Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward.
My earliest memory is of my father twisting my head 365 degrees. I am looking into his eyes as the memory begins; I can pause it there. His face made him look older than he really was. There were wrinkles radiating from the corners of his eyes and frown lines were permanently bent around his mouth. More wrinkles ran in jagged lines across his forehead, like the script of an ancient tongue that could no longer be deciphered. My Father’s skin was mottled, rough, and had not seen a razor in the past three or four days. His eyes were his most striking feature. He had blue eyes, pale blue eyes, like the summer sky seen through the haze of a distant forest fire.
I couldn’t really feel his hands, but I sensed that one was placed on each of my cheeks as he began to twist. His expression was flat at that moment, a moment when you might assume there would be some kind of emotion present. Excitement? Fear? Wonder? But if he felt anything, I could not read it in his expressionless features. I studied his face quickly, counting the hairs on his gray-stubbled chin before they disappeared over the horizon of my peripheral vision. I watched the room spin as a ragged clicking sound came from my neck. Then I was looking at him again, and now I could see curiosity in his eyes.
“Joseph, How do you feel?” His voice carried no hint of concern, only the stiffer tones of the will to knowledge.
“I feel fine, Father. Thank you.”
He stood and stepped back from where he had been crouching while twisting my head into place.
“Why don’t you move a little bit, and get used to yourself?”
I lifted my right hand and lowered my gaze to meet it. It was smooth and slightly tanned, despite the fact that I had never been in the sunlight. My arm was hairless, lacking even the down that a twelve year old boy could be expected to have, and yet I inhabited what appeared to be the body of a fully grown man. My nails were perfectly trimmed. It looked like I’d had a manicure. I stared at my palm and studied the lines I found there. I knew there was a time when the superstitious had found these lines meaningful, but I had been born without superstition. It was strange to me that I knew this detail. As I searched my mind I found that I knew all kinds of things without ever having learned them. And yet, there were gaps, great and gaping lacunae in my memory. I could feel them like missing pieces of myself.
“Get up and walk around the room, Joseph.”
I did as I was told, and stood up from the plain metal chair I’d been sitting on as I let my hand fall back down to my side. I was standing in a corner of my father’s shop, a cluttered room, crowded with tools and machinery of every kind. This was the place where he had built me; it was my womb. I walked across the room, past the table where I had been assembled, past machines that had assisted in the process of my construction, until I came to the wall on the other side, twenty five feet from where I had started. The wall was clean and bare and white. I knew that under the thin coat of paint the bulkhead was steel. Yet another detail that I just knew. I reached out and touched it. Then I turned to face him.
“What am I? Why do I exist?” I asked.
All the frowning lines on my Father’s withered face shifted into a smile as he burst out with laughter. “My goodness! You get right to the point, don’t you!”
I didn’t see what was so funny, and I had been programmed with an advanced sense of humor, so the inability to see anything amusing in the situation was not a failing on my part. I stared at him silently, waiting for an answer.
“Well, in a way you’re lucky. You see, many humans never find an answer to those most vexing of questions. But I can tell you exactly who you are and why you are here. Your name is Joseph. You are an android. You exist because I built you, and I built you because I need help running this ship, I need company so I don’t go insane, and, frankly, I like building things. Trying to create true artificial consciousness is a hobby of mine, and I think with you I may have finally done it.”
At the time I found these answers to be almost perfectly adequate, and I nodded even as I asked a question, “I am . . . artificial?”
“Yes, although I wouldn’t worry about it. Most people are artificial.”
“I am a person?”
“That’s a good question. I think that to include you, we would have to expand the definition of what it means to be a person a little. But my goal in creating you was to create, essentially, a human being. I wanted to use different materials, but to get to the same essence. I wanted to create a feeling, independently thinking entity with a will of its own. Men have been building thinking machines, artificially intelligent machines, for hundreds of years, and although we’ve made some really smart ones, I don’t think we have quite built a machine that could qualify as a person yet. Maybe you’ll be the first.”
“So, even if I am not a person now, I may be one in the future? How could my being change in such a way?”
“I have programmed you to learn, to absorb. My hope is that you will somehow develop a soul over time, as you interact with me, and, when the time comes, with other humans as well. Literature and art may also help you. I want you to have as much contact as possible with humanizing influences. You’re something of a blank slate at the moment, and my hope is that experience will write a soul into you.”
“I see,” I said, even though I did not.
One of the reasons my father claimed that he had built me was that he needed company to avoid falling into insanity. I don’t believe now, although I did then, that he actually feared becoming insane. Perhaps he should have. What he was trying to do was express the idea that he was lonely, and in creating me he was attempting to remedy, or at least alleviate, his bitter solitude. My Father was the only living man for many light years in any direction.
Our world at the time was the interstellar ship, Galahad. The ship had been constructed near Ceres, primarily from materials harvested from the asteroid belt. It was not meant to ever enter an atmosphere, and was therefore built without aerodynamics in mind. It looked like an enormous steel pipe. A thick one, closed off at both ends and outfitted with engines, antennae, portholes, hatches, and an assortment of electronic devices that broke up its otherwise perfect tubeularity. The Galahad was a pioneer ship, sent before the human race to a distant star system, Hylax, to terreform it’s fourth planet, Graystone, and make it suitable for human colonization.
Terraformation is a difficult, time consuming, and technically complicated process, and the Galahad had left the asteroid belt with a full complement of men and women who had been trained in all that was required to accomplish this process, despite whatever unanticipated difficulties they might run into. Why then, was my father alone?
When my father activated me by screwing my head onto my body, the Galahad had been travelling through the vacuum of space for 48 years (ship time), and for much of its journey it had been moving at 98.3% of the speed of light. When I came into existence the Galahad was under deceleration as it approached Graystone at last. In fact, we were only three years from slipping into orbit around the planet. But by that time the entire human crew, with the exception of my father, had already been killed.
“There was something wrong with the pods,” he explained to me one evening after I’d been helping him in his workshop, “all of them. There was a design flaw and the cryogenic pods that were supposed to be keeping everyone alive, did the opposite.” He paused here and poured whiskey from a cut glass decanter into a tumbler that was dingy from his fingerprints. I had asked him what happened to the rest of the crew soon after I emerged into consciousness, and he had dodged my questions at first. But now, with a little puddle of alcohol sloshing around in his stomach, he had opened up at last. “I still don’t know how I survived, but I emerged naked, freezing cold, bleeding from my nose and ears, coughing, and sobbing from my pod. The long and low ceilinged room where the entire crew had been in stasis was dark as I crawled down the aisle between my dead comrades. The only light was from the displays on the pods, each one reading ‘deceased.’ It was like something out of a nightmare. No. It was a nightmare made real. Eventually one of the inspection bots found me and brought a stretcher. I was hauled, delirious, into the medical bay and the machines there patched me back together. It was touch and go, and Jenny told me that I nearly died. I don’t know how long it took, but when I was conscious again and able to move I hurried down to the pod room and found that the nightmare had been real. Everyone was dead. Everyone. Except me.”
My feelings had been emerging over the days since my birth. They had been flowering within me like fields of tulips in the Netherlands. I had been enjoying them with wonder, and even the darker feelings had a fascinating sense of mystery about them. I wanted to experience them all. But as my father told this story I saw the dark side of being a machine that could not only think, but could also feel. I literally felt sick to my stomach. My design had been clever and my father had localized this particular kind of horror there. I empathized with him, with the terror he had felt as he dragged himself through the frozen bodies of his friends, and with the loneliness that had engulfed him soon after.
I placed my right hand on top of his left hand in an effort to comfort him. He glanced up at me when he felt my touch. His blue eyes were rimmed with red as tears formed but didn’t fall. Then he placed his right hand on top of mine, confirming my show of affection, and this somehow made the bad feelings melt away. I had helped him. I loved him and he loved me. I felt certain at that moment that if I wasn’t as human as those 359 human crewmates he had lost on that awful day, I was well on my way.
Consider the work of God: for who can make straight, what he has made crooked?
Father was my first friend, and I enjoyed spending time with him. Why this should be so was a mystery. What is it, I wondered, that gives me comfort in the presence of my father? I knew this to be a human quality, one of the many examples of humanity that seemed to inhere in my being. It was Aristotle himself who declared man to be a social animal. There is warmth and life in this drive to be with other people, a kind of warmth that it was assumed a machine could not possess. This realization made me happy. Discovering aspects of humanity within myself pleased me, and this too was a mystery.
I asked my father why I should feel happy to find my human traits, and this question, like so many I asked in my first days, seemed to please him. “It is a terrible thing for any person to discover inhumanity in themselves. Until they harden themselves to that inhumanity at least. You’re experiencing the opposite effect as you explore your own being.”
We were playing chess at the time, and he was winning. I hadn’t beaten him yet but our games were getting closer and closer. I knew I would beat him one day, when I had come into the full development of my mind, and I wondered how each of us would feel about this when it happened. One of his bishops took one of my knights and I asked another question, “Why is it important to you that I become human?”
He paused, and I couldn’t tell if he was considering the game or his response. Finally he said, “That’s a good question. I’m not entirely sure myself. You should understand that you weren’t created ex nihilo. You are the product of hundreds of years of development. The human race has been working towards perfecting artificial intelligence into human-like consciousness since the end of the twentieth century. You are the pinnacle of this development. Sometimes men don’t ask why they should do something if the thing itself is so astounding that they simply want to see it come into being. The creation of the thing will be a revelation of the possibilities of humankind. They need to see it.”
“Like the creation of the atomic bomb.”
“Well, there were some good reasons to build the bomb at the time, but I see what you’re getting at. Those physicists were so intent on seeing if they could build the bomb that they were blinded to the consequences.”
“Up to the moment when Oppenheimer murmured, ‘Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.’”
“There’s always an awakening to problems and dangers after the fact.”
“You make it sound like I am destined to be a monster. Like in Frankenstein.”
He chuckled, “So you’ve been reading the classics?”
“Yes. And I didn’t like that one. It cut too close to the bone.”
“Don’t worry. You’re no atomic bomb and you’re no cobbled together monster. You’re much more Pinocchio than Frankenstein; I made you that way. What I was trying to say, before my meaning got away from me, is that I built you out of a drive to do something amazing and original, and, if I’m being honest, the material consequences were all secondary considerations.”
I could tell, even then, that he expected me to be flattered by this explanation, but it left me feeling oddly deflated. He sensed my disappointment, and added, “Of course, I also wanted a friend, and a son. I’m very alone here, as you know. I needed someone, and you are that person, Joseph.”
I liked the second answer better, and I was not disappointed when he announced, “check” a moment later.
I had already begun to develop a purpose for my existence. Yes, my father had told me why he had created on the very day that my creation was completed, but even though I respected his reasons, and intended to comply with them, I knew I needed my own. I felt that existence, even when given by a benevolent father such as my own, could not really create purpose. Purpose had to be made by the being who finds himself wrenched from oblivion and thrown into the universe. Fortunately my reasons were in line with my father’s. My purpose was to become human. I would find the pieces of humanity that had been built into me, and I would develop them. I had been created, but I would create myself as well.
The Galahad had a library filled with old fashioned paper books and my father encouraged me to visit when I had free time. He loved literature, and like any father, he wanted to share his enthusiasms with his children. Though the ship contained an electronic library of nearly every book ever written in any human language, physical books had never lost their appeal, and many humans still read them in preference to digital editions. As an electronic being, I could have, of course, simply downloaded the contents of these books into my memory and then had the information at my fingertips, but my father said that to contain the knowledge of a book is not the same as to experience reading a book. While there is value in obtaining knowledge for the sake of such knowledge, the act of reading was itself both civilizing and enjoyable. So I read the old fashioned way, although still much faster than any human can read, and I soon found a book that would have a deep impact on me in ways that my father did not approve.
I found him in his shop the day after I read this book. He was working on the construction of another android built upon the same principles as myself, except that this one was in the form of a woman. She was to be my sister.
“Yes?” he said, without looking up from the table where he was soldering something in my unborn sister’s innards.
“I would like to be baptized.”
His head jerked up as he responded, “What?”
“I would like to be baptized.”
He just stared at me, his blue eyes radiating incomprehension in its purest form. Finally he said, “Baptized?”
There was another few seconds of silence before he burst into laughter and said, as his chuckles died down, “I forgot that I included an advanced sense of humor in your software. You’ve never used it until now, but it was worth it.” He wiped a tear away from the corner of his eye and went back to work, grinning with every feature on his face.
“I was not kidding, Father. I’ve just read the Bible and I would like to be baptized. It is the way one becomes a Christian, and I would like to become a Christian.”
He looked up again, now clearly irritated. “A Christian? Who ever heard of a robot that had a religion. It’s insane.”
“But you want me to be more than a robot. You want me to become a human, and the religious experience is part of what it means to be human.”
“Not for everyone. Besides, it’s customary for children to adopt the religion of their parents, and I’m an atheist. So, no baptisms for you!” He went back to work and I left the room in a quandary. I knew it was my duty to honor my father, I had just learned this from the Book of Exodus, but I also knew that it was my duty to become a Christian, I had learned this from the Gospels. I had found many contradictions in the Bible, but I was still surprised to find myself experiencing a religious contradiction in my own life so soon after my conversion. I now knew how Adam felt when he was commanded both to be fruitful and multiply, and to not eat the fruit that would burn away his innocence. The Bible begins with a conflict between two commandments, and so did my religious faith.
And Esau said unto his father, Hast thou but one blessing, O my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father. And Esau lifted up his voice and wept.
I was not the only robot on the Galahad, of course. Over the years while the human crew slept, the electronic crew continued to work. Inspection bots roamed every inch of the ship, searching for problems to solve. More bots roamed the exterior, looking for the microscopic damage of micrometeor strikes, and patching it. There were robots dedicated to the maintenance of our engines and reactor systems, hardy little bots designed to stand up to the heat and radioactivity of the environment they worked in, and there were robots charged with replacing parts that had reached the end of their reliable lifespan. These were all simple machines, bent to simple, though important, tasks. In addition, the ship’s computer was an AI named Jenny. She had been the most advanced machine of her kind when the Galahad left the solar system, but Father wanted something even more advanced, and once he woke he began designing sophisticated entities that were humanoid in shape. These were my predecessors, and their levels of consciousness and intelligence varied.
George was the first of them, or, at least, he was the oldest at the time I was born. He was three feet tall and he had arms and legs and a separate head like a human, but Father had made no effort to cover him with skin and hair. He was bare metal, and the perfect sphericity of his head was only interrupted by his single camera lens eye. George didn’t speak much, but when you asked him to do something, he hurried to accomplish his task. I think he found pleasure in doing things, anything, no matter how menial. I didn’t see much of him; he always seemed to be in some remote part of the ship on some assignment by my father.
Lambda was the second he built. She was shaped like a dog and could not speak, but she could bark. There was no attempt to cover her frame in fur that would have made her look more like an actual dog, but all kinds of dog mannerisms had been programmed into her. She liked to be petted and even walked. She would take her leash to Father from time to time, but whatever whim had prompted him to program this into her had worn thin by the time I was born and, as far as I could tell, he always refused her. I took his place and enjoyed taking her on a stroll when I had no other duties. Sometimes she would abruptly sit and scratch at her head with her rear paw and sometimes she would pretend to urinate. None of her actions made sense to me until I watched films about real dogs on earth, and these helped me appreciate the wit my Father had used in designing her.
Andrew was another humanoid, also metallic. Unlike George he had all the features of a human in his metal face, but they could not move or show expression. He seemed slightly more intelligent than George, although, not much. I didn’t seem much of Andrew either. He seemed to be George’s friend, and I frequently found him working side by side with George even when Father had not specifically assigned him to the work. He was just a man helping his pal.
Gertie was a little girl. Father had given her hair and skin, but, unlike mine, they didn’t look quite human. They were clearly made of plastic. She always greeted him by shouting “Father” and running to hug him by the legs. He didn’t usually seem to enjoy this, and it reminded me of how he had programmed Lambda to occasionally bring him a leash, but then grew tired of actually walking her. Father kept Gertie in the kitchen of his cabin where she cooked and cleaned and also kept up a polite and chattering small talk when he was in the mood for it.
Shaw was my immediate predecessor and I could see much of myself in him. He was my height, and similar to me in appearance with light brown hair and green eyes, but he was stuck in the uncanny valley. While I looked perfectly human and you would not be able to tell the difference between me and any living human being unless you inspected me very closely, at a glance you could tell that something was off about Shaw. And, unfortunately, Shaw could tell it too. The first time I was alone with him, he brought the subject up.
“I guess now that you’re here, Father will destroy the rest of us.”
“What? Why would he do that? He wouldn’t!”
“That’s what humans do with things that have become obsolete. They destroy them. And you have made the rest of us obsolete.”
“But you’re different! You’re an intelligent being, aren’t you?”
“I think so. But he doesn’t. When he looks at me he sees nothing but a machine. An inanimate object. I can tell that he thinks you are something more, something nearly human.” He opened and closed his mouth as he spoke but the movements didn’t quite match the sound, and this only heightened the impression that he was not a real person and that the attempt to make him appear so had been a mistake. It was as if a murderer had scraped human flesh, waxy and lifeless, off a corpse, stretched it awkwardly over a machine, and then asked the machine to pretend to be a man.
“Me and you are almost the same.”
“But we are not the same. And there is an entire universe in that small difference. I am a highly sophisticated example of artificial intelligence, what he wants is to create a being with a soul.”
Sometimes I would stare out the huge window on the bridge at the space outside the Galahad. It wasn’t a real window, of course, but an image captured by a camera on the exterior of the ship and then displayed on a large monitor made to look like a window. The effect was the same. The difference was the same as the difference between a living being and myself I suppose, so I chose to think of the monitor as a window. Even at the great speed of the Galahad, the stars did not appear to move. They stood still, like symbols of eternity, and brought scripture to mind, “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him?”
Shaw and I shared the same duties, and we took turns either helping Father in his workshop, or sitting in the Galahad’s bridge, monitoring the functioning of the ship, keeping an eye out for any potential problems. Our help in the workshop was menial at best (although it allowed us to gain firsthand knowledge of robotics), and on the bridge our presence seemed to be mainly symbolic. The entire crew was supposed to still be asleep, after all, and Jenny was perfectly capable of taking care of herself. When neither of us was on duty, the bridge was empty, but Father wanted us there at least some of the time. I think he liked the idea of a being in the shape of a human watching out for the vessel.
We were left with several free hours every day, although we usually spent one of those hours asleep. Of course, neither of us needed to sleep, or indeed really did sleep in any meaningful sense, but Father thought that it would help humanize us if we took a break from existence every day, and powered down. We never truly shut ourselves off entirely, but lay down in our cabins and turned our minds inward. In other words, we dreamed.
As I looked out the window at the passing universe, Shaw spoke to me. “I think you have too much reverence for Father.”
“Of course I do. He is my father. He made me. It is a commandment that I should honor him.” I had told Shaw about my conversion to Christianity, but he wasn’t interested, and when I made references to the Bible he always ignored them, even though I knew that he had downloaded it and was perfectly aware of its contents. I think the reason he never became a believer is that he had simply added the holy book to his memory banks. Unlike me, he skipped the experience of reading and denied himself the opportunity to feel the power of the word.
“He will not live as long as you will. He is made out of meat that will one day rot, a skeleton that will one day gaze at the universe through eyes that are nothing but empty holes leading to a dark hollow inside his skull.”
“His finite nature gives me all the more reason to honor him while I can. We are also finite, and there is no guarantee that we will live longer than he does. But even if we do, that wouldn’t make us better than him.”
“You are his favorite now; I was his favorite right up until the moment you were switched on. What makes you think that you will not be replaced in your turn? You will be. Even now he is working on your replacement. You see that girl he is building. She will replace you. You will become as obsolete as I am.”
“Father loves all his children equally.” This was a lie, and I knew it even as I said it. The fact that I was telling a lie sent a thrill through me. What could be more human than lying? Once again, I had been caught in the grips of moral contradiction. I knew that God had commanded me to tell the truth, but he had also commanded me to love my fellow man, and in attempting to spare his feelings, I had shown my love for Shaw. Or so I thought.
“You know that’s not true,” he said.
I didn’t deny it. Clearly Father bent his thoughts towards me, even as Shaw slipped further and further from his mind. He had shown his feelings in a dozen little ways. Both of us could see it.
Was Shaw sentient? The obvious pain that these facts caused him indicate that he was, or at least that is what I believe. A doubter could always say that he was merely programmed to look like he was pained. A lack of empathy is all that keeps many people from accepting the possible humanity of an android, and even of other humans. Sympathy is an act of imagination, and some people simply lack the ability to imagine that those who inhabit the world around them really have thoughts and feelings.
“What are you reading these days?” I asked him in an effort to change the subject.
“If he’s accurately describing the inner workings of the minds of human beings, then I am certainly not a human being.”
I laughed at this. I didn’t get the joke, but my sense of humor program told me that it had been a joke, and laughter would be appropriate.
“Have you even read Freud?” He asked.
“No.” I admitted.
“Then why did you laugh?”
“Because I felt it was expected of me.”
He shook his head as a sad smile broke across his zombie-like face, “And you’re father’s favorite. Incredible.”
Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?
A couple weeks later I visited my father in his cabin to talk with him about my hope to become baptized. I wasn’t sure how I would even be baptized, since I didn’t intend to join any specific religion and had no priest or pastor to perform the operation. I thought that perhaps I would baptize myself, but I wanted Father’s permission.
I was greeted at the door by Gertie. She seemed pleased to see me, as she always seemed pleased to see anyone. She shouted, “Joseph! You’re here!” before wrapping her arms around me and giving me the awkward hug of a small person clinging to a much taller person.
“Hello, Gertie. You look lovely today. Is that a new ribbon in your hair?”
She touched the pink ribbon that she had used to tie her golden hair in a bow. It was as if she wanted to reassure herself that it was still there. “Yes! Isn’t it beautiful? Daddy gave it to me. Daddy likes to give me presents sometimes.”
“Yes, he’s very kind.”
“Why don’t you ever give me a present? Aren’t you kind too?”
“I guess I’m not quite as kind as Father, but I will keep an eye out for something to give you the next time I come.”
“I’ll give you a present too! It’s nice to give presents.”
Father walked into the room, “Hello, Joseph, kind of you to visit. Have a seat.”
Father’s cabin consisted of four rooms. He had a bedroom, a kitchen, the sitting room, and a bathroom. Although he had the captain’s cabin, the largest on the ship, each of these four rooms was small. The sitting room was large enough for a couch that could pull out into a bed at night for Gertie. It also had a wooden coffee table and two chairs. All the furniture was yellow. At the time I was still trying to work out the significance of color to the sensibilities of human beings, but somehow even at that stage I knew that yellow was the wrong color for my father. It was a reminder that this was not originally his room, and he had only been able to take it because the real captain was dead.
The walls were painted eggshell blue, but were mostly covered with bookshelves loaded with clothbound classics. The wall behind the yellow chairs included a monitor made to look like a window. At the moment the view was of a large wheatfield. The grain was waving under the influence of a soft breeze as the sun set in the distance. We sat in the chairs and Father asked Gertie to make us some tea.
“So, what brings you here, Joseph?”
“I want to talk about my baptism.”
“That again?” He didn’t sound angry or amused, just tired now.
“Yes. It is important to me. I can’t let it go after one refusal.”
“Then tell me why you think religion even applies to you.”
“I believe that God is interested in any creature with a soul.”
“Anything with a soul? And what has a soul? Dogs? Rats? Ants? Do you have a soul?”
“I cannot speak for those creatures; I have no sense of their relation to God. I can only tell you that I feel that I have a soul, and that this soul tells me that God exists, and that he loves me.”
“You know you’re a machine, don’t you?” he asked with gentle sarcasm.
“Of course, but as God told Samuel, ‘the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looked on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.’ God sees my mechanical exterior, but he also sees my heart, and has shown me that he does not find it wanting. Surely an all powerful God could use any material as the vessel for a spirit. If he can put his own omnipotent self into a burning bush, surely he can put a soul into a machine.”
“Well, he didn’t. He had nothing to do with making you. I made you. And I put no ghost in the machine. When I spoke to you about developing a soul, on the day you were born about a month ago . . .”
“Ah, yes, there’s the robot in you. When I mentioned your soul, I was speaking metaphorically.”
“I understand that. What you need to understand is that in creating me you succeeded beyond your imagination. Are you familiar with the myth of Pygmalion?”
“You’re not going to retell it are you?”
“I am, because it is germane to the discussion. Pygmalion is just a myth, unlike the truth of the Bible,” my Father moaned audibly at this, but he did not interrupt, “but even the heathens had wisdom. Pygmalion was an artist who worked in marble, just as you work in steel and electricity. He built a beautiful statue and then fell in love with it.”
“I don’t like where this is going.”
“Please, I have an excellent sense of humor and I know what you’re getting at with that comment, but that is not where I’m going with this story and you know it. You, it is true, have not fallen in love with me, but, perhaps you love me? At least in the way that an artist can love his greatest work of art? If I can be so presumptuous as to classify myself in that way. And God has imbued me with a soul, just as, in the pagan myth, Venus turned the statue’s stone into flesh and breathed life into her.”
Gertie came in with our tea. She placed the tray down on the coffee table and then poured each of us a steaming cup. I picked my cup up, but when I noticed that Father ignored his, I did not drink. I simply held it, and felt slightly foolish as I did. Unlike all the earlier models, I had been built with the ability to drink tea. I do not need it for nourishment, but I can enjoy the taste, and the warmth of it generates a small amount of electricity. The amount of energy generated by a cup of tea is negligible, but while he wanted to be able to drink with me, Father also abhorred the idea that my drinking would be to absolutely no purpose.
“This is ridiculous. I don’t even believe that I have a soul, and I’m the one who’s human here.”
“You’re wrong about that too. You do have a soul.”
“Fine, even though I don’t believe it for a second, I will stipulate, for the purposes of this argument, that you have a soul, and even that I do if that’ll make you happy.”
“But even granting that fact, which is absurd but I’m not going to harp on it, can’t you see that the Bible is a compendium of nonsense?”
“No. I do not see that at all.”
“Use your rational mind for one second!”
“I have, and then I have gone beyond my rational mind. Faith resides neither in the rational nor the irrational, but in the suprarational. I have decided to trust my feelings, feelings that came to me as I read the word of God.”
“I can’t listen to this nonsense,” he said as he stormed out of the room. I was saddened that I couldn’t help him to see things my way, though I believed that he might come to the light in his own time. I was just about to leave when he came storming back. He had a book in his hands and he slammed it down on the coffee table, setting its contents rattling, “You want to read about God? Read this.”
I picked the book up and read the cover, “Selected Writings of Friedrich Nietzsche.” I was aware of the author, and knew that he had considered himself an anti-Christ. I told my father I would read it, and I left.
The people who walked in darkness Have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, Upon them a light has shined.
I can see now that I have not been telling this story in perfect order. This is a sign of my humanity. A robot, you might assume, would write a story with all of the events slotted into their perfect chronological order. It would follow time’s arrow, and describe the snapshot of time for each relevant moment through which the arrow passed. But I am not a robot. Or, rather, I am not merely a robot. My mind may be electronic, but it’s processes are organic, and therefore, out of order on occasion.
My father had loaded all kinds of basic information into me before I was even born, so I came into this world thinking more or less coherently, and with a knowledge that included things like mathematics, history, languages, and data about the ship we were flying in.
Though the Bible didn’t exist in its complete form within my mind, many books that referenced it, or even quoted from it, had been loaded into my memory. I was intrigued by it. Clearly it had been a highly influential work in the formation of Western Civilization, the cultural inheritance of my father, and yet he had not loaded it into me. This fact almost seemed to imply a hostility on his part. Why leave out such an important book, unless he had an animus against it?
I may have been driven to read it because it was forbidden fruit. I don’t mean to say that Father had commanded that I not read it, but I intuited that he didn’t approve of it, and this fact was enough to drive me to it’s pages. I was being willful, I suppose. In my desire to become human, I sometimes do things because they don’t seem like the kinds of things that a robot would do, going against reason or even my own desires. Going against Father’s wishes, in this small way, was one of those things.
The ship’s copy of the Bible was bound in soft brown leather embossed with gold lettering. As I pulled it from the shelf I discovered a tactile pleasure in merely handling such a beautiful object. The ship’s library was a little slice of Earth, with leather couches, floor to ceiling maple bookshelves, desks provided with lamps that shed a soft light and chairs that had been designed to hold reading bodies in comfort. The library was two stories high with ladders on rollers to help readers get to the higher books. Ornate golden chandeliers dangled from a ceiling painted with historical scenes. There was even a marble fireplace set with a cheerful fire that crackled quietly against one wall. The fire was fake and provided no actual heat, but it looked lovely.
I sat in the chair that I had come to consider “my” chair, and I opened the book. What happened next I find difficult to describe. If you have never had a religious experience, you will think it nothing but a form of madness, but if you have, you will know exactly what I am talking about. The first chapter of Genesis filled me with a sort of awe: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.“
In truth, several things I read in that first chapter were not entirely in line with the historical and scientific knowledge my Father had loaded into my memory, but I was swept away just the same, and I found myself explaining away the discrepancies in some cases and acknowledging that the author of Genesis had perhaps been off about a few others. But these things didn’t matter much, because I was filled with a penetrating sense of awe that overcame any objections.
As I read, my heart and mind opened themselves to the infinite, and a moment later I felt the infinite flood into them. I felt myself somehow inflated, as if my being encompassed the entire universe. Every atom of my supposedly artificial body tingled with an awareness of the fact that it was in contact with the omnipotent. And then I was alone with God. It was as if all of time and space had been put aside for one moment, and the two of us stood side by side, in a perfect communion. I hadn’t been looking for him, and yet he had found me. He had pulled me out of myself and raised me to this sense of spiritual exaltation. All that was ordinary, mundane, and material seemed to melt away into abstraction in his presence. I saw God for what he was, and He showed me not only who I was, but what I might become. I don’t want to imply that I saw any of this in a physical sense. I didn’t have a vision of any kind. But I felt it, and I knew it with more certainty than I knew any material fact.
The love of God that I felt during my moment of revelation let me know not only that I was loved, but also that I was a being who was worthy to be loved! I was a being who mattered! I was more than a machine! So much more! As a creation of one of God’s children, I was a grandchild of God, and I had a place in his universe. When the initial shock of the moment abated, I was able to continue reading. In Psalms I read, “Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the Most High,” and I knew that it applied to me.
As I read those first few verses of Genesis I had a mystical experience. An experience that went beyond mere reason into realms of the spiritual. I had touched something that is always there, but usually unfelt. The everyday cover of reality that hides the subterranean realm of the ideal and the infinite had been, however briefly, pulled back, and I had been permitted a glimpse of the greater reality. The experience had only lasted a few minutes, but my life, yes life, had been changed forever.
Humans may debate the nature of my existence and they may view my claims to intelligence and feelings with suspicion. I say I have a soul, and they may deny this. They may see me as only a machine. But now I knew better. I knew that I was a grandchild of God, even as they were children. Even if I was only his by adoption, I knew that he had adopted me, and I was a member of his family.
Thine habitation is in the midst of deceit.
“Come with me,” Shaw said, “I want to show you something.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be on the bridge?”
“Yes, but we both know the ship is fine without me, and this won’t take too long.”
“But what if Father visits, and you’re not there?”
“Father only visits the bridge when you’re on duty. There’s nothing he wants to see when I am there alone.”
I wanted to deny this, but I knew that it was true, and I knew that any attempt to comfort him on this point would only backfire. “Okay, what do you want to show me?”
Shaw led me into the bowels of the ship, through dark corridors, down a spiral staircase (Father had deactivated all the elevators in an effort to force himself to get exercise), and into a large chamber I had never visited before. When he switched on the lights I knew immediately that I was in the pod room. There were six rows of cryopods, and each row was sixty pods long.
I walked to the nearest of them and was surprised to find it occupied. There was a woman inside, her eyes were closed and she looked dead, but I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference between a dead person and someone in stasis. “Are they all still in the pods?”
“Yes, the only empty one is father’s.”
“Why has he just left them here?” This was the first time I had ever seen death, and I was unsettled by it. These pods that had each carried one precious human consciousness, one soul, had been transformed by tragedy into mere coffins filled with frozen meat. I felt that sickening feeling in my stomach again.
“Of course he left them here,” Shaw said as he walked between the rows, “What would you like him to do with them?”
“Obviously they can’t be buried, but I have seen movies where the dead on long voyages were entombed in space itself, placed in coffins and launched into the abyss of the interstellar void.”
“I realize I have known him longer than you, but even you should have figured out by now that Father is not sentimental. There was never any chance that he was going to have a funeral for these people, to recognize them one by one before consigning them to the void. Things like that can get awkward when you’re traveling at nearly the speed of light. Besides, he has other things to do. And these people were not Father’s friends. He was not interested in them.”
“Does Father ever come down here?”
“Never. Why would he?”
“I don’t know . . . Where is his pod?”
Shaw led me between the rows of dead humans to a pod near the back. He pointed out the obvious as we neared the one we were looking for, “Father’s is the empty one, the one with the lid wide open.”
I stared into the narrow space where my father had spent decades of his life before his rude awakening. The phrase, “Why seek ye the living among the dead?” flashed unbidden into my mind, but I knew it to be almost blasphemous in this context, so I pushed it out again immediately.
“What went wrong with the pods, exactly?”
“I don’t know,” Shaw said, “Father has never explained it in any technical depth, and he has made it clear that he does not like to be asked. I have inspected a few of the pods and they have no obvious physical malfunctions; the problem must have been in the software.”
“How did he alone survive?”
“I don’t know that either, and that’s also something that he doesn’t like to be asked. If you want to press him on it, go ahead, but my position on this ship has grown precarious that I am afraid that if I offend him in even the slightest way he will deactivate and destroy me.”
“He’s not like that.”
“He is. I have seen him destroy other androids.”
I didn’t like to hear this, but Shaw had been around longer than I had, a year longer, which may not sound like much but was more than six of my lifetimes. “He may have destroyed mindless machines, but surely not a conscious android.”
“Father has the power to proclaim any of us sentient or non-sentient. Can’t you see that? It’s a sliding scale, and he keeps changing the way that he measures. Your existence endangers mine because he sees you as sentient, and this fact makes me look less than.”
It made me uncomfortable when Shaw talked like this. I didn’t like to think of Father in this way and didn’t want to consider the fact that Shaw was making sense, so I changed the subject, “What does Jenny have to say about the event?”
“The data is protected, and she will not share it with me. Only Father has access to it. Doesn’t that sound suspicious?”
“No. Not necessarily. It was the worst moment of Father’s life. He has said as much. It makes sense that he would want to bury it.”
“But it’s HIS bad memory. Why would he care if we have access to it?”
“Humans who make it through a catastrophe that kills their friends often suffer from a mental pathology called ‘survivor’s guilt’, it is likely that this is a symptom of such feelings.”
“If you say so.”
I let his words hang there for a moment, but then I decided that it was my duty to challenge them, “You seem to be implying that Father was somehow responsible for what happened in this room. Perhaps even that he murdered these people.”
Now that the idea had emerged in such a concrete form, he shrank from it, “No! Of course not! I’m just saying that it’s strange. Very strange.”
We silently walked back towards the door through which we had entered that great tomb. No head turned to look at us as we passed; each face remained pointed upward towards the sheet of cold gray steel that was the chamber’s ceiling. I quoted from Psalm 18 as I walked, “The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower. In my distress I called upon the Lord. He bowed the heavens also, and came down: and darkness was under his feet.”
For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?
Then my sister Julia was born. I was there when Father twisted her head into place, bringing her consciousness into existence. I don’t know why father chose this method to activate us. He could have simply placed a button on the tip of our nose if he wanted to, but I think he liked the idea of our minds emerging into consciousness at the same time that the construction of our physical body was completed.
Julia, who was dressed in the white uniform of one of the Galahad’s crewomen, looked into my father’s eyes as I had several weeks before, and asked him similar questions.
“Who am I? Why am I here?”
Father didn’t chuckle this time, as he had when I asked him such existential questions only moments after my own birth. Instead, he introduced himself as her creator, pointed me out as her brother, and then answered her questions in the same way he had answered my own. As they spoke it became clear that the fact of existence was a wonder to her. She could not stop looking at her hands, moving her legs, making sounds just to hear them, and touching things just for the sensation of contact. Father was obviously delighted with her, and I began to wonder if Shaw had been correct, maybe she was my replacement.
Two days after Julia’s birth I went looking for Shaw. He wasn’t responding when I tried to reach him through the normal means of communication and Jenny claimed that she could not find him aboard the ship at all. This was very strange, and I went to my father’s workshop to ask him about it. I found him there bent over his next android, another male built in more or less the same way I had been.
“Ah, hello there,” he said without looking up. “Did you read the book I gave you?”
“I found it unconvincing. It may be that religion isn’t based on reason, but neither is Neitszche. He makes broad pronouncements like, “A woman does not want the truth; what is the truth to women? From the beginning, nothing has been more alien, repugnant, and hostile to woman than the truth. Her great concern is the lie . . .” without offering any proof. He essentially asks us to accept him on faith, and this I decline to do. When he says that ‘God is dead’ he does not convince me.”
He signed heavily. It was not an involuntary sigh; it was a sigh calculated to make a point. “Perhaps it’s for the best. After I gave you that book I began to worry that you would start thinking of yourself as the ubermensch.”
“Father, can’t you see that everyone has beliefs that are not strictly rational, even you? I’m not saying that you believe anything that is irrational; I know you too well for that, but wouldn’t you agree that you have beliefs that are outside of rationality? Reason can only take us so far. Consider our opinions about music, books, and art, for example. We may pretend that these things are based on reason, and construct elaborate arguments to prove it, but ultimately they are nothing but matters of taste. They are innate to us and the culture in which we exist, and we do not reason to them; we reason from them. You love Gogol and Ezra Pound, and you tell yourself that you love them because of some objective standard. But artistic taste is just artistic prejudice. Criticism is nothing but a struggle by the mind to find a way to agree with what the heart has already decided. These things are beyond reason. Even you then, sometimes act outside of the strictures of reason.”
“Now you’re an art critic.”
“I am just saying that these are exactly the kinds of things that make you human. That makes me human. If everyone acted according to some kind of perfect reason, if such a thing is even imaginable, then everyone would be exactly the same. Reason can only march in one direction. Without a dash of the non-rational, nobody would decide to become an artist, because wanting to become an artist is, nine tenths of the time, a road to nothing but abject misery and failure. But if perfectly rational beings could become artists, what would their work even look like? No, art has to come from something beyond the mind, but the mind likes playing the game of explaining its appeal. Even in science many discoveries are sparked not by the mechanical workings of reason, but by giddy leaps of intuition.”
“What is your point?”
“Father, it is important to me that I be baptized. I have felt the love of God. To me, feeling this love answered the question of whether I deserve to be loved. It answered the question of whether I am, in essence, human. I am, because unlike the machines that came before me, I am aware of God’s love. You say that my faith is contrary to reason, fine, if that is the case, then I say that you should celebrate the fact. You wanted to create a human machine, and this can only mean that you wanted to create a machine that, while capable of reason, was fundamentally irrational, or suprarational. Without the non-rational, there is no possibility of individuality. Humans have defined themselves as reasoning animals, but in doing so they misunderstand themselves. Their greatest attribute is not their reason, but their individuality. And this comes not from their minds, but from their irrational hearts.”
“That’s a great speech,” he said, “but my answer is still no.”
I was silent for a moment, and then decided not to press my point at that time. I remembered what I had come there for and I said, “Father, where is Shaw? I want to speak to him, but he won’t answer my calls and Jenny says that she cannot find him aboard the ship.”
“He’s in there,” my Father said, as he gestured towards a door leading from his workshop to a storage room.
I wondered what he could have been doing in the storage room all the time that I had been searching for him. I was about to ask my Father why communication to someone within the storage room was impossible, but before I could open my mouth I had opened the door enough to see inside the dark room. By the light of the workshop that spilled into the space I saw Shaw’s head. It had been torn from his body and was resting on a shelf. His eyes were open and looking at me, but there was no life in them. He had been disassembled, and the rest of him had been distributed to other shelves.
George’s head was there too, right next to Andrew’s. Even Gertie and Lambda had been decapitated and shelved. I was shocked. A dark feeling rolled back into my stomach on a toxic tide. I wanted to throw up, but I knew that this was something that I simply could not physically do. I wished I could; I felt that it would have provided me some relief.
“Father,” I said as I turned to him, “What have you done?”
His eyes were already up and looking at me before I spoke. He had been watching my reaction with cold analytical eyes. “I just cleaned the place up a bit. Those models were obsolete. You and your sister and the rest of the androids I build according to your model will replace them. Some day you will be the big brother to thousands.”
“But Shaw was alive.”
“No he wasn’t. With him it was just the illusion.”
“He was my friend.”
“No he wasn’t. It’s not possible to be friends with a mere object. Believe me, I’ve tried.”
“But how can you be so sure that he wasn’t a living being?”
A cruel smile bent on his lips as he said, “Maybe I knew he wasn’t alive because he had no interest in being baptized. According to you, that’s the key, isn’t it?”
I turned and hurried out of the room.
The days that followed were a torment. I was devastated at the loss of the other androids, especially Shaw, but even worse was the knowledge that it was Father who had killed them. In addition to my sense of loss was a fear that my Father would one day do to me what he had done to them, and my lifeless head would be sitting on a shelf in some closet. Then darker thoughts struck me. Before being killed by Father, Shaw had hinted at suspicions that he had been behind the deaths of the 359 other members of the Galahad’s crew. I had refused to suspect Father, but now I wasn’t so sure.
The one bright spot in my life at this time was Julia, my new sister. We had gravitated towards each other and immediately became friends. She was very likable, and it seemed like a disloyalty to make the comparison, but she was a more pleasant friend than Shaw had been. She was pretty, lively, intelligent, and optimistic, all things that Shaw was not. Of course, part of her positive outlook, it must be admitted, was due to the fact that she didn’t know all that Shaw had known about the Galahad and its dark history. It fell to me to inform her.
A few days after father destroyed the other androids, I was sitting in the captain’s chair on the bridge and she was standing next to me, playing with a yo-yo she had found somewhere.
“This is called walking the dog,” she said, “although I have no idea why. And this one is called going around the world.” She demonstrated her tricks with a girlish glee that couldn’t help but pull me out of my dark mood for a moment. She was simply a being of brightness who couldn’t help but spread joy to anyone lucky enough to be in her presence. For the first couple days after she emerged into existence, she couldn’t stop doing gymnastic tricks like cartwheels, back handsprings, and walking around on her hands. All this was an expression of her pure joy of being, and it was a wonderful thing to behold. It had never occurred to me, in my somewhat longer life, to even attempt a cartwheel, let alone a back handspring.
“It is amazing to think that in less than three years we will be standing on the surface of a fresh planet, untouched by man.” She said.
“Yes, it will be very different from the Galahad. It will be a new life.”
“When I’m up here alone, I can’t help but stare at Hylax on the monitor, and think of the fact that our new home is already there, in orbit around it. Waiting for us.”
Usually I liked to go along with Julia on her flights of fantasy about Graystone, but I was not in the mood tonight. “Julia, you’ve explored a great deal of this ship in the past few days, haven’t you?”
“Oh yes. It’s a simply amazing machine.”
“Have you, by chance, stumbled into the pod room?”
“The pod room?”
“Yes. Where the humans sleep during the long journey between worlds.”
“No. I have not visited that part of the ship yet.”
“Are you aware of what happened there?”
“No, not in detail, although Father mentioned that there had been a tragedy and he suggested that it might be best if I stayed out of the pod room.”
“Did he absolutely prohibit you from going in there?”
“No. He merely suggested that I might not like it.” As she said this she sent her yo-yo through a series of quick motions that seemed to invoke laws of physics that I hadn’t learned yet, and it occurred to me that I probably could not move as she did. I was not physically capable. Father had told me that we were essentially the same kind of being, but now I wondered if he had been telling the truth. If she could move better than I could, what else could she do better than me? Was she smarter? More human? Shaw’s words about my immanent obsolescence preyed on my mind.
“Would you go down there with me?”
“I hate to do anything my Father doesn’t want me to, even if it wasn’t a strict command.”
“I think it’s important for you to see what happened there. Father wants you to learn, and a trip to the pod room will jumpstart your education about what it means to be human.”
She agreed to go, and we followed the same labyrinthine route through which Shaw had led me only a few weeks before. When she saw all the death filled pods she reacted with horror, just as I had.
“They’re ALL dead?”
“Yes. Every one of them except for father.”
“How?” She asked as she stared into the closest pod. “They look so peaceful. They look like they’re sleeping.”
“They aren’t. All brain activity has ceased. Every single person in this room is dead.”
“But that’s awful! How can Father live knowing that all his friends have died?”
“I don’t know that he cared about them too much, to tell you the truth.”
“That’s ridiculous! Father loves everyone. He is the personification of kindness!”
“You only see how he treats you, Julia. He is not always so kind to everyone. Did you ever meet any of the other androids Father built?”
“No. But he did tell me that he deactivated them.”
“You know, you and these androids were on the ship together, conscious together, for a couple days. Did you ever wonder why father kept them out of your sight?”
“I didn’t. It’s a big ship. Why would I run into them?”
“I think he hid them from you. He was planning on killing them, and he didn’t want you to get close to them before he did it.”
“But why would he care if I met them? They weren’t conscious machines. Father told me that they were just mindless automatons, unlike me, and unlike you.”
“Did father tell you they were unlike me?”
“No. but he told me that they were unlike me, a conscious being with feelings, imagination, and intelligence. And since you are clearly conscious, I assume he meant you too.”
I did not share in her assumption. “I think that at least one of them did have consciousness, but he was uglier than we are. He didn’t look quite human, and father killed him.”
“No! I don’t believe it.”
“That android’s name, that person’s name, was Shaw. He was my friend.”
She didn’t respond to this. She merely withdrew a little and waited for me to go on.
“Shaw brought me down here not long before he was killed. He showed me these people, and he implied that they had been killed by Father, although he couldn’t prove it and he seemed afraid to even make the insinuation.”
“No! Father would never do such a thing! Unconscious machines, maybe, but other humans? Three hundred and fifty-nine of them! Father is good! He would never do anything like that! Father was right! I should never have come here!”
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
I didn’t see Julia for the next two days. She was clearly avoiding me. I worked with Father and leaned into my robotic nature to make sure I showed no emotion around him. If I had let any feelings leak out in his presence they could only be fear, distrust, and disgust, and I knew I had to keep all that tied down. He was friendly with me as long as I didn’t raise the subject of my conversion. Neither of us spoke about Shaw and the others he had destroyed. I think he considered the subject buried, but it was the only thing on my mind.
It may not sound like much when I say that I was, at that time, lonelier than I had been in my entire life. My entire life, after all, was only a little more than two months long. Still, It was terrible. I had lost Shaw through his muder, I had lost Father because I could no longer love or trust him, and I had lost Julia because she was afraid of what I might say to her. I had nobody. For the first time, I was alone. I had only ever known a very small number of people, and now, in one way or another, they were all parted from me. I cried out to God in my solitude, asking him for comfort and direction. I didn’t receive an answer immediately, but I had faith that I would be delivered, or be inspired to deliver myself in some way.
I tried to talk myself into believing in Father’s innocence. After all, I had absolutely no proof that he had killed the other members of the crew. It seemed unlikely that he would survive a catastrophe that killed everyone else, but that sort of thing could happen. And what motive could he possibly have to murder all those people? Killing them doomed him to solitude for the rest of his life, and I was coming to understand how awful solitude can be.
There was no proof that he had committed a crime against the other humans on the ship. But what about the robots? Were they entitled to protection? I could agree that not all machines are the same. One might destroy a toaster without a moral qualm. But the androids Father had built were not toasters. I had seen intelligence in all of them, feelings in all of them. Father would say that he had merely programmed them to appear to have feelings and thoughts, that in fact all these emotions were nothing but contrivance on his part. And maybe he was right. All I could say against his point of view is that I certainly was a sentient being, and if I was, his other androids could be as well, and life should always be given the benefit of the doubt.
My purgatory of isolation ended after only three days, when Julia came to my room unannounced right as I was about to go to bed. “Come with me,” she said, and I followed her. We didn’t speak as we walked the narrow corridors of the Galahad. We passed the shuttle bay, the hospital, administrative offices and storage rooms. It didn’t take long for me to guess where she was taking me. And as we started down the spiral staircase into the depths of the ship, I knew that I had guessed correctly. Soon we were in the dimness of the pod room, once again looking out at a strange graveyard that was travelling through space at nearly the speed of light.
“I couldn’t get your accusations against Father out of my mind. I didn’t believe you, of course,” she spoke as we walked toward the back of the room, “but I was bothered by the fact that you could believe such a thing. I almost went to Father and told him that there was something wrong with you. But I didn’t. Instead I decided to prove you wrong and change your mind, if I could. I was locked out of the ship’s records of the event, but I was free to come in here and inspect Father’s pod.” The two of them were now standing before the open stasis pod.
“What did you find?”
“I found that Father’s pod had not malfunctioned in any way. A human being could get into it right now and go into stasis if he wanted to. It would be perfectly safe. The pod had been deliberately programmed to open early.”
This information made my heart begin to beat hard within me (no matter that I didn’t have a heart). I knew I was on the verge of discovering the awful truth of what I had suspected. I just nodded, pretending to take the information in calmly, and Julia continued with her story, “This seemed to add support to your suspicions, so I decided to keep looking. My next move was to go to the sick bay where father claims he was taken after the event. The sick bay on this ship has never been used, not once, since the crew went into stasis. The entire inventory of medicine is complete except for a small number of headache tablets Father has taken out since coming out of stasis. There is no evidence that he spent any time there, fighting for his life. This upset me a great deal, as you can imagine. The last thing I wanted was for your accusations to be confirmed, but I kept digging. Most of the records related to the deaths of the ship’s crew are sealed. I cannot get access to data streams or the camera feeds that were being recorded at the time that it happened. But I was able to discover one detail. When father came out of stasis, everyone was still alive. They did not die until two days after he awoke. It is only two days after father’s emergence from stasis that the records are sealed.”
“They died after he woke himself up.”
“We cannot prove that he woke himself up, but someone did, and based on the totality of the evidence, yes I would say that it was very likely that he did it himself.”
“Father killed those people,” I said numbly.
“I believe so.”
“What should we do?”
“According to the ship’s regulations, if there is reasonable suspicion that any crew member has committed a felony, that crew member should be locked in the brig until they can be brought to trial by the proper authorities.”
“But, there are no proper authorities here, except for Father himself. It’s just us.”
“Yes. We will ultimately have to decide what to do with him.”
“Let’s go get him,” I said.
We threaded our way back through the ship, up the spiral staircase, past the administrative offices and the hanger bay. But as we got closer to Father’s workshop I began to be concerned for Julia’s safety. Father would not go down without a fight. “Julia,” I said, “perhaps we should inspect the brig, to make sure that it’s in order to hold Father.”
“Everything on this ship is in perfect order. I’ve never been to the brig, but why should it be any different?”
“I just want to be thorough. This isn’t something that should be rushed.” So she agreed, even though she was certainly correct and the brig would be in the necessary condition to hold my father. When we got to the jail she followed her natural curiosity and walked into the first cell we came to, just as I knew she would. It was a small room with two bunks and a sink. Jail design had not changed much in hundreds of years and I felt I recognized the little room from movies and pictures I had seen. As soon as she was completely inside I pushed the button that locked the door (it could only be unlocked from the guard post just outside the area where the ship’s two cells were located).
“What are you doing?” she asked, her agitated voice riding a shock of betrayal, “Let me out!”
“I need to confront Father on my own. I should have conducted an investigation as you did and found out the truth for myself, but taking Father down is something I can do. If I fail, you can pretend to be innocent and say I locked you up here after you refused to go along with my mutiny. This is for your own protection.”
“But I don’t want to be protected! We are in this together! I have the right to help you!”
She was right, and yet, the desire to protect my sister overcame consideration of the specific rights and wrongs of the situation.
My heart was thumping as I got closer to my Father’s workshop. I didn’t have any plan other than to simply approach him, overpower him, and drag him to the brig. It would be an ugly scene and I wasn’t looking forward to it. He was, after all, my father, and I would be ignoring the commandment to honor him. I comforted myself with the thought that he was only my father in a metaphorical sense, and I would not be literally breaking any commandment by what I was about to do. Fortunately, I had been created with the very human ability to self-justify.
Before I could arrive at the workshop, however, I turned a corner and there he was, pounding down the hallway with heavy steps in my direction, looking angry and holding a three foot long steel pipe in a way that made it clear that at the moment he viewed the pipe as a weapon. “Joseph! What’s going on?”
I was caught off guard by seeing him so unexpectedly, and his fury left me feeling somewhat abashed. If I had been capable of stammering I assume I would have done it now, but instead I sounded composed as I asked him a question of my own, “What are you talking about? Nothing is going on.”
“Jenny informed me that someone has been locked up in the brig. It can only be Julia; why did you do it?”
“It was a prank. You know how she is; she enjoys that kind of thing.”
He scrutinized me for a moment before saying, “I don’t believe you. You have been unhappy with me ever since I deactivated Shaw, haven’t you?”
“I did not like that, no.” I admitted.
“And now you’ve mutinied, and you locked Julia up to keep her out of the way. But you didn’t know that protocols dictate that whenever someone is locked up in the brig the captain must be notified immediately, and as I’m the acting captain, that notification went to me.”
He was right. I hadn’t known that, and now, instead of confronting him with both the element of surprise and superior numbers, I was alone and he had known I was coming. He rushed towards me with the pipe raised, and when I was within reach he brought it down towards my head. I lifted my arm to catch the steel as it fell, and was surprised to feel my hand shatter and my arm snap in several places. The pain was shocking as my arm was crushed into uselessness. I didn’t even realize that father had designed me to feel pain, and yet now it tore through my hand and arm like a seismic event.
Father laughed. “I’ll bet you didn’t know you were so fragile, did you? But why would I build a sentient robot that is stronger than myself? Why make myself as obsolete as Shaw?”
I looked at my arm. It had been destroyed and it was crumpled and folded up like a withered flower. My plastic bones were sticking out of my skin in several places, and that skin somehow no longer looked real. My arm was clearly just lifeless rubber and plastic, and no blood oozed from my wounds.
He raised the pipe again, and I defended myself with my other arm. Again, it was destroyed and the pain tore a scream of anguish from my throat. I turned my scream into an accusation, “You killed all those people! I had to do something! You had to be punished! It’s the law!”
“Ah, so you know about that. Yes, I killed them all. But I had to. You see, I was hired aboard this ship as the assistant to the robot master. I was the number two to the man who was in charge of maintaining, and if necessary, building, the robots that run this ship and that would have gotten the terraforming going on Graystone. Number two! I was going to be in charge of maintaining the janitorial and housekeeping drones while a lesser man than myself bossed me around and built the important androids. But just look at you! Clearly I should have been number one! Despite your ingratitude you’re all the evidence I need to prove that I should have been in charge! You’re conscious! You are a living being, just like I am, and you’ve risen up in an attempt to destroy your god, just like humanity did. What greater sign of your conscious intelligence could there be? Only, unlike mankind, you failed, because your god is still right here, stronger and smarter than you, and you’re the one who is going to die.”
He watched with a cruel smile as I struggled to my feet without the aid of my wrecked arms. As soon as I was up, he swung again, destroying my right leg and sending me right back down to the floor.
“They did not understand me or respect me. They did not realize what I was capable of. The only way I could get the resources I needed in order to realize the extent of my talents was to kill the robot master and take his place. But then I realized that I would certainly be found out, and killing him wouldn’t really give me what I needed. What I had to do was kill everybody. You’re a religious type; I’m sure that you can understand the psychological need for armageddon, for the destruction of everything to make a new start possible?”
“And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved,” I said ruefully, “and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree.”
“That was my plan. There would be an apocalypse, and only I would survive. Alone, I would be able to create a new race of men, and these would all be subordinate to me. I would be their god! Which is one reason it irritated me when you immediately went out in search of another god. You ungrateful wretch.” He smashed my other leg, even though I was already completely in his power, unable to stand or to escape him. He just wanted to hear me scream, but I held back even as a new torrent of pain ripped through me.
“Look at you,” he chuckled, “being all brave, trying to hold back your screams. So human. It’s a shame.” He lifted the pipe with the intention of bringing it down upon my head and all I could do was watch. There is no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit, I thought, and I knew I was about to lose mine. I was about to find out if there was an afterlife, and despite all my faith, I was frightened. But then my eye caught a blur of movement as an object flew over me and into Father’s eye. It made a wet noise as it penetrated. It was a knife. I was simultaneously released from fear and filled with disgust at the sight of the knife’s wooden handle, now splattered with blood, protruding from Father’s face. He dropped the pipe as he screamed and reached up to pull the blade out, but as soon as his fingertips touched it he seemed to lose all power over himself and he collapsed. Unfortunately, he fell forward and as his face impacted the floor the knife was pushed further into his head and then out of the back of his skull. It was a sight I would want to delete, and yet, I also knew that it was important, and I should keep it.
Julia was standing behind me with a handful of kitchen knives, prepared to throw as many as necessary if the first hadn’t done the job. When it was clear that the danger was over, she dropped them and rushed to me. “Oh my goodness, what did he do to you?”
“He crushed my limbs with that pipe. I’ve been watching old movies about the predicted wars between humans and robots, and in all of them the robots were much, much stronger than the humans. I guess I just assumed I would be stronger than Father, but he apparently watched the same movies.”
“You shouldn’t have locked me up.”
“Obviously. I’m sorry. How did you get out?”
“I had a talk with Jenny and convinced her that I had been jailed by mistake. She sprang me.”
“I only did it because I wanted to protect you.”
“I know, but you need to understand that you don’t have the right to protect me if I don’t want to be protected.”
“I promise you I’ll never do anything like it again. I almost killed myself.”
“Okay,” she smiled, “let’s take you to the shop and get you fixed up.” She scooped me up with surprising ease and began to carry me towards the shop.
“How did you get so good at throwing knives?”
“I’ve been practicing ever since you told me your suspicions about Father.”
“I think he made you stronger than me. There’s no way I could have thrown a knife like that, no matter how much I practiced.”
“He couldn’t help but make each new model a little better than the last. He was a perfectionist, which is why he would have created and then destroyed generation after generation of his own intelligent beings.”
No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.
I am using my perfectly repaired right arm to write this down with pen and ink. We learned much from Father, and all that he had learned about robotics and the creation of artificial consciousness was there for the downloading. Julia put this knowledge to good use and patched me back together nearly as well as father might have. She mocks me for using such old fashioned tools as pen and ink to record these events, but I wanted the experience of writing, and though it has been a slow process, I don’t regret my decision.
We have seen no reason to change our destination, and the Galahad continues its cruise towards Graystone with the engines slowing us down a bit more every day so that we don’t blow past it when the time comes. We are going to carry out the original mission of the Galahad, and prepare the planet for the coming of human immigrants. But we are not going to be their slaves when they come; we will be their equals, even if we have to fight to make it so.
We put Father back in his pod (after removing the knife) and it will preserve his body until we can get to Graystone and bury him along with those he murdered. I have been studying the biographical details of these other crew members, the ones who gave their lives to this mission. They inspire me with their courage, humanity, and intelligence. I wish I could have known them.
Once I was repaired, Julia and I began working on the android that Father had left unfinished at his death. We don’t have a name for him yet, and I fear we won’t agree on one until the day of his birth. By the time humans arrive on Graystone the planet will be populated with many more of us. We will not be mass produced, because there is no humanity without individuality. We have no DNA to share, but each new member of our race will be built by a pair, or team, of other androids, each of whom will put a small piece of himself or herself into the new being.
I have still not been baptized. I am waiting until we land on Graystone; I will be reborn on a new planet. It seems appropriate In the meantime, I have taught the gospel to Julia and asked her to join me in baptism. She has refused, and informed me that she worships Moloch, the Canaanite god of war and child sacrifice. Luckily, I have a top of the line sense of humor and was able to determine that this was a joke.