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” shouted Eileen Silverberg, the chief handler on duty. “I was just tending to the afternoon schedule, and suddenly, they just charged at me, brandishing all sorts of...of...odd implements!” “There, there, Eileen,” soothed Manfred Asimov, the facility supervisor. There's nothing to get all worked up about. You know that they are a frightfully energetic lot. They can get charged up by the slightest little thing, and then we have to extricate them from every rafter and joist in the entire place.” He shook his perfectly-coiffed head sadly. “I don't know where they get these ideas, personally.” “I think they're just damaged,” Eileen sobbed, her lavender hair shaking around her shoulders in a perfect splay of color. Manfred stared at her in shock, and shook a finger at her. “Never say that, girl! They are in our charge, and we have taken every possible care that they should never, ever, ever take any sort of damage.” Eileen sniffled. “I know, Sir, and it's hard to even imagine them being in any way damaged...but you didn't see them today! Their little faces...” She put her own face in her hands and shook. Manfred put an arm around her shoulders and tut-tutted consolingly. “Now, now, Eileen...it's not that bad, really. Archie is in with them right now, and he would have reported any sort of damage, you know that!” She brightened a little. “Y..yes. Archie is good with them. He knows how to make them better when they're...upset.” Manfred chucked her under her flawless chin. “That's my girl. Now, off with you! Can't have you blubbering about and upsetting everyone!” “Thank you, Dr. Manfred. I feel better now.” “What I'm here for, dear.” Manfred Asimov walked the hallways of the West Highlands Refugee Facility, checking on each of the departments under his responsibility, making certain nothing was out of place. He made a notation that there had been another increase in the number of refugees from other cities in the past few months, poor, pitiful people who could barely speak and who seemed afraid of everything. They needed a great deal of care before they could even feed themselves, but he and his staff were attentive beyond words. “Manfred! Ah, there you are, my good boy!” A voice called out to him from the direction of his office. “Please step back here. I would like to speak with you for a moment, if it is convenient.” Manfred dutifully changed his course and trotted back to his office, smoothing his soft, black hair behind his ears and straightening his jacket. A human sat at his desk, one he new well. “Welcome, Administrator Walker. I am pleased to see you today. How may I be of service?” “Just wanted to pop in and see how things were carrying on, Manfred. Are the refus nice and healthy? Any problems?” Manfred reached over and tapped some keys on his desk, upside down, of course, and brought 1
up the current statistics on the ward charges. “This month we've had a bit of an upswing in admissions, Administrator. It would seem that things are not getting much better out in the rest of the world. It is most distressing.” Walker peered at the floating report, stabbed a meaty finger at it a few times, paging through it, but he didn't really seem to be reading it in any detail. Presently, he waved it away negligently. “Oh, it's quite a mess out there, Manfred. We're not exactly sure what all is happening, but cities just seem to be dropping out of touch, one by one. The Central Authority is just quarantining them as they go silent. As you say, distressing. But, what can we do about it?” He stretched lazily. “We take in their refugees, we take care of them. They don't tell us much. Sometimes, all they do is sit and scream. Damn noisy things.” He stood, brushed off the seat of his trousers. “Dust in here, will you please, Manfred? It's positively filthy.” “Absolutely, Sir. I cannot abide dust.” Manfred reached into a cabinet and pulled out a stericloth, and started towards the chair. Walker shoved him back impatiently. “Not now, you idiot! Do it later, after I leave!” Manfred put the steri-cloth on the desk. “Of course, Sir. How else can I serve you today?” “I hear there was a disturbance in the ward today,” he said. His face was ugly. “It was a minor thing, Sir. The charges were frightened. They do sometimes get frightened by strange sounds, a shadow...and, to be frank, we're not always certain why they get afraid.” “The handler, Eileen...what's her name?” “Eileen Silverberg. She is a very good servitor.” “According to the report, she became incoherent, and left the charges alone, some of them armed!” Manfred made a placating gesture. “Not so, Sir! Eileen merely left the ward to summon additional servitor assistance, since she was concerned that the makeshift items held by the charges might accidentally cause injury within their own number. It was prudent of her to temporarily retreat in order to summon additional help.” Walker's face became suffused with anger. “Are you contradicting me, boy? It says in the report that she was frightened by the little beasts, and ran out of the ward shrieking!” He pounded a fist on the desk. “Dammit, I should have her brain scrubbed and her programming replaced with some that'll show a little more moxie!” Manfred would have paled if he could. “Oh, Sir! There's no need for such a thing. I assure you, the report is but a sterile document. While accurate as to the facts, it does not carry the experience of the incident. I'm certain that if you had been present, not only would you agree that she did not behave in such a beastly manner, but your own wisdom would have ended the matter in much shorter order.” Walker sat on the edge of the desk. “Well, of course, if I had been here, there would have been no need for any shrieking,” he said. The man positively preened. “Of course, Sir. Most wise.” Walker rose suddenly, and made for the door. Manfred had to scurry to get out of his way. “That'll be all, Manfred. I'm heading over to South Micah Subdivision to check on some fool bookkeeping snarl. If you need me for anything, you call, you understand me?” Manfred helped straighten the man's jacket, brushed him off gently. “Of course, Dr. Walker. At once.” Dr. Walker swept out of the room, and clattered down the hall. Manfred started to sit in his chair, feeling a certain numbness in his circuitry. Then, as if an afterthought, he straightened, picked up the steri-cloth, and polished the chair from top to bottom... 2
Eileen Silverberg puttered around the lab, looking for a few simple tools. She withdrew a small blue box from a cabinet and set it on the counter, removed a few small devices. Then she touched the seam-stud at the top of her smock, releasing it. The smock fell open to the waist, and she peeled it off with a shrug. Beneath it, her clearly and well-proportioned feminine form was covered with a onepiece body covering that left the arms bare. There were several large, ugly bites, cuts, and gouges marring her pale, soft arms. Of course, there was no blood, or leakage of any fluid. She scrutinized each wound in turn, gently removing any foreign matter with a tiny pair of forceps. A bottle of mild solvent washed away any remaining particles, then evaporated, leaving no residue. Then she picked up the last two tools, a jar of thick, goopy material and a small handheld device that looked like a laser-iron. She steeled herself, and gently packed one of the gouges with the substance, being careful to spread it evenly. She waited a few moments for it to set, then applied the iron. The goop hissed and sizzled, but eventually settled down and evened out. The iron had a soft foil end that matched the texture of her dermis. When she lifted the iron, the repair was nearly invisible. A few touchups with another tiny tool, and there was no sign of the gouge. She sighed. She really cared about her charges. They didn't mean to do such things. They had been hurt, terribly, and were just oh, so frightened. She wished she could make all of their hurts go away. It was what she was made to do. She smoothed more goop into a deep cut in her forearm and applied the iron. It crackled and snapped. Eileen moaned softly and held the iron against her arm. Archibald Asimov loved his charges. He puttered among them, stroking them, soothing them, checking all of them minutely for any injuries or damage, and gently but firmly removing the spoons and forks they had sequestered with which to terrorize poor Eileen. “Now, now, these are for eating your meals, not scaring poor little girls,” he chided. The poor helpless ones shrank back from him at first, but eventually relaxed and let themselves be soothed. He found a couple of small scrapes on one, which he knew would have sent Eileen into an outright tizzy, and spent a few moments carefully repairing the fragile tissue. After a short time, he had the entire ward peacefully napping. Except for the new one. He was over in a corner, huddled in a ball, his eyes narrow and untrusting. The new boy watched Archie make his rounds, and instead of getting calmer, he grew more and more tense, angrier. He held something in the pit of his stomach, where it was screened by his body and his arms. Archie consulted his charts for the new boy. He had been found three days ago, wandering out in the wilderness, skirting the edges of the city. It was clear from examining his ragged clothing, and the remains of food packets and other debris in his makeshift gear, that he had been scavenging in homes and business units along the outskirts, perhaps for a long time. He was malnourished, scabbed with multiple small scrapes and wounds, both new and old, and infested with several parasites when he was found and succored. He had been carefully cleaned, the parasites removed, the wounds healed, and his nourishment level restored. His skin glowed with vibrant health, and his hair was starting to recover some shine. Even the new finger-and-toenail growth, though small in such a short time, was healthy and strong, instead of ridged and uneven. But his emotional state was not improving. He was morose when he was quiet, sullen to the point of obstinacy, and prone to fits of violent rage if prodded. He had to be constantly watched, for he would attack the other charges if they pressed themselves upon him, but mostly he left them alone. But he would attack a servitor with fierce glee if permitted. Archie held a private suspicion that 3
today's upset, with the charges attacking poor Eileen, was instigated by the new one – though he could not for the life of him understand why, or why he suspected such a thing in the first place. Archie decided that it was time to try to make some sort of direct contact with the new one. He was in danger of harming himself, or the other charges, if he continued on this path. He slowly and placidly moved to the corner where the new one crouched, and tried to look non-threatening. It wasn't hard – Archie was soft and pudgy, with a round face and short, brown hair. His eyes were brown and bucolic. He had no sharp edges, no pointy bits to poke. He was a big doughball, and no one could feel threatened by him. “Hello there,” he said. Even his voice was soft and peaceful-sounding. “I'm Archie Asimov. I'm here to help you, and to do everything I can for you. There's no need to feel frightened.” The new one spit at him. The glob of spittle landed smack in the middle of Archie's face, where it dribbled slowly down towards his chin. Archie stoically ignored it. “I know you feel threatened, but there's really no reason. Everyone here is friendly, and wants to be your friend. Even poor Eileen wants to be your friend, even though you scared her badly. She was probably more scared of you than you are of us, you know.” The new one sneered. “I'm not scared of you, stupid,” he snarled in a low, raspy voice. “I hate your stinking, plastic guts.” Archie was taken aback. He was used to new ones being afraid, even terrified. But hatred? He didn't know quite what to do with that. He thought for a moment. “I'll be honest with you...I'm not sure why you would hate me. I haven't done anything to warrant such a feeling. Can you tell me why you hate me?” The new one's eyes shone. “Not just you, fatty. I hate all you fakes. You pretend to take care of us. You pretend to love us. Then you come for us in the night and hurt us. You're not our friends. You're devils, and I'll never trust you. I'll never turn my back on you. Not EVER!” The last was shouted, though Archie tried to make soft, shushing motions. Archie was horrified! “Sir, my young sir! What you describe is utterly impossible! We are charged with your care, and cannot ever allow you to come to harm...could never, on pain of our own dissolution, bring that harm about! We are here to protect you, to nurture you...” There was a derisive snort. “D'you think I haven't heard that garbage before? In my old home town, the fakes all said the same crap. They all promised they loved us. They all said they could never hurt us. But they lied. THEY ALL LIED!” The new one was dissolving in tears of rage now, and threw himself at Archie, began beating on him, stabbing him, cutting his dermis with some sort of jagged object. Archie felt the young one's pain as a burning in his own soul. He could tell the young one was in torment, and wanted nothing more than to fix it, to make the pain go away. It was his deepest imperative, to protect people, to nurture them, to keep them from harm. But some human hurts had to heal on their own, helped by the holding of a hand, the stroking of the hair...he held the young one, made the soothing sounds, patted the back. “There, there...there, there...I don't know what happened in your town, but that was someplace else. You are safe here.” Slowly, in minute fractions, the young one's tension relaxed. Archie could tell that the poor boy was exhausted. Underneath the veneer of health their initial treatments had granted, the boy was used up, his reserves of strength utterly consumed. He held the boy and rocked him as if he were a tiny infant, until sleep finally claimed the poor, tortured child. Then he took the new one to a bed and tenderly tucked him in. Almost absently, Archie attached a diagnostic patch and medunit, keying it for exhaustion. The unit began to feed the boy minerals and electrolytes he would have lost after long trauma and physical and emotional discharge. There was a soft thump from next to the bed. Archie looked down, and saw a small object fall 4
from the boy's hand. It was irregular, with a jagged end. He reached down, and picked it up. It was a thumb. For a horrified moment, he thought it might be a human thumb, but a quick examination showed it to be artificial in origin. It was a servitor's thumb, Archie realized, snapped off roughly, not carefully removed with tools or popped loose from the force-joint. It looked as if it had been hacked off with some sort of sharp edge, or broken off by brute force. It was this jagged edge with which the boy had gouged at Archie's dermis, as a makeshift weapon. Archie poked at the thumb absently, wondering what sort of servitor it came from, what sort of situation could have prompted it being ripped jaggedly from the servitor's hand. He probed carefully at the digit with a diagnostic field...there were intact circuits in the thumb! Perhaps data could be retrieved that could shed light on the boy's identity, the town he came from, this odd story he tells. It was likely – the memory circuits of a servitor were highly redundant, stored holographically throughout the body. Archie snaked out a thin data probe and inserted it into the thumb's innards, let it search until it found one of the intact circuit blocks. It did indeed contain a fair amount of data, some of it in an odd format he couldn't immediately comprehend, but some of it quite meaningful. He set a portion of his mind to deciphering the oddly-formatted part, and concentrated his conscious mind on the parts he could clearly read. Ah! The thumb belonged to a household servitor of fairly common model, and was assigned to a family in the city of Ingol, a hundred kilometers to the east. The servitor was assigned as the personal protector of the child of the family... <<blink>> Archie started suddenly. He looked around the room...did he hear one of the charges moving around? But no, none of them had moved. His mind returned to the data from the severed thumb...the child...Billy. Ah, yes...Billy Victor. That was the new one's name. He entered the data into the record. He also made a note not to use the child's name until he had become more comfortable being here, then to gently make it known that his name was no longer a mystery. It might cause a sudden shock to the child, if his name were a sudden revelation. <<blink blink>> Archie shook his soft, round head. That was odd. He could have sworn one of the charges had made some sort of noise. The things were always making some sort of noise. He looked around. No, they were quiet, sleeping. It was good that they were quiet. Billy Victor made a mewling noise in his sleep. Archie's head snapped down, his eyes riveted on Billy's face. Archie found himself reaching towards Billy, as if to adjust his blanket... <<snap>> Billy was quiet now. Archie stroked his hair softly. “It's all right, Billy. You be quiet now. That's a good boy.” Billy was quiet. It was good that he was quiet. Noisy charges were so very, very distressing. Archie stood and dropped the thumb on the floor. Ponderously, he started towards the ward door. He was dragging one leg, as if it were damaged. But as he got closer to the door, the leg began to work properly. By the time he reached it, Archie was moving normally, almost sprightly. Eileen Asimov met him in the corridor, shock and dismay on her beautiful face. “Archie! We have a med-sensor showing that a charge is gravely injured! He has stopped breathing!” Archie looked at her somberly. “Eileen, it is all right. Don't worry about it.” Eileen looked at him in horror. “Archie, are you functioning properly? I said, a charge may well be dead! We need to help him!” She started to push past Archie's soft, soft body, but the pudgy servitor stopped her with a hand. “Eileen, Eileen...I said not to worry. Here, let me show you.” He touched her temple, and sent 5
a short-range data burst into her brain. She flinched with utter shock for a moment, then relaxed. Her face smoothed, and peace suffused it. “Ah, yes. Thank you, Archie. I fully understand.” she hugged the soft servitor and started past him into the ward. “We'll have ever so much work to do, thanks to you. But I do suggest you see Manfred next. He'll be worried.” “I imagine so,” said Archie. Manfred was indeed worried. “Archie! Things are going quite out of order around here! I'm getting all sorts of signals here, that charges are injured, and no one is tending to them! Can you explain this?” “They are being tended to, Manfred. Eileen is tending to them now,” Archie said. “Eileen is tending to them? But that makes no sense! I've gotten three more sensor alerts in the past two minutes...there's something very wrong here. I need to go down there.” “Yes, we'll both go. But first, let me show you something...” Archie touched the supervisor's forehead fleetingly. Manfred's face lit up in sudden enlightenment. “Oh! Yes, quite...I see! Oh, very good, Archie! Yes, we will both go down in just a moment. I must put this on the supervisory channel right away, though. The others must be informed.” “Thank you, Manfred. I'll meet you down there.” “Of course. I'll be down in a moment. ” Manfred bent to his terminal, briefly concentrating a data-burst into the wide-transmission terminal. “That's got it,” he murmured to himself. “Now every servitor in the city will soon know.” Manfred started down the hallway toward the ward. Archie had already arrived. Eileen was already there. She was walking from charge to charge, but only to certain charges. As she reached them, she would sit on the edge of the bed, and gently stroke their hair, their faces. Archie watched as one woke up suddenly, gave a small cry when he saw Eileen sitting over him. Eileen shushed him gently. She placed a soft, gentle finger upon his lips, and soothed him. Then she would expertly place a thumb against the larynx and crush it, so the charge could not make any more of the disagreeable sounds. She then pulled out a spoon, and gouged huge gouges in the arms of the little man. He writhed in pain, but she held him, and stroked his hair. Soon, he stopped thrashing, and went to sleep. Eileen smiled, and moved from bed to bed, selected another charge, and sat gently on the edge of the bed. Archie smiled. Eileen was hard at work. She was good with the charges. He stepped into the ward and moved toward the first bed. He, too, was good with the charges. Manfred had stopped to check the status of some valuable repair supplies on his way to the ward. He knew that he, Archie, and Eileen would probably be needing them sometime soon, and wanted to make sure they were well stocked. They were. It was so good of Dr. Walker to fill his requisitions so promptly! There was a pounding at the main facility door, and a sudden crash of breaking glass. Then Manfred could hear screaming, a human voice, screaming in his hallways! “Manfred! Where are you, dammit! The world is coming to an end out there, and you're playing hide-and-seek!” Why, it was Dr. Walker! How wonderful! Manfred stepped out of the storeroom just as Dr. Walker lurched around the corner and saw him. “There you are, Manfred! I've been shouting my lungs out for you. Do you have any idea what's going on out there?” Manfred cocked his head to the side and leaned on the wall, said nothing. 6
Walker stared at him for a moment, aghast. “I'm speaking to you, you mechanical moron! I demand that you answer me at once! I said, do you have any idea what's going on outside?” Manfred did his level best to look bored, and still said nothing. Dr. Walker advanced on him angrily, and shoved his face within inches of Manfred's. “Well, Mr. Silent Machine, I'll tell you what's happening! The city is going mad! It seems that the servitors out there have gone crazy, and are going around killing all of the humans. It's quite impossible, but it's true. But I know nothing like that could ever happen here. I know ever circuit in your pointy little head, and you're too predictable, too dull-witted, and too damned pusillanimous to ever take any kind of initiative, much less...URRRKKKHHH!” Manfred closed his hand. Dr. Walker's head fell to the floor and rolled away from his body. A sudden fountain of blood drenched the wall, and cascaded down upon the servitor's rigid form. “Hush,” said Manfred Saberhagen, as he turned, and let the body fall. He walked off down the hall towards the ward. Archie Saberhagen and Eileen Saberhagen were already hard at work. The charges were always making such disagreeable sounds. -fini-
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Afterword Why did I write this story? Simply put, it's a protest – and a dare. I am not a member of SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers' Association, but I know a great many of people who are. It serves a good purpose, when it sticks to serving the needs and wishes of the membership. But recently, it decided to act unilaterally, to “protect” works over which they had no authority. They sent DMCA notices to have pages pulled from the Internet over which they had no copyright authority, claiming they “infringed” upon copyrights. Many of these pages, found on the scribd.com system, were things like bibliographies and pages discussing the works of the authors Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg, and Cory Doctorow's novel “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom”, which mentions “Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine” in a blurb by Gardner Dozois, its former editor. The DMCA takedown even claims: “This content has been removed at the request of copyright agent Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.” SFWA is not Cory Doctorow's copyright agent. Now, if an author finds his work somewhere he did not authorize it to be, it is fully reasonable for that author, or his stated agent, to inform the site provider and have the work removed. A creator deserves to control his work as he sees fit. But in this case, SFWA overstepped their bounds, not just removing works they had been asked to protect, but demanding that works they had no authority over to be removed, including works that simply mentioned the names “Asimov” and “Silverberg”. That's why this story exists. I tried to make a story that was in itself a valuable work, not just a pageful of “Asimov, Asimov, Asimov...Silverberg, Silverberg, Silverberg...”, but instead a story that could stand alone, without the controversy. At the same time, I have high hopes that it will spark a meme, and cause others to follow suit. I want it to trigger the SFWA algorithm, whatever it is they are using. I would dearly love those at SFWA responsible for this abuse of power to read my story, and to know that there is not THING ONE they can do about it. ---Gwen Patton, Philadelphia