Dr R Stone walked briskly in the rain. Despite the cold, his face was sweating heavily. He kept casting glances behind him, his eyes darting across the street, as if he expected someone, or something, to pop out of the shadows. He quickened his strides, as his destination came into view. He walked up to his office door and reached into his pockets. Shaking hands brought a key out. People everywhere used voice and fingerprint scanners. Keys and keypads were things of the past. But he liked to hold on to traditional methods, even though he was an AI specialist. He kept his hand steady long enough for it to slide the key into the keyhole. The click it made as it opened seemed to calm him a bit. He stepped in and locked the door behind him. Reaching into another pocket, he pulled out a handkerchief and mopped the sweat off his forehead. He switched the lights on and looked around the room. Nothing seemed out of place. The blinds were still shut, his cup of decaffeinated coffee still on the table where he had left it. Sensors located on the ceiling detected his presence and a holographic television switched itself on. “More violence as the debate for protection of robots heats up,” a reporter’s voice was saying, 3D images of protestors appearing on the horizontal surface. “This after a series of attacks aimed at robocops shocked the nation.” With a wave of his hand, Ross switched off the television. Of course, the robocops couldn’t defend themselves. That would violate the First Law. He walked to what looked like an operation table. Laid on it was a humanoid robot, very similar to other robocops patrolling the streets. But this was no ordinary robot. This was a model A3180, the first of its kind. Ross was the very first to design a robot that disobeyed the First Law, at least to a certain extent. Ross had tweaked the law from “thou shall not harm a human being” to “thou shall only harm a human being only when instructed” And his was the only voice which could instruct this particular robot. He tapped a few keys on the virtual keyboard beside the table and the machine hummed to life. He smiled, as satisfaction briefly wiped all worries of Armageddon from his mind. As the system went through updates, his thoughts strayed to his wife. “Layla….” he reached out, as if he could will his beloved back to life. “Dr Stone, you don’t have to do this.” He snapped back into focus and whirled around. Standing by the door was a tall man, wearing a trench coat and an old-fashioned Panama hat. The man’s eyes were concealed behind wire-rimmed tinted glasses. “How did you….” Ross started. Then he pulled his cellphone out of his pocket and wielded it in front of him like a knife. “Stay away from me!” he cried. The man pulled out a pistol, a Dan Wesson DWX, a silencer attached to its nose. “Dr Ross, I don’t want to do this,” the man said, aiming the 4.95-inch barrel at Ross’s heart.
“Kill me! If that’s what you want, then do it!”
The man faltered, apparently at struggle with his own hand. Then he slowly breathed out, lowering the gun.
“Ross, please,” the man had reverted to his first name.
“No!” Ross shouted, tears streaming down his face. “You don’t understand…”
“Ross, let me help you…”
“It shouldn’t have been her; it should’ve been me!” Ross continued, his shoulders shaking with grief.
“I know, but you have to…” The man was interrupted by a set of footsteps approaching the door. Ross shook his head, “It’s too late. They are here.” The door burst open. A legion of robocops stormed in, followed by a few human bodyguards. In their midst was the most important and perhaps the most dangerous man in the modern world, known only as the General. Once inside the room, the robots parted to give way. “Dr Stone, “he growled. There were rumours that he’d never smiled in his entire life. Some even said he had been born without a pituitary gland and thus lacked endorphins. The General turned to the other man in the room. “And you are?”
“I was just leaving,” the man muttered, before stepping through the door and disappearing into the night. The General turned back to Ross. “I believe you owe me a demonstration?”
Ross composed himself and turned to face his employer. “The A3180 is almost ready. I currently have it programmed to my voice.” He turned to the still robot. “Rise!” he commanded. The machine sat up and removed itself from the tilted table, a faint red glow emanating from its eyes as it scanned the room. “The power-on process is 10 times faster,” Ross explained. “With built-in environmental sensors to detect any anomalies in the air and immediately compensate.”
The General grunted, “A demonstration Ross! I need a proper demonstration!”
“R…Right this way sir,” Ross stuttered, taking them to a door at the other end of the room. This could only end in one way.
Ben swore as he walked away. How could he have gotten himself into this? Of course, he couldn’t murder his own brother! His mother would turn in her grave. The rain did nothing to improve his mood. A lightning bolt flashed in the distance, illuminating his stony features for a brief second. He worked for a small organization whose aim was to eliminate all robots that posed a threat to humankind. And the A3180 was certainly a threat. A robot that could kill? What was Ross thinking? The communicator in his pocket buzzed and he took it out, slipping it into his ear. He extended the mouthpiece. “Stone,” a voice said. “Has the situation been contained?” Ben stopped and glanced back. A few moments of silence passed before he finally replied, “Yes sir. I will report back to base in a few.” He terminated the call and turned back, hoping he wasn’t too late. He had to get to his brother. Perhaps there was still a chance to save him, before the organization sent someone else. He quickened his pace, settling into a run. The door was still open. He barged into the room, almost surprised to find it empty. Then his eyes spotted the door on the opposite side. He started to run to the door, when suddenly, a series of shots broke the eerie silence of the night.
A few moments earlier, Ross was leading the General and his men to the demo room. He entered, holding the door open for them. Once everyone was in, he walked to a small podium. The door closed, automatically locking itself. “Now,” he said, trying to control the shaking in his voice. “Allow me to demonstrate.”
He turned back to his robot, “Terminate robot B360, no.7!” he ordered. The A3180 raised its arm. Attached to it was a semi-automatic rifle. A single shot was fired, then one of the robots flanking the general fell face first, with smoke trailing from its electronics. “Of course, any one of your tinmen could do that,” Ross smirked, satisfied with the annoyance that flashed briefly on the General’s face. “But can they do this?”
“Terminate Major Williams!” The man in question didn’t stand a chance. Three bullets were fired in rapid succession. Two to the chest, one to the head. The man crumpled to the floor unceremoniously. The General nodded approvingly, barely casting a glance at his fallen man, “When shall production begin?”
“Never,” Ross muttered, focusing his teary eyes on the floor.
“I said Never! Terminate them all!” The men and the robocops formed a ring of protection around the General, having practised the procedure a dozen times. The robocops fired at the A3180. Their bullets barely dented its brass breastplate. It scanned the robots, detecting the small self-destruct button located in the middle of their chests. With pinpoint accuracy, the A3180 proceeded to take each of them out, each one dropping to the floor instantly. As the battle ensued, the men diving for cover, a bullet caught Ross on the shoulder, flinging him to the wall. He slumped down, crying hysterically. His mind flashed back to the past…a past he had tried to forget but which had eventually driven him to a point of madness:
A drunken Ross entered the room. He was younger and would have been good-looking, if it hadn’t been for the dishevelled hair and the blood streaming from his nose. He’d doubtlessly been in another bar fight. A robocop stood by the door. His wife stood at the other end of the room, packed bags gathered at her feet. “You’re leaving?” he slurred.
“Ross, I can’t take this anymore,” she sobbed. “I will go to my mother’s for a few days to clear my head.” His expression changed from confusion to anger. “You can’t do this to me! Do you have any idea how much I have invested into this relationship?”
“Ross, look at yourself! You’re drunk and you’re bleeding! For the fifth time this week! I am sorry…but I just can’t do this.” She stooped to pick up her bags. Then suddenly, Ross was at her side, “Oh no you don’t.” He grabbed her and tossed her across the room. She landed on the carpet like a ragged doll. He slowly walked to her. He squatted down, placed his hands on her neck and started to squeeze. Her struggles proved futile against his arms. The robocop moved towards them, struggling to sort out the logic in its metallic brain. It knew the First Law very well: a robot shall not harm a human being or by inaction allow a human being to come to harm. But in this case, protecting one human meant harming another, so it sent an alert to the authorities and shuffled in place instead. Ross watched as the life left his wife’s eyes. This moment would haunt him for years to come. He stepped up and walked away, breathing heavily. The robot finally made its way to his wife's side, assessing her situation. The nearest hospital was immediately alerted. But it was already too late. “Human injured,” the robot buzzed, over and over again, before, finally: “Human dead.”
Ross snapped back to the present. The room was a mass of bodies, both metal and flesh. Only the General was left standing, slowly approaching the A3180 from behind. Fool, Ross thought. That robot could sense you even if you were 200 hundred meters away. As if on cue, the robot swirled around and fired a shot straight through the General’s brain. Ross looked at the bleeding wound on his shoulder. It wasn’t fatal. He would live. But he didn’t deserve to! He issued his final order, “Terminate Dr Ross Stone!” The robot turned to him and without hesitation, fired a bullet into his heart. At the other end of the room, the door burst open, Ben standing in the doorway. His mouth opened but no sound reached Ross’s ears. He smiled briefly. His brother had come back for him. Then he allowed the darkness to swallow him.