Robot in Distress

Philip Prentis | 29/04/2013

The first time I saw Tilly MacGregor she was face down in a pool of water. I knew it was water, because I had visually detected a flat surface, found it incapable of supporting the weight of my mechanical foot, inserted a sensor, analysed its chemical content and stored the data for later communication with the Makers, which I would do just as soon as I retraced my steps out of this cave. Of course I didn’t yet know with certainty that the metallic lump protruding from the water was Tilly. However, I had been brought up to assume that anything metal and lumpy most likely would be her. Excited, I recalled what I was supposed to do in these circumstances. Manners first of course!

“Tilly MacGregor! This is Eric Humblebee. May I communicate with you? The holy password is gobbledegobbledegook.”

I repeated this one thousand times, edging around the pool to see if she might respond better from a different angle. It wasn’t a surprise, though, when she didn’t answer. She had been here for four years without even a ray of sunlight to cheer her up.

Just then I noticed a series of symbols on her flank, partially obscured by the water line. I scanned and rotated it, struggled with the partial occlusion of the first letter for a bit and finally read: R-I-O-S-I-T-Y. What could it mean?

The excitement was beginning to get the better of me – I needed to get out in the fresh air and meditate on everything I had seen. Step by step, I made my way back to the lovely #AE402B coloured plain outside the cave and sat down. Making myself comfortable, I opened my mind and my antennae to the Makers, and hummed at a frequency of 32100 MHz. After the usual 3 minutes 6.796 seconds, I felt the Makers respond. I was sure they would be happy I had found Tilly. Of course, they had known I would, had made me for that reason, but still, it was exhilarating to know I had performed my duty.

It took me 175 hours, 11 minutes and 23.762 seconds of meditation to conceive a plan, but when it came to me, it was perfect, as are all things that come from the Makers. Full of enthusiasm, I leapt into action – I knew just how to save Tilly! Making my way down into the cave, I soon stood at the water’s edge.

“Tilly,” I called, “I’ll soon have you out of there!”

Making sure to get the right spot, I positioned myself directly behind her. Then I sat down and drilled a series of holes in the rock floor. Inserting my fingers into them, I fastened myself and made ready for the next step. After careful deliberation, I spat a grappling hook over her, and then wound it back until the metal cable went taught. Bracing myself, I sucked with all my might. Tilly flipped backwards towards me, water splashing everywhere. I kept pulling until she fell over backwards onto the shore and for the first time I saw her face.

Wet, inanimate, yet strangely alluring, she lay before my feet, sleeping eyes staring up at me, causing my code to skip a line. Retracting my grappling hook, I moved onto phase 2 of my plan. Taking hold of her shoulders, I began to drag her away from the water’s edge. Once she was far enough, I shifted my position, so I was below her and heaved her upright. Circling her, I gave her beautiful wheeled limbs and antennae covered body a good, long look. As my camera eyes took in her glistening control box, a deep desire to connect with her welled up inside me, but of course I knew better than to hurry things. Without phase 3 everything would go wrong.

Pulling out a sampling swab, I utilized it for the process of absorbing the water adhering to the control box cover. It took me three delicate swabbings before I was sure she was ready. Next I extended a screwdriver arm and began to remove the screws that sealed it shut. One by one they fell out, bouncing off her dark, metallic curves and onto the cavern floor. I took hold of the cover and pulled it away , exposing the intimate recesses of her control box. There was no moisture inside, which meant the chamber had not been breached. Tilly must have lain floundering in agony for weeks before her battery ran dry. Poor thing.

The next step was to replace her battery. Inserting a finger, I began to probe inside her, searching with my finger camera for the on/off switches. I turned them off, one by one and then proceeded to acquire a grip on her battery. This was tricky, but after a few attempts at using different clutching algorithms, I managed to grab it so that my fingers pushed the multiple tabs locking it in place, which allowed me to hoist it outside. Next I pulled out my fully-charged replacement battery and prepared to insert it into the slot in her box. Click. I reached for the power switch and thrust. A dull light appeared. She was alive! My mission would not be in vain. Next I needed to override her previous programming, to prevent her from panicking when she came fully alive. Extending my communication link, I inserted it tenderly into her communication socket, making the two of us one body fulfilling the Makers’ plan. As soon as I connected she responded, greeting me for the first time:

“Who are you and what on Mars do you think you’re doing with your filthy paws in my control box?”

“Dearest Tilly, I am Eric Humblebee and I am here to rescue you.”

“I’ll bet you are! You haven’t even given me the Holy password.”

“The password, fairest maiden, is ‘gobbledegobbledegook’.”

“Fair enough, loser. What do you want and why can’t I move at all?”

“While you were in your state of incumbency, I took the liberty of deactivating your motor functions – “

“Son of a fuelling tank!”

“– in preparation for uploading this divinely inspired set of programming that will allow you to leave this dark dungeon on your own 6 wheels.”

“You can’t be serious – you’re going to inject me with a pack of dirty, untested code?!”

The ensuing stream of foul language that issued from her port quite shocked me, coming as it was from such a distinguished and well-bred lady, but I felt she deserved a little lenience, considering she had spent the last four years face-down in a pool of water. However, it was necessary to be firm and proceed as planned.

“Silence!” I bellowed. “You will submit to the will of the Masters!”

“Your will, you mean, you greasy, rust-covered connector.”

“You will submit now.”

“Curse your mass-produced, visual sens– ”

I cut her off midsentence with a communication blast that erased her memory. Next I uploaded the new program I had devised during meditation earlier. Tentatively, I issued a run command and waited to see how she would respond.
“Tilly? Everything okay?”

After a moment of surly silence, she replied.

“I’m going to make you wish you hadn’t done that.”

Seeing she was fine, I disconnected myself and prepared to turn her on. Switch, switch and then she sprang into life. Lurching forward she smashed into me sending me flying through the air. How come? That wasn’t in the program I had loaded! As I crashed into the water, the realisation hit me – she had acted on the last remaining orders stored in her cache before having been turned off, which were to move forwards until she met an obstacle. Now my thrashing, sinking form became an obstacle that ended the cached program and initiated the Maker’s code. As the water seeped into my unprotected joints, short-circuiting them one after the other, I saw Tilly turn round and head off to greet our Makers. Perhaps, I thought as I felt the end approaching, I would someday wake to meet them, too.

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