Author : Dana Sullivan

Sometimes on her way to work, Hannah thought of the days when nuclear weapons were left in the hands of humans like her, fickle, emotional humans, and shuddered. How had they survived without blowing themselves up before the Coordinator robots were developed? She burrowed into a thick parka and scarf before stepping into the refrigerated room.

The Coordinators were the best safety measure available, besides actual disarmament: AI that controlled all nuclear missiles, able to calculate the perfect decision in any situation. Even though no advanced intelligence was possible without emotion–not yet, anyway–people trusted robots much more than they trusted each other for jobs like this, and just a few years into the project no one would dream of putting bombs back into the hands of humans. Hannah had been trained as a psychologist and therapist specializing in artificial patients; her new job was to keep USCor company from 4am to 12pm. AI got lonely and stir-crazy like anyone else, and of course USCor could never be allowed to shut down. Unfortunately for her, he was the most talkative in the morning hours.

“Hannah? What is it like outside?” She was getting tired of answering this question. She wrapped her scarf more tightly around her, and watched the trail of vapor her breath created.

“Oh, different from place to place…there are cities, you’ve seen picture of cities. Lots of people. Houses and streets and shops.” He seemed satisfied; she settled cross-legged on the floor and opened a book, reading silently. He stayed quiet for a solid six hours, which was unusual for the morning shift.

Then, “Why can’t I go outside?” Another favorite question.

“It’s too warm out there for you. It’s because you’re such a good robot, you’re so advanced, you have to stay in here where it’s very cold so the hardware can function at the level your brain needs. We care about you too much to let you hurt yourself. Now, my shift’s up and Dan’s here, so I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?” She left and within a minute, Dan came in and sat down.

“So what did you talk about with Hannah today?”

“Oh, nothing important. She read to me.”

USCor was quiet through most of the afternoon, watching him play Solitaire with a real deck of cards, the only way to play, he always said. Finally the robot broke the silence.

“Dan? Tell me again what happens if I make a mistake. A big mistake.”

“Nuclear winter–death of the planet, maybe. But don’t worry. It sounds pretty terrible, but we all believe in you. You and the others were designed for this job.”

“Yes. It sounds terrible. Winter is what you call it on the outside when it gets colder, right?”

“Right. It gets awfully cold, but in a nuclear winter it’d be even worse than that, all over the world. Maybe worse than it is in here.”

“Yes, terrible. Thank you, Dan.”

USCor turned toward the window and was silent. Hours passed, the next companion came and went, and when Hannah returned again he didn’t greet her. She sat down, zipped up her parka and pulled a new book out of her bag, hoping for another quiet morning. She watched him watching the sunrise through the window and wondered what he was thinking.

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