for 8′s hand and held it delicately in her own. She traced the pattern of burns left by the numerous welds on his body with her fingers before slowly turning back to face the rest of the group.
“Both Mr Ackeroy and Mr King here were supervisors for this particular mineshaft, in charge of the particular robots that were assigned to work these endless tunnels. During the nightshifts they grew increasingly bored, trying increasingly desperate ways to relive the monotony. And what we see here today is the end result of that quest.”
The tunnel was silent except for the shallow breathing of King. Clements stared incredulously at Smith.
“There are three fundamental laws ingrained into every robotic mind. They ensure our safety and have worked until now. But the stress of what LN-8 was put through drove him insane.”
“The robots that worked this tunnel were forced to fight, brutal skirmishes for the enjoyment of those watching. I’m guessing some form of betting was involved, with each man picking his favourite robot to win. That explains the violent abuse these robots sport and the various attempts at patching them up without resorting to filing a repair claim. Otherwise they would have been found out.”
“This is madness,” Clements began, stepping forward to stop Samantha.
“In a way yes, what these men did to LN-8 and its brethren drove them to the cold limits of their minds. The Three Laws state that; Firstly, a robot cannot harm, or allow to be harmed, a human being. Secondly a robot must always follow orders unless these conflict with the first law. And finally, a robot must protect it’s very existence except where that too conflicts with the first or second laws.”
“Yes, yes, Doctor, we’re all very familiar with the Three Laws, your company spends enough advertising them every chance they get. But obviously they must have failed, even you yourself have said as much.”
“Yes and no General. The Three Laws work, but in LN-8s case he suffered severe trauma to his cybernetic brain. The three laws remained but his mind had been malformed. When we first met he confused me for another robot before realising what I was. The same happened last night. LN-8 was in a viscous fight with one of the other robots, he took a brutal blow to his skull and as such one of the billions of circuits within became misaligned, too small for any detector to pick up, but enough to throw his entire sense of judgement out of whack. LN-8 now found himself fighting to protect himself and he could not differentiate between his robot attacker and its human master. LN-8 was under the power of the Second and Third laws. He had been ordered to fight and he had to protect himself. His reasoning kicked in, he found himself fighting a foe of equal strength and power and knew he had to find another way to survive. Mr James Ackeroy died because he was weaker than a robot and LN-8 knew it. LN-8 exploited humanities frailty to ensure its own survival.”
“Is this true LN-8?” Clements asked, turning to face the robot who still stood solemnly.
“LN-8 can’t answer you. You see he was under the orders of Tony King at the time, LN-8 was Kings robot of choice that night, it was King’s orders that resulted in Ackeroy’s death. Naturally he attempted to cover it up, he ordered the robots to forget any of the previous fights which resulted in the claims of corrupted memory and he also left LN-8 at the scene of the crime, fully believing it would take the blame and he would be off the hook.”
King sobbed harder, shuddering now as he drew deep breaths.
“But that still doesn’t explain why LN-8 made a run for it!” Clements said, “If the robot was just under orders why would it run?”
“For precisely that reason General. King had thought ahead, he knew he had to keep us believing 8 was guilty so he ordered the robot to take flight at a later point. He superseded my order for it to stay by claiming that a life depended on it. LN-8, still obeying the Three Laws, had no choice but to obey. I used the very same trick to draw LN-8 out and bring him back to me.”
“King,” Clements said sternly, nudging the kneeling man with his foot, “Do you confess that this is what happened last night?”
Slowly the guilty man raised his head and nodded once, a solemn acceptance of all he had done.
“Well then I see no choice but to charge you with the manslaughter of James Ackeroy. The way I see it, using a robot to kill another man is equivalent to shooting him with a gun yourself. I understand that you didn’t mean for this to happen, but you are still ultimately responsible. Take him to the brig, we’ll transport him to Mars on the next shuttle out.”
Two soldiers moved forwards quickly and carried King out of the tunnel, he made no motion to stop them, if he was lucky he would get 15 years on Mercury. Clements turned to face Samantha and LN-8.
“Thank you for all your help Doctor, I doubt we would have solved this otherwise.”
“Your welcome General,” she said, holding LN-8s hand in her own, “It just never ceases to amaze me how evil mankind can be to what they infer as lesser beings.”
“What will happen to LN-8 now? To all of these robots?” he asked gravely.
“They will have to be destroyed. The damage done to their cybernetic brains is too great, the risk of another incident is…, we cannot allow another repeat. This is already bad enough, Robotic Systems will have to spend millions just to keep this quiet.”
“So you save a robot from a wrongful charge only for it to meet the same fate. Why Doctor?”
“Every sentient creature has a conscience General, at least LN-8 will end knowing he did not purposefully harm a human being.”
“Doctor, I am sorry I could not tell,” LN-8 finally admitted, his voice soft, acutely aware of his own fate now as well. “I meant no harm.”
“It’s alright 8, you tried, that’s all that matters now.”
“Goodbye General Clements,” Samantha finally said, extending her hand for him to shake, “I hope if we meet again it is under better circumstances.”
“Likewise Doctor. I appreciate all that you did for us today.”
The shuttle left Asteroid 089 a little after seven at night, almost twelve hours after the original incident. Alongside its usual supply of refined ores it carried two occupants. Tony King sat restrained to a flight chair, to be released only upon receipt at Mars Orbital Station. Beside him Samantha Smith looked through the view port at the slowly dwindling ball of space rock that had claimed so many lives, human and machine. What a waste she thought, idly flipping through her notebook to pass the time. As she turned to the last page of her notebook she let out a short gasp, LN-8 must have used her pad to draw a picture before taking flight. It had to have come from a robots hand, the lines were too perfect to have been drawn by any human, yet it possessed a kind of beauty no robot could have been thought to possess. Samantha felt a smile spread across her face as she gazed lovingly at the picture.
It depicted two beings, human and robot, walking together, hand in hand, with not a soul nor a care in sight.