robot.gif (9937 bytes) DO ROBOT DOGS GO ON BLUEPRINT PAPER?

*********** by Alex Tamsula

 

    Foster will drown because he can’t keep his big mouth shut.

    How awful, thought Eldritch. Yeah, right.

    Palmer Eldritch stood at the foot of a set of concrete stairs. Overhead, a lighted engine pulled coal-cars over river by bridge, causing Eldritch to look up briefly. That should cover the noise, he thought. He returned his gaze to the task at hand, nodding at Boris.

    In view of the stairs leading down to the river, Boris, in the shallows, held Foster’s head under the water. Behind Boris, orange-yellow light from a blast furnace mirrored on the choppy water.

    Now, Foster, thought Eldritch. If you can’t be found in the next twenty-four hours, before anybody gets suspicious, it will be assumed you needed more time to hire the thieves.

    But, Foster, you’re dead. And Fremont is going to get his.

 

    Outside a chain link fabric, fingers snapped a twig.

    The robot raised it’s head. Instead of eyes, it had image converters, with the signal transmitted back to the computer for bit-map conversion; instead of ears, microphones and motion detectors.

    The signals, Eldritch surmized, should contain nothing unusual, only grass moving in the breeze.

    The robot, skin of green-black non reflective metal, gait identical to a living dog’s, resumed patrolling the grounds of the fenced in, electrical warehouse.

    Rings of metal formed the robot dog’s loins, inserting into the larger circles of the flanks, into the larger circles of the ribs. The front and back legs made a similar arrangement, with pastern into the forearms into the upper-arms; hocks into second thighs into stifles.

    Lovely piece of work, thought Eldritch.

    The crest of the neck and the withers below were micro-machined shingles on tiny rivets. The tail, pieced together from the rectangular metal cross sections, never wagged.

    The robot stopped. Graphitized paper vibrating to the sound of distant rolling stock. Click-ity clack.

    This dog didn’t chase rabbits. ‘Rabbit’, in the symbol library, didn’t run. Birds, sound or image, started nothing. Wildlife shapes and noise had been written into the data-base for no response.

    The image of a man would trigger the deluxe treatment of alert, alarm, and/or attack modes.

    A simple alert would occur from anything the computer couldn’t positively identify.

    Like a flash of light.

    The dog ran toward the fence, silent and fast, stopping at the place where, on the other side, the flash occurred.

    The robot dog sat, eyes changing the radiance, finding nothing. Without further input, time on the alert program ran out. The dog resumed patrolling.

    "It isn’t going to easy getting in there," said Eldritch, sitting farther away. "That dog is a one of a kind killer."

 

    The next morning a chilly wind blew through the tall grass covering a hill side. Eldritch grabbed the open flaps of his coat together.

    The Eldritch held a pair of binoculars to his eyes, and in the field of the merged circles, he could see a stainless steel door on the side of the brick warehouse building, farther below.

    The door opened. Two men stepped out on to the grass, one, a heavy set man sporting a gray beard, and holding a photograph; the other thin, with black hair and a dark complexion.

    Eldritch pointed his small, parabolic directional microphone in their direction. A wire ran from the device to an ear-piece.

    "Last night," said the larger man, "the computer tried to come up with a match, a light ouside the fence. You can see it in this photo."

    The other man walked over and looked at the picture. "I’m not sure what I’m looking at here."

    "Did you happen to see, on the calendar, what phase the moon was in?"

    "Three-quarter."

    "Okay. And it was cloudy last night." The man stroked his beard. "The clouds parted suddenly. Moon-light glimmered off metal, or glass."

    "I could be the outline of a face...with moon-light reflected off his glasses, or something." The thinner man shrugged. "But where are the features?"

    "The dog could see glasses, but not a face? And why no alarm? Metal or glass or both, and nobody to see."

    "Not a prowler?"

    "Robot prowler," smiled the bearded one.

    Eldritch had to laugh. From the ground next to him he picked up the robot face plate he’d worn the night before, and said to it, "Ha."

    "Our robot hasn’t been programmed to recognize other robots," said the larger man, pulling on the soul-chip beneath his lower lip.

    "Whoops," said the black haired man.

    "Over this way," waving the photograph to an area of the fence where the robot dog had paused.

    They walked over.

    The second man pointed to a faint fold in the tall grass. "Here," he said. "Sitting in the dark. Moving when it lost shadow." He looked at his companion. "Somebody’s been casing Mr. Fremont’s warehouse, Phil."

    Phil nodded in agreement.

    The second man knelt and peered through the fence. "I see something." He removed a pen from his pocket and used the pen to reach. He pulled the item toward himself. "Got it." He looked puzzled.

    "What do you have?"

    He handed Phil the slip of pager he’d found in the grass.

    "‘Hippasus.’" said Phil. "It says ‘Hippasus.’ Do you know who he was?"

    "One of the Pythagorians. They killed him because he revealed secrets of their society."

    "The Pythagorians believed numbers expressed the divine structure of the world...that is until they came across ir-rational numbers, such as the square roots of two and three."

    "Bad boogie-woogie," said the thin man.

    "Legend has it they drowned him."

    "Why would a robot leave something like that behind?"

    "I don’t know," said Phil, seriously puzzled, looking askance at his assistant.

    Great, thought Eldritch. That Cinnadella is such an idiot. Phil wasn’t supposed to see that note. It was a coded message between Foster and Fremont that I planted, telling Fremont things were good to go in the next twenty-four hours.

    Joe Cinnadella was supposed to deliver it to Fremont. But now, Phil knows something is up; and if he heard the news report this morning, about an unidentified body being pulled out of the river...

    "It doesn’t matter," said Eldritch. "I make my move tonight, no matter what."

 

    At each corner of the tarred roof, over a two story, window-less, red brick warehouse, on an acre of land owned by Ferris Fremont, thousand watt flood lights and video cameras trained on the grounds.

    At a quick trot, the robot dog walked over the dewy grass around the building in about two minutes; thirty patrols in an hour; three hundred and sixty patrols in a twelve hour shift. It was Four AM.

    At the same spot as the night before, Eldritch snapped a twig outside the chain link fabric.

    The dog raised its head, then ran toward the fence, stopping at a place where, on the other side the robot saw...itself.

    The dog sat, eyes changing radiance. It had not been programmed to recognize its own image in a mirror.

    The timer in the alert program started running.

    On the other side of the mirror, large enough to hide a man, Eldritch dropped the penlight he’d shown through the hole in the glass, into a gym-bag. Then, he pushed back a sleeve with a finger, exposing the face of a chronograph wrist watch. Ten flags, one appearing every six second, traveled a semicircle above the LED.

    Eldritch waited, listening to the sizzing noises of the robot’s servos and hydraulics, starting and stopping.

    The timer in the alert program would run for two minutes. The computer in the warehouse had been programmed to recognize a number of robot shapes. But not a dog’s. The dog did not see enough to trigger the alarm program. And no movement. The alert program’s timer kept ticking.

    Eventually the program’s timer ran out. The dog stood, to resume patrolling, and the image converters detected motion in the mirror. The dog clicked back to its original position. As the alert program reset and ticked, the dog watched itself, again until the timer ran out. The dog stood, and saw movement. The program reset.

    The robot dog had been snared into a feedback loop. Eldritch timed the loop to be sure of its length. Two minutes.

    When the alert program reset, Eldritch started pushing a stiff strand of wire through a tiny hole in the glass. He had to be careful. He hoped the dog had centered itself where the light had been. Eldritch couldn’t tell from behind the mirror.

    The computer in the warehouse would be receiving new data from the dog: ‘a green dot.’ The computer would search the data-base for a matching shape, and should find nothing. Then a green dot getting bigger. Another search. More nothing.

    Eldrich had put a dab of homemade conductive epoxy on the end of the wire. The green glob made the wire bounce slightly as it entered the blind spot between the dog’s image converters. Almost there...

    Ah-Yes. Touch down. The wire now stuck to the metal between the dog’s eyes.

    Traveling back from the dog, through the mirror, the wire bent and coiled to its end connector plug on an M57, an electrical firing device used to detonate claymore mines.

    Eldritch snapped the devices’s bail into the fire position, and actuated the handle by squeezing, pushing the button beneath until it clicked, discharging the capacitor in the switch.

    A jolt of current shot to the robot dog’s head.

    Induction caused shorts in the circuitry. The dog jerked back and forth, then  sat still. Two thin wisps of smoke rose from the motion detectors.

    "Good doggie," said Eldritch wiping perspiration from his forehead with the back of his hand. He unhooked the firing device and placed it into the gym-bag. "I’m glad you aren’t programmed with a sense of smell."

    "He doesn’t need it," said Phil, stepping from behind a stand of tall grass. Phil held a pistol on Eldritch.

    Eldritch cleared his throat. "Very good, Mr. Dick," he said. "I didn’t expect to see you here. I must admit, you are very good."

    "Thank you. And to whom do I owe this pleasure?"

    "Why, I’m the man you secretly wished to see crash your system." Eldritch smiled, revealing metal teeth. "There’s a lot to be learned from a system’s failure, don’t you agree? Now you can really make your robot better."

    "Punk," said Phil, reaching for the cellular-phone hanging from his belt.

    "Wait," said Eldritch. "Don’t call the police yet."

    "Why not?"

    "Do you know what a DVC-4 is?"

    Phil’s eyes’ narrowed as he looked at the man.

    "It’s a device driver," said Eldritch. "You developed it. It permits the computer to communicate with the transmitter, which sends instruction to the robot, right?"

    "That’s proprietary. How do you know that?"

    "Your assistant. Actually, he told someone and that someone told me. You’ve had the hairy eye-ball on Joe for some time now. Here is your proof."

    "You still haven’t told me enough to make me believe you’re anything more than a clever thief."

    "Oh, there’s more. Joe is after your job for starters. He receives orders directly from Fremont, and he was a few hours away from carrying out his latest set of instructions. Let’s go into the warehouse. There’s something I want to show you."

    "This is a lot of crap. If he’s Fremont’s boy, why would he be party to an inside job?"

    "Well, Fremont wanted to see if the system could be compromised. He just didn’t know it would be done by me. He wanted to see if your robot was worth murdering for."

    "What?!"

    "Look, don’t take my word for it. Let’s go into the warehouse, and if you still don’t buy any of this, you can call the police from in there."

    No reaction from Phil.

    "Come on," said Eldritch. "You’re not going to shoot me, are you?"

    Phil looked at the wisps of smoke floating out of the robot’s ears, then at Eldritch.

    "I loved that dog," said a pissed-off Phil.

 

    Phil sat at his terminal with the pistol in his lap. Eldritch, arms folded across his chest, stood to one side.

    "Call up the file containing the timer," said Eldritch.

    Phil sighed, then touched a header on the screen, displaying a list of files. He scrolled till finding the one he wanted, touched it, then sat back, folding arms across his chest, too.

    "So what happens when you arrive here in the morning?" asked Eldritch.

    "I don’t follow you."

    "I mean, does your robot attack you as you enter the gate?"

    "No, of course not."

    "And that’s because...page to the activate variable...the program instructs the robot to stand down at Eight AM." ...and at the center of the screen Eldritch pointed to a particular line of code.

    "That should say eight hundred hours," said Eldritch.

    Instead, in parenthesis, 00:00:00.

    Phil just shook his head.

    "Fremont’s plan," continued Eldritch, "had been to hire somebody to break into his own warehouse and steal your dog, and data-base, and devices. Everything. A huge insurance scam, among other things...

    "...and if I’d gotten past your defenses and neutralized your robot, you’d live. If I failed, your dog would have had you for breakfast at Eight."

    Phil stopped shaking his head. Now, he was just white.

    Eldritch walked behind Phil’s chair, and toward a pile of boxes stacked against the wall. "Believe me," he said. "I didn’t save you hide out of the goodness of my heart. There isn’t any there. I once looked."

    "Then why?" said Phil, perplexed.

    Eldritch began unstacking the boxes. Behind the last box, a crack in the wall, created by the building shifting on its foundation, a step-wise crack where the concrete blocks had moved apart, three vertical and four horizontal separations, filled with DAP.

    "Your getting killed didn’t get me inside," said Eldritch removing a pocket knife from his coveralls, opening it, and beginning to dig away the sealer. "Even warning you, assuming you’d believe me, wouldn’t get me inside either. That would have tipped Fremont, and I wouldn’t get what I’m after. No, I had to zap your dog just like Thomas Edison."

    "So Fremont was to have me killed," said Phil, "keep my invention, and what, have Joe do reverse engineering on it?"

    "It wouldn’t be the first time Fremont killed for gain. On the other hand, you did have a visit from the FBI a few weeks back," scrape scrape, "didn’t you? They asked you about the smuggling of illegal technologies out of the country."

    Phil just stared.

    "One thing Fremont and I share," said Eldritch, "are friends in high places as well as low. Somebody surely leaked to him. Maybe," curlicues of sealer dropping to the floor, "he thinks you know more than you do. Maybe he wanted you invention. Maybe he’s mad because you slept with his wife."

    "Uh-oh," said Phil, making a face.

    When all the sealer had been cleared away, Eldritch blew into the cracks, then brushed away residue with his hand. He removed a long pair of tweezers and inserted them into the uppermost crack. Gripping with the tweezers he pulled out a long, rectangular tray covered with clear plastic. Phil could see something green in the little trays.

    "Could I have a look at that?" asked Phil.

    "Nope," said Eldritch, placing the tray into the gym-bag. He proceeded to remove trays from each of the remaining cracks. "These are going back to their rightful owner."

    Eldritch, holding the gym-bag, walked towards the door. "Call the police, or whatever you want."

    Eldritch exited the warehouse, then the grounds through the open gate. He climbed inside a waiting van, then he and Boris drove off.

 

    "Yes," said Eldritch into the cell-phone. "Am I speaking to the detective in charge? Yes?...The man pulled out of the river last night, I know his name...no, I don’t know him to look at him, I just know who he works for...right...a Mr. Ferris F. Fremont...Yes. I’m sure Mr. Fremont would feel it was his duty to identify the body. And I also think you want to talk to an engineer who works for Fremont. The man’s name is Philip K. Dick...oh, you can’t miss him. He’s the guy with the dog."


Alex Tamsula
Swissvale Pa

 


Return to philipKdick.com