(An Edward Morrison chapter)
The first story: Saturday, 4am
If I cannot speak, then I am nothing more than a machine, Droog thought. He could speak of course, but only in Russian, a language spoken by no one he had ever known. Androids are already half machines and people think of us as less valuable than themselves. He understood the idea of value, but had no way of determining it himself. I, who cannot speak, might as well be an E-device or a door-opening motor.
Droog was standing by the door of a crumbling police station. His new owner, Edward Morrison was sleeping just inside. He had ordered Droog to keep watch and so Droog stood looking into the darkness, scanning for life and movement every few seconds. As he did every day, Droog thought back and replayed his entire life, reliving memories as clear now as they had been when the events occurred.
Droog was activated on March 9, 2083. His first thought was 132 since that was the number of rivets he could see on the ceiling above him as his eyes circuits turned on. Technicians directed him to a line of other ‘Munculus Bots where he stood, activated but unneeded for several days. He did not speak, but he took in his surroundings and thought about them, remembering everything.
Three days later, two men walked by. “The London shipment is ready, except because of the lang-pack glitch, we’re one short,” one of them said.
“Here, just take one of the others. By the time they figure it out, it’ll be too late. What are these, Russian? That’ll do.” Droog kept this conversation perfectly preserved in his brain for years until he learned English enough to understand what had been said. Then he knew that he was Russian.
The man directed Droog to a crate where he stood with 99 other ‘Munculus Bots in foam stabilizers. They had all been deactivated for the voyage, but the man had forgotten to deactivate Droog and so he stood for weeks in the dark, listening and thinking. He kept every thought and sensation in his memory and later, when he learned more about the world, he knew that they had been loaded onto a truck, and then onto a ship. The ship had sailed for 18 days and then they had been unloaded again and put onto another truck, and then finally, brought to a warehouse.
The men in England were not happy to find that Droog did not know English. He stood motionless, listening and recording their incomprehensible words while they shouted at him and then shouted into the phone. He stood in the back corner of the warehouse, while other bots came and went by the thousands, staying no more than a few days each. He talked to them all, since all bots can communicate without having to use human language. They were friendly, but they were all babies and knew nothing more about the world than he did.
Then came the day that crushed the world.
In the warehouse, Droog heard a roar so loud that it overloaded his circuits. When he restored his programming, most of the warehouse was gone, crushed into oblivion by another building that had collapsed on it. Through a hole in the wall, he saw daylight for the first time in his life. The light was chalky with dust and was tinged blood-red. He went outside—his first action done on his own inclination—and saw the world for the first time.
Destruction and chaos were everywhere. Fires raged and he heard screams coming from all around. Droog had never heard the sound before and went to investigate.
With the help of his scans, he soon came across a boy curled up by the side of a car. He was whimpering and seemed to be having trouble breathing. Droog could not tell what was wrong with him.
Droog touched the boy’s arm. “Ya tvoi Droog,” he said. I am your friend.
“Droog?” the boy said, looking up at him uncertainly.
“Droog,” Droog said. “I will go get help for you and come back. Do not worry.” The boy nodded blankly at the Russian words and Droog left to find help.
There was none. The only people he saw were either injured or fleeing and none would stop for him. A building collapsed behind him and the road back to the boy was blocked. It took him almost a whole day to pick his way through the rubble to get back to where the boy had been, but when he got there, the boy was gone.
Days and nights came and the fires eventually went out, leaving a deadly calm. People left but did not return and Droog was left alone. For months, he searched for the boy by the car, but never found him. Finally, having nowhere else to go, he went back to languish in the warehouse where he had been stored. There were thirty other bots that had survived. They were deactivated, though, and never replied when he spoke to them.
Years passed, then more years.
Droog waited and thought and walked around outside, searching for the boy. He learned about weather and matched experiences with the words stored in his programming. Then one day, a man came to the warehouse and got very excited when he saw Droog and the other bots. His name was Blake, Droog learned later, and he took Droog with him to a place with other humans and for the first time in his existence, Droog became useful.
Droog helped to find things. He was a scanner, although he could not report what he had found. There were other bots there, and sometimes they tried to translate for him. In this way, Blake rigged up lights on Droog’s shoulders to show the results of his scans. He lived in the community for a long time and during all that time, he kept searching for the Boy-by-Car, as he called him now, that first injured boy he had seen. He never found him, but he scanned every male of the approximately right age. He knew the boy’s bio-rhythmic signature and would know him, if he ever found him again.
Then Blake traded him to a man named Joseph Watson. By this time, Droog could understand English, but still could not speak it. He tried to force himself to speak but the knowledge of what he heard was stored in Russian and came out that way. He did not have a speaker that could have played the recorded bits of conversations he had heard over the years. And so, he heard and understood and languished in silence.
Joseph Watson lived alone and rarely saw other people. He mostly ignored Droog, treating him as just another machine. Droog would not have thought this was strange, but he saw how the other bots had been treated, those who could speak English. They had been companions, not tools. He tried every day to make English sounds, but the only things that come out were nonsense sounds or Russian.
Then came the night when Edward “the Squid” Morrison barged in at 4am and Joseph gave him Droog to save a disc of music. Droog went as he was ordered, exiting the cellar to wander with Edward out in the cold, hard world. Droog did not have emotions or preferences, but he understand, on some level, the idea of liking things. To the point that Droog could like anything, he liked traveling with Edward. Edward had a mission, although Droog did not know what it was. Droog had a mission too. He still searched for the Boy-by-Car. He had said he would come back with help and he still intended to.