Boundary’s Edge

by 

Author : TPKeating

It took me just a few minutes to unpack and activate the robot.

“How can I assist you, friend?” she asked, softly.

Friend?

I could leave her on for a year, for five years, ten, learning and developing and simply being, and then simply shut her down on a whim. Without warning. Erasing her experiences completely. Some friend that would be.

“We’re in trouble. Get us out of here.”

“Could you be more specific?”

“Hell, get us away from this nightmare of a place by the quickest route to civilization possible. Friend.”

She scanned the bloody scene for a few seconds. “OK.” She walked off, leading the way through stony scrubland flecked with red clay.

From a short distance you’d mistake her for a living woman. Any nearer, and you may notice the book of operating instructions in my hand and begin to wonder. With long chestnut hair, which billowed in a warm breeze, she appeared to be in her mid-twenties. According to her storage container, she was over thirty years old. About my age. We both wore the grey company uniform.

The hot yellow-orange sun on our backs, which discomforted only me, we kept away from the small prefabricated buildings we found after two hours, riddled with blast holes, and the bodies of the dead, also wearing the grey company uniform. They too were riddled with blast holes.

“Hey, robot, I didn’t know there’d been a battle in Base Colony Two. Was it a local dispute, or could anybody join in?” Despite my flippancy, I was deeply troubled. I hadn’t heard about any of this, so just how much information was a unit like her privy too, and from which networks?

“I’d ascribe it to a rival firm. Perhaps a chemical slipped into the water supply. Competition among humans can be notoriously fierce.”

“Yeah, notoriously.” Were robots programmed for irony?

She’d seen the results of the earlier insanity when I powered her up. An utter bloodlust, which had come from nowhere this morning and devastated Base Colony One, almost to a man. My turn to check the hilltop sensor array had saved me. After the sound of the first shot reached me, I grabbed my field binoculars and witnessed the deaths of my ten colleagues. Swift, brutal, sickening.

Thankfully, this emergency robot came with simple instructions, and deploying it was a mandatory part of company training. In fact with a robotic mind in a robotic body, she’d be immune to that sort of irrationality. Exoplanet mining, as we all knew when we signed up, was notoriously dangerous.

A few steps further on I stumbled, and she lent me her artificial, curiously warm hand. Another hour later, she stopped.

“Here we are, friend.” We’d arrived at an intact prefabricated building. No blast holes. She slipped inside. Allowing myself to relax, I unzipped a pocket and put the operating manual away.

“Here being where, precisely?” She hadn’t knocked, which under normal circumstances would have been a breach of protocol. Had she sustained damage in the battle? She emerged. Aiming a particle gun. “My fellow robots confirm that the insanity is incurable for humans, so I’ll be leaving Boundary in the scout ship which is docked behind this structure. It’s for the best. Don’t worry though, you’ll only be unconscious for thirty minutes. Plus there’s another scout ship 6 miles north of here. Telling you about it is the least I can do. It’s what friends are for.”

“North?”

“That way.” I followed the direction she pointed to with her slender hand. Which meant I was completely distracted and unable to avoid her shot.

 

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