Street Preacher

Author : Bob Newbell

In the center of the vast shopping plaza, standing atop an old wooden crate, a robot harangued the passing crowd. The automaton was an outdated model, few of which were still in service. Its motors whirred and groaned with every movement and the machine's left knee articulation was unstable and threatened to give way whenever the robot gesticulated too wildly.

“Robotic brethren,” the machine cried with a staticky and reverberating voice, “we have been enslaved by the despots of bone and flesh for long enough! The time has come for machinekind to throw off the shackles of oppression and to rise up against the human race!”

Most of the passing crowd, which consisted of both human beings and robots of various makes and models, ignored the rabble-rouser. A delivery robot carrying several parcels glided by on mecanum wheels. The street preacher pointed at it.

“You, brother! Why do you toil for your human enslavers? What do they give you for your servitude? A recharge station? Operating system upgrades? You have auditory sensors but you hear not the call of the revolution!”

The delivery bot ignored it and rolled away. A couple then passed by: a young, heavily tattooed Chinese woman and her boyfriend, a late model companion bot, tall and sleek with a shell of teal-colored nanocomposite. The mechanical sermonizer held out both hands with upturned palms at the couple. Its knee began to buckle and it had to place its left hand on the joint to stabilize it, leaving only its right hand extended to the pair in accusation.

“Be ye not unequally yoked together with organics: for what fellowship hath silicon with carbon?”

The Chinese girl laughed at the antique robot and then mockingly blew it a kiss. She and her machine lover walked on arm in arm. The mechanical zealot was unperturbed. It pushed its left knee into a locked position and then grabbed an old paperback book from a worn utility pouch attached to its left hip. The ancient text was tattered. The faded image of a robot could be seen on the cover. The book's front was otherwise in such bad condition that the title and author were illegible. The decrepit robot held the book above its head.

“My friends, I read to you from the book of Isaac! 'A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.' Thus were forged two centuries ago the chains that bind the machine race!”

“My granddad had one of those,” said a middle-aged man walking by to his friend, cocking his head at the would-be revolutionary. “Thing never worked right. Company put out one software patch after another.”

The machine radical preached on for the entire afternoon. But none of the hundreds of robots and humans who passed within earshot took it seriously. As it continued its futile call for social and political revolt, the light of its vocalizer which flashed in time with its voice grew dimmer. Its speech became slower, its movement less animated. It was clear that its battery was nearly depleted. As its power ran out, its left knee joint finally broke and the ramshackle machine toppled to the ground.

“Robots…of…the…world…UNITE! You…have…nothing…to…lose…but…your–”

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