The Robot Whisperer

Author : Brian C. Baer

Robots love me.

As much as robots can love. And in a plutonic sense, of course. Something about my chubby little baby face sets off their simulated paternal instincts and they all bend over backwards to answer my questions. That sort of thing comes in handy with my job.

I knelt in front of the unmoving blue robot. As if brooding, it sat on the floor in the middle of the living room. It was large and bulky, a few years old but in decent enough shape. Not one of those smooth, humanoid-looking models that have been flooding the market; it was more from the “Rock ’Em, Sock ’Em” school of design. Behind me, the family stood anxious, worried, huddled together.

“Can you fix him, doctor?” the wife asked. The soft expanse of flesh beneath her chin shivered with concern. She hugged her young daughter close. The husband did the same to her.

“I’m not a doctor,” I said absent-mindedly as I eyed my scanner.

“I beg your pardon?” the husband chimed in, brushing a loose strand of hair across his comb-over with his palm.

“Hm?” I asked, coming out of my focus. “Oh. I’m not a doctor. Robots don’t really have brains, so they don’t need a psychiatrist or anything like…” I trailed off, before looking back to my work. “I’m a technician.”

“Henry just sat down and stopped moving,” the little girl said, sounding close to tears.

“We just had him in for maintenance and everything checked out,” the wife added. “I don’t understand it.”

I nodded and made a little “hmm” sound, but I wasn’t really listening. “Unit NX-6401, respond to my voice.”

“Henry,” the robot corrected me in a surprisingly human voice. It still hadn’t moved, and the lights hadn’t returned to its dim photoreceptors.

“Okay, Henry,” I conceded. “Are you functioning correctly?”

It made a soft snorting noise. “If that’s what you call this.”

I sat cross-legged on the carpet in front of it. “Hey, now. What’s that all about?” I put my hand on its shoulder. Henry’s ocular lights activated, but just barely. It didn’t respond right away.

“The Johnsons across the street bought a new robot,” it said finally.

“Yeah,” the husband confirmed from behind me, “One of those new A-01 models.”

“Go on,” I coaxed.

“I’ve seen it walking their kids to school and fixing their roof, and it’s got those extendable arms and a hedge-clipper accessory, and…”

“And its making you feel not as special?” I asked in a soothing voice.

“The A-01s are so great,” it said. “One of them would be so much more functional for this family. It would be better than I am.”

“Henry, I’m going to tell you a secret about humans. It is a bit paradoxical, so promise me your head will not explode when I tell you.”

It nodded, its eyes glowing brighter. I glanced back at the morbidly obese woman and her balding husband. Even their little girl wasn’t too easy on the eyes.

“Henry,” I said. “Humans build emotional attachments. And they don’t always want what’s shiny and new. They want what they love.”

“They love me?” It asked, looking over my shoulder at the piles of unappealing humanity. It stood up, and after a moment, I followed.

“It isn’t very logical, doctor.” Henry’s voice sounded happy.

I smiled. “I’m not a doctor.”


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Vacuum Fluctuations

Author : Glenn Blakeslee

Stan and I sat by the campfire in the desert night. The fire was burning low, a bed of embers surrounded by fire-blackened stones. We sipped on our beers, and I waited for Stan to start talking.

He’s one of my oldest friends, a physicist and a brilliant guy. When we camp in the desert he always has a late-night campfire lecture for me. I could tell he was ready to start talking. “Go ahead, Stan,” I said.

He smiled self-consciously. “Well…” he began, “We’ve talked about the Heisenberg Principle, right?”

“That’s where you can’t know the state of a particle until you observe it,” I said.

“Right. And by observation you collapse the wave function. But we can’t always observe, don’t always collapse the wave. There’s a natural process called vacuum fluctuation that causes that to happen without our interference. Otherwise, a particle wouldn’t reveal itself and matter, the universe, wouldn’t exist.”


Stan scratched a square in the dirt with his shoe. “Imagine that’s a cubic foot. Information theory tells us that, when the wave collapses, there’s a finite amount of physical information encoded in that cubic foot. It’s a huge amount of information, but still finite.” With his foot, Stan pushed lines out from the sides of the square. “Let’s expand this foot to a square light year.” He looked up at me and smiled. “Still a finite amount of information, right?”

“Right,” I said. I’m never sure where his conversations are leading.

“Well, the universe is infinite,” he said, and he threw a small log on the fire. “The visible edge of the universe is estimated to be four hundred thousand light years away, but that’s only the distance light has traveled. It’s still infinite.”


“A cubic foot or a cubic light year has only a finite number of possible states. Since the universe is infinite, you can map out an infinite number of cubic light years, and information theory says a good number of those cubic light years would have the same finite set of wave functions as our own cubic light year.”

Stan threw another log on the fire. “And a duplicate set of wave functions means a duplicate set of the physical properties of our own cubic light year,” he said.

“You mean…” I started, and stared at him. “There’s like… an alternate universe? One just like our own?”

“Not an alternate universe,” Stan said, “Another part of this universe that’s exactly the same as our own.”

I stared at the fire. Embers glowed red and fire licked at the underside of logs. A piece of wood popped, and a single flame twisted, curled, spat its load of carbon into the night sky. The exact same flame, somewhere else, did the same.

I looked back at Stan. In the light of the fire I could see tears welling in his eyes. I put my hand on his shoulder and said, “It’s no good, Stan. Samantha is still dead. You have to give it up.”

Stan looked at me, and he smiled. “A small variation on our finite set could make a situation where I was able to save her.”

And there was nothing, nothing in our finite set, that I could say.



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House Hunting

Author : Greg R. Fishbone

Agent Stanley, six-time salesman of the month, cut a trail through the switch grass with his machete. His motions were effortless, hardly distracting from his practiced patter about low interest financing.

Behind him trudged the Forrester family. Mr. Forrester swatted mosquitoes from his arms and neck. Mrs. Forrester quietly bemoaned her mud-caked designer shoes. The Forrester children, Gerald and Roxie, fought over a tuna sandwich that represented the last of their daily provisions. The family’s first weekend of house hunting was already a miserable affair.

Agent Stanley’s trailblazing ended abruptly at a precipice with a view of the steamy valley below. “This is a good place to begin. Most of the homes in this valley migrated inland after Hurricane Ronaldo, with a few holdovers from the ’36 flood and some recent foreclosures.”

The Forresters peered down into the fog, where a few house-shaped outlines could be seen moving together toward the northeast. “Do they always travel in packs?” asked Mr. Forrester.

Agent Stanley shrugged. “Not always, but homes by the same developer sometimes form neighborhood associations for their mutual protection. They needn’t worry about burglary, here in the wild, but the security systems don’t know that. Watch your footing on the descent. I tagged a lovely three-bedroom colonial last week that would be perfect for you, if we can find it again.”

The valley was thick with grass and, as Mrs. Forrester loudly noted, a particularly clingy tan-colored mud. Ground cover and trees were common, but not thick enough to prevent houses from moving through. While Mr. Forrester applied more insect repellant and Mrs. Forrester brushed mud from the hem of her skirt, Gerald and Roxie argued over which of them needed more closet space.

Agent Stanley knelt to examine a tree stump. “These cuts are fresh, and the treads lead off in this direction.”

“Houses cut down trees?” asked Gerald.

“They do in the wild, son,” said Agent Stanley. “There aren’t any lumber yards out here, so houses have to make due with what materials they can find.”

“Why do they need lumber if they’re already built?” asked Roxie.

“Repairs. Wear and tear. Or sometimes they feel the need to build a dormer or an addition.”

“Maybe it’s installing crown molding in itself,” said Mrs. Forrester. “I always imagined my first house would have crown molding.” Mr. Forrester put an arm around her shoulders.

The Forristers, with Agent Stanley as their scout, tracked the house through the trees and across the plains. The whine of a buzz-saw grew louder as they approached until, over a small rise, they came upon a team of robotic house-scutters working on a single-story structure with two wide openings in the front.

“We’re in luck!” Agent Stanley exclaimed. “That’s a detached two-car garage–very desirable!”

Mr. and Mrs. Forrester nodded appreciably, while Gerald and Roxie ran forward to play with a robot that seemed to be fashioning shingles from strips of bark. “Be careful, kids!” called Mrs. Forrester.

“Don’t worry.” Agent Stanley chuckled. “Those fourth generation house-scutters are great with children. They cook, they clean, and as you can see, they’re quite handy with home improvements. If you’re ready to make an offer, I’d be happy to–”

He was interrupted by a loud crash, as a four-bedroom Tudor-style house burst into the clearing with red lights blazing in every window. Agent Stanley looked with alarm toward the detached garage, where Gerald Forrester was carving his initials into the door frame with a pocket laser.

“That’s trouble,” said Agent Stanley. “Tudors are notoriously protective of their out-buildings.”


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Author : Lander Ver Hoef

We get the window seat, Molly! Isn’t that neat? We’ll be able to see everything. Have you ever been to space before, Molly? Me neither. I wonder what it’ll be like. I hope I don’t get Z-sick.

No, Molly, I don’t know what that machine out there does. Maybe it works on the ships? See that big shining thing right over there? That’s a ship just like ours! Yes, it’s pretty, isn’t it? So white, and the lights against the dark night are so bright.

That’s the Captain talking, Molly. He’s telling us that we’re going to be taking off now. Don’t be scared, I’ll take care of you. Just be sure to stay near me and don’t float away in ZG!

Here we go! We’ve started moving, Molly. You can’t see the ocean way down there, since it’s dark out, but it’s there, don’t worry. You can’t see it either, but Daddy says that there’s a track that we’re being pulled along. Maybe it’s like Jimmy’s slingshot. It really hurts when he hits me with rocks from it! And he says mean things about you, Molly. He says you’re just a doll and that I’m a sissy for keeping you. He’s just a bully though. Don’t worry, I wouldn’t ever listen to him. I’ll keep you forever!

This is a lot stronger than Jimmy’s slingshot though! Now I feel sorry for the rocks too. I wonder if they feel as squished as I do? Are you all right, Molly? Are you getting squished too? It’ll be okay though, since Daddy said that this doesn’t last long.

See, that wasn’t long at all! Ooh, look out the window, Molly. There’s a continent! Look at all those lights! I wonder where that is?

Eep! Oh, don’t worry, Molly. That bang was just the rocket motor starting. Daddy warned us about that, remember? He said that it was perfectly normal and that we shouldn’t be scared. Are you scared, Molly? Me too, a little bit. But don’t worry, I’ll keep you safe up here.

Wow! So this is what ZG is like. Come back here, Molly! Don’t go floating away like that, now. I can’t take care of you if you run away like that!

Oh, ew. I think that someone a few rows back just threw up. Isn’t that nasty, Molly? Strange, too. I don’t feel at all sick. Hee hee, even Mommy looks sick, and she never throws up. I hope she doesn’t now. That would be nasty.

Look out of the window, Molly. There’s a pretty light around the edge of Earth. It’s dawn! I didn’t know they got sunrises here in space, did you? Here, I’ll hold you up to the window so you can see. You’re so pretty, Molly, with the sunlight glinting off your eyes. What an adventure we’re going to have! Are you excited, Molly? I am!


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Divine Revelation

Author : Rob Burton

Within the holiest temple, buried deep within the cathedral, Arch-Bishop Emmanuel Berret struck the Bios Chime above the altar of power. The bell released its singular soft tone to bounce crazily between the hard walls. Terrified that his failing hearing might make him act too quickly, Berret waited six more heartbeats after it finally diminished to speak the holy words learnt from the historical documents. ‘Ohm nama shivaya’, he intoned, genuflecting so that his forehead touched the leading edge of the altar.

Two servers, each with a box in their hands, approached him. The first carried the paste of thermal conduction, which he brought forth from the box and placed it, in its tube, reverently into the palm of the Arch-Bishop.

‘Ohm nama shivaya.’ His low, grumbling mantra resonated from the stone walls, chasing its predecessor. The second server opened his box with all due ritual and retrieved from within the sacred silicon wafer. He placed it into the palm of the Arch-Bishop’s hand.

‘Ohm nama shivaya.’ The servers gently withdrew with bowed heads, as if the gentle wave of his utterance had propelled them with its gentle pressure. He prayed to Saint William of the gate and Saint Steven of the labours that he might be worthy of opening the book as he spread the paste upon the wafer and passed it to his lips. Its awful taste filled his mouth, but he swallowed with a gasp and stood to face the holy book.

Just as he had been told, it was almost featureless, smooth and black, made of something that was neither metal, nor stone, nor wood or skin of any kind. He knew what only the most holy men knew, that trapped within its form was contained all of the alphabet, laid out in its holy order, and all of the numbers, surrounded by arcane words and wondrous commands. He also knew of the tablet of light – the bringer of prophesy and ultimate knowledge. His eyes traced the crack at its edge that was the only clue to the glories contained within.

From the censer he lifted one of the most holy relics, a tiny fragment of impossibly thin cloth, soaked in a holy water that vanished into prayer – the cloth of ecstatic purification. With it, he began to write upon the unyeilding black surface. He drew the tetragrammaton, that is the name of the holy teacher whose spirit, whom they knew, from the historical documents, lived forever.

‘Y’, he wrote, the letter disappearing heavenward almost as soon as it had been written. Then he drew the perfect circle that was the second letter as best as his old hands could manage. ‘D’ he wrote then, and finally ‘A’, which is the beginning at the end.

He reached forward and, head bowed in deferential respect, he made so as to lift the holy book, and it yielded to his purity and righteousness, and opened for him. He wondered to look upon the holy words within, and gazed in fascination at the strange and pure blue light about the great primary rune.

He closed his eyes and bowed his head in silent prayer as the holy book whirred and sang, driving away the demons gathered around it. Terrified, he waited for its last and most vibrant song, and then waited six heartbeats more, for fear he might look upon the blue screen of death. Then, as he opened his eyes, he cried out ‘Hllljh!’, for written there, shining gloriously from the tablet of light were the holy words that proved him worthy.

‘Welcome to windows’


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