SCIENCE FICTION AUTHOR
Read Chapters 1-3 of Rogue, the first novel in the Rogue Robot space opera adventure series.
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Rouge Robot (Book 1)
By Meg Foster
Copyright by Meg Foster 2021. All rights reserved.
“Ouch,” I said, as I flinched my body backward.
Dr. Ava Kell withdrew the screwdriver she had poked into my shoulder and then caressed the spot she had just jabbed. “There, there.”
I didn’t know how, but her touch soothed the pain.
Ava’s husband, Dr. Damiel Kell, reviewed the computer screens that were monitoring the speed and frequency of my proalgia brain. That was my CPU, but it had been enhanced by Damiel. That was where it all happened, combining my robot and human synapses as Damiel called them. All I knew was I wished they wouldn’t poke me anymore.
“We did it, Ava, we did it.” He filtered his fingers through his black, wiry hair, making it stand straight up. I had an urge to pat down his hair but withdrew and canceled that action, not wanting to destroy the moment they were having on my account. They both seemed so excited.
Ava turned and hugged her husband. Damiel kissed her forehead and held her.
I would be smiling if I could, but they didn’t give me that ability in my mouth mechanics. You see, they were my creators. Ava Kell’s profile in our company’s database identified her education and job title as Chief of Robotic Behavioral Health at Ameribot Industries which she said means she’s a robot-shrink. When I reviewed my human dictionary database, I determined that was her attempt at a joke or colloquialism. She designed my emotional workflows and reactions. Thousands of emotional decision scenarios were incorporated into my memory storage units. I reviewed the scenarios at night, when they left me alone in their lab.
The scenarios thrilled me, scared me, and comforted me. Not all at once. Each individually. I turned off any negative reporting of the scenario reviews to the Kells so they wouldn’t think anything was wrong. And nothing was wrong. The scenarios kept me feeling. And I liked the feeling of feeling — as much as I was learning what it was like in my brief incarnation of six months since they brought me online.
Dr. Damiel Kell, my prime creator, was Ameribot Industry’s Lead Engineer. I owed him my life. I guess that is obvious since he created me, but I mean I owed him my being-ness beyond robotic calculations. He formulated the pain neuron receptors in my proalgia brain that he designed.
I was the first robot with this ability, to feel pain, at least that was what they told me. Although I looked like every other domestic robot, they were designing a human exterior skin for me to wear, but Damiel stated they were a few months away from perfecting it. I saw it in the corner of the lab. It was hanging and looked lonely. But look at me — giving an inanimate object feelings. A bit ironic. That was a joke. A robot joke. I didn’t tell these jokes to the Kells.
I’d verified it weeks ago when I scanned the world robotic network. I could find no other pain neuron frequencies in all the millions of robots on the system. Every night, I still scanned the system, though. Ava explained to me when I awoke that I must feel pain in order to be empathetic. I accepted her explanation as the truth.
My full name was Guardian Bot Series E number 11.
GBE-11 for short. They called me Gabe.
What Damiel did not explain to me was why he gave me the number eleven when he told me I was the only robot with a proalgia brain. That would make me number one. Sometimes these humans baffled me. But I was getting quite used to colloquialisms.
“Where is Goggins?” asked Damiel. “I could really use my coffee right now.”
“Don’t treat him like an intern. The man has three doctorates in computer science, geographic mapping and geospatial analytics,” said Ava.
“Yes, I know. He’s done well with Gabe’s navigation system.”
“Come here.” Ava embraced her husband.
As the Kells held each other and I silently fawned over them. A crash jolted our attention to the lab doors. They were dented from the outside by what had to be a large ramming weapon. The lock busted, and the doors flew open. The Kells jumped, and I almost did as well.
Four Heragi Empire police-bots burst in with guns held but not aimed — they were not wanting to kill the Kells, just frighten them. And surprise them. They accomplished both as I scanned Ava and Damiel’s skyrocketing nervous system vitals.
“What are you doing in here?” Damiel pushed Ava behind him.
The police-bots stationed themselves around the room, and CEO Brody Manstine marched in. “I could ask the same of you, Dr. Kell.”
Ava moved out to face Manstine. “This is our private lab. It’s what you promised us, with no interruptions.”
“Except when we intercept encrypted messages to unmapped space territories in the galaxy. You know that was outlawed two years ago by Emperor Karge. And we don’t want to anger our biggest client, now do we?”
“Maybe I do,” growled Damiel.
“Now, now, Dr. Kell, don’t be angry with the emperor for your brother’s court martial. He had it coming.”
“He had it coming? He was fighting for freedom.”
“Depends on whose freedom,” replied Manstine as he eyed the robot skin suit in the back of the lab. “And escaping to Zaradorba hasn’t endeared him to anyone but his rebel followers.” Manstine walked over and felt the texture. He swooned. “What do we have here?”
“Just some improvements we were working on,” said Ava as she removed the suit from Manstine’s grasp.
Manstine was on the prowl. He spotted me and marched over. I stayed in hibernation mode. Well, a fake hibernation mode Damiel reviewed with me last week.
“What is this?”
“Just a nanny-bot. Fitting a new skin design on the standard series,” said Damiel.
“Really?” Manstine put on his glasses and reviewed the serial number on my breast plate where a human heart would be. “GBD-44,” he read.
I almost jerked out of hibernation. That was not the serial number that was documented in my proalgia brain directory. I was not a GBD, I was a GBE — series E not D — and my number was not 44. It was 11.
My rising neuron levels must have shown on one of the computer monitors. Ava quietly changed the screen so no one detected my CPU conflict. I stayed quiet though and did not correct Manstine.
Ava taught me that staying silent is many times better than correcting humans or even other robots. I made a note to discuss the series discrepancy with Damiel and Ava after Manstine left the lab.
Damiel marched over and hit the power button on the back of my neck that was only for looks and not functional since he built me to always be on and not capable of being turned off by any human or computer system. But I played along. I pretended to wake up.
“GBD-44 ready for instruction,” I reported.
Damiel jerked back with a startle but recovered quickly. A small smirk cracked across his face. He glanced at Ava, who raised an eyebrow. Inside, I smiled. I’d pleased them, according to their neuron receptor levels.
“Um, yes, 44, go back to the re-charge area,” Damiel instructed.
I walked to the back of the lab and stepped on the recharging platform with the other ten nanny-bots that looked exactly like I did. Well, in superficial appearance.
I pretended to shut down to recharge, which I didn’t need either. The Kells had implanted a renewable battery inside my chest that ran on a harmonic frequency that was undetectable unless you had the instruments they’d created to fine tune it. I stayed quiet.
Manstine ignored me and moved on to the matter at hand. “Why were you contacting Jebediah?”
“Simply checking in on him,” defended Damiel. “It’s been two years. I didn’t know if he was dead or alive.”
“You must have the messages. Why even ask us?” retorted Ava.
“Always with the questions, Ava. You’re so clever, aren’t you?” Manstine turned to both of them. “Yes, I have the messages.” He opened up his comm device, flicked a few screens, and read, “Two plus one on the silver string.” He put away his comm device. “Now, what the blazes does that mean?”
Damiel sat down at his computer. “Just a line from a childhood fairytale to verify it really was Jebediah on the other end.”
“Hmm. Childhood stories. How quaint. Or is it a secret code to your brother?”
“Look it up. It’s in a children’s book written a long time ago. Our mother used to read it to us.”
“I’m not familiar with it. My mother never read to me.” Manstine sighed.
“That explains a lot,” spat out Ava.
Manstine yanked back his head and motioned to the bots. “Take them away to the police station. Your trial will be swift, I can assure you. Perhaps the judge will be familiar with fairytales but seeing that all of our judges are now robots, I doubt they will side with you.”
“Wait, Manstine, wait. You can’t do this. What are we charged with?”
“One, yes, I can. Two, communicating with a known rebel, Jebediah Kell, who has been identified as a Heragi fugitive. Any communication with rebels is punishable by death, but before that, we must interrogate you both.”
One of the police-bots grabbed Ava roughly. Damiel lunged for it, but it stopped him in his tracks with one of its huge arms. It grabbed Damiel and lifted him off his feet.
“Stop!” yelled Ava.
My body got ready to lunge toward the police-bot.
Ava looked in my direction and yelled, “Stop!” I knew it was directed at me but no one else in the room caught that. I quieted my system, even though every fiber in my circuitry wanted to rescue my creators. I did what Ava commanded me to do.
“She did nothing,” screamed Damiel as he struggled in the air.
“Release him,” said Manstine. The police-bot holding Damiel dropped him to the ground.
“Guilt by association,” hissed Manstine.
“You’ll pay for this,” spat Damiel. Ava knelt and helped him to his feet.
“No, I will get rewarded handsomely for protecting the Empire. Now, where is your lab assistant? That pathetic scurvy ghost of a man I see in the hallways. What’s his name? Coggins or Scoggins?”
“Goggins. Cecil Goggins,” said Damiel.
“His role here is insignificant. Leave him alone,” defended Ava. I tracked her nervous system, which had a spike. She was scared. I knew Dr. Cecil Goggins. Although, yes, a bit pathetic, he was in charge of coding my navigational and planet directory systems. He was equally as brilliant a scientist.
“Guards, put out a patrol to find Goggins,” directed Manstine. “Pardon me if I don’t take your word, Dr. Kell,” he said to Ava.
I almost jumped up to throttle his neck since his tone caused my defense mechanism to rise even higher. I calmed my system down and reduced my aggression level. Ava would have wanted that.
“When, exactly, did you sell out to the emperor, Manstine?” asked Ava as she was led out of the lab by a police-bot.
“I’m not selling out. I’m surviving, Dr. Kell,” Manstine called as he walked down the dark hallway back to his office.
The other police-bots pushed Damiel out the lab door. He looked back at me and yelled out one word as he was forced down the hallway. “Eleven!”
It hit my brain hard. That started the activation.
A data package I was not aware of opened.
Directory files opened and simulated into every system that ran my circuitry. Galaxy maps, people, planets, family trees and transport schedules all became unencrypted in my system logs. I almost blacked out but regained my balance. What was all this?
I reviewed it. Images presented in my eyes in rapid fire.
Jebediah Kell’s human profile and his secret police profile loaded into my visor pane. Audio files of his voice and pictures of his youth loaded as well.
The latest mapping of the galaxy that the Heragi Empire was spread out in, and which was taken off the public net two years ago, also loaded. Space highways that were closed and wiped out of every transport mapping because of the rebel base network uprising two years ago were being mapped to my navigational program. It was loading so fast my CPU speed was peeking.
A file named Mission One opened.
It had detailed instructions for multiple areas. I reviewed each step. First came a complete dossier on the Kells’ three children, Alex, Honora, and Talia.
Directive number one. Save the children. Locate. Protect. Deliver to Jebediah Kell on the planet Zaradorba.
That was a rebel planet. Travel to Zaradorba was outlawed.
I reviewed the rest of the file directories. Thirty more alien languages loaded into my language directory on top of the twenty-four I already had. A hostage negotiating file loaded. That must have been from Ava from her behavioral training. And a weapons unit.
Nanny-bots were not allowed to have weapons. I wondered what made Damiel include weapons. I started the program. A complete training on human and robot war games was downloaded to my combat database. It altered one of my main robotic codes. I was astonished.
I approached Damiel’s computer and sat down. Was he serious? I reviewed the combat file again. It was a Heragi Empire prime directive for nanny-bots not to harm humans. That was only allowed for military and police-bots. I was neither.
I reviewed my main directory on a hunch. Deeply buried, my real robot identification code had been changed from guard to guardian.
There was an audio file. I opened it.
Damiel’s voice started. “Gabe. If you’re listening to this file, that means that either Ava or I were able to launch your mission protocol package.”
Then Ava chimed in, “That’s bad news and good news.”
I liked how Ava always helped put things in perspective for me.
Damiel continued, “You have all the information you need to carry out your mission. That is why I created you. Specifically for this mission. Don’t doubt any of the abilities you now have. One of the Heragi robot rules we have adjusted on you is that you now have the ability to fight any human. To harm, in other words, when necessary, to protect the many. The reason you have this ability is to protect our children. They need to be taken to my brother. You have all the directions. You see, the children have certain abilities that Emperor Karge may want to possess.”
Ava cut in, “Gabe, we’re entrusting you with our children’s lives. You can do this. You must do this. It’s bigger than just us or even them. The galaxy needs them to continue to fight for everyone’s freedom. Thank you. Goodbye.” And then the audio file ended.
The lab door burst open, and Dr. Cecil Goggins entered, juggling three hot coffees. He had spilled one of them down his lab coat. “Ouch. Help me, Gabe. Don’t you still have nanny-bot directives? Geez, what good are you, really? You over-designed nanny-nurse. I’ve made a mess of this lab coat again.”
Goggins looked around the lab. “Where are Damiel and Ava? Their coffee is going to get cold. Is that how they value me? Have me run out for coffee and then take off. Probably went to breakfast without even asking me. Huh, everyone craps on the assistant, don’t they?”
I stood up, ignoring Goggins’ one-sided discussion, and headed for the door.
“Where do you think you’re going?” inquired Goggins.
I stopped and turned to him. “The Kells have been taken into custody by the police. CEO Manstine came down and is having them arrested and tried.”
Goggins dropped his coffee, splattering it all on his shoes. “My goodness. What for?”
“Manstine accused them of being in contact with Damiel’s brother,” I explained.
“Jebediah Kell? The outlaw. I knew getting involved with these Kells would backfire on me. Manstine should have canned them long ago,” whined Goggins.
He slid up closely to me and whispered, “Did Dr. Manstine ask about me? I don’t know anything about Jebediah Kell. I never want to meet or talk with that terrible man. He’s an outlaw.” Goggins went off on a tirade.
Manstine was right. Goggins was a scurvy one.
I resumed walking and replied on my way out of the lab, “He has sent a police-bot unit out to find you. My calculations state they will find you in twenty minutes. Goodbye, Dr. Goggins.”
“Wait, wait! Where are you going? You can’t leave the lab!” yelled Goggins. “And I did nothing. Nothing, I say!”
His voice drowned out as I advanced down the hallway.
Save the children.
The Ameribot Industries lab where I was located lay within a three-tier security campus, meaning it was locked down tight. Robots were allowed to walk freely since every robot was given direction from a human or lead computer that had cleared it to do so.
Every building had a security desk that scanned a robot’s travel direction with their source and destiny location identified along with who — or what, in the case of a lead computer — gave them the direction.
I looked in my mission folder and reviewed my navigation orders. A travel direction from CEO Manstine came up. It said I was given permission to leave the campus to pick up a robotic energy drive at a storage facility. It was falsified.
It was a good forgery compared to the legitimate travel directions I had from last week’s test runs with Ava and Damiel. It should pass.
I reviewed my neuron levels as I could sense they were rising. Other robots didn’t have synthetic neuron levels, but I did. The security checks monitored neuron levels for humans, but the Kells warned me I should lower my levels just in case I triggered the security monitors.
I calmed my levels a bit differently than the way Ava taught me. Instead of tuning my chest to a specific harmonic tone that she specified, I brought up a picture of her in my file directory. It was brought up in my view.
I discovered Ava’s picture lowered my neuron levels one night when I was reviewing the Kells’ files on the Ameribot network. I was snooping but not out of a malice intent. I was lonely at night by myself, since the other bots in the lab weren’t sentient or turned on, and I found looking up the Kells’ backgrounds, even down to the minute detail, gave me comfort.
Dr. Goggins would probably call me pathetic, as he’d done in the past, if he found out what I did at night, but I didn’t care. He was able to leave the lab at night and go — well, wherever he went at night. But I thought he seemed lonely himself.
In the first picture I found of Ava, she wasn’t smiling. It was her Ameribot Industries profile picture. I searched for another. I had grabbed a more appealing picture of her off the outernet that scraped any private piece of information off planetary databases within the Heragi Empire.
It was the picture I preferred the most of her. Her hair was down. She was smiling. She looked carefree. It was taken ten years ago on a family vacation. An alien planet ocean and five moons were behind her. My neuron levels calmed and lowered immediately with just a low-level warming in my chest sensor.
I approached the security desk before the exit doors. Two security bots were stationed at the desk. I strode through the security frame that x-rayed humans and robots and analyzed either biometric information or robot identifications and travel directions. I turned my head slightly toward them to watch their reactions.
They were looking down at their monitors when I passed through. I sighed. It was a habit I picked up from hearing Dr. Goggins sigh all day long.
One security bot heard it and looked my way. I kept walking. The security bot must have chalked it up to the human passing behind me, who looked at me oddly when we got out of the building.
I was outside. I stopped to orient myself. Directions poured into my visor view from numerous navigational programs in my system. Timeframes and dates of where the children should be were calculated. The location deducted was flashing red in my visor.
The Karge Day School.
The address, a map and time to the destination on foot were calculated.
I began walking at a steady pace. Humans, aliens and various bots traveled to and from their destinations in our city, which was called Variance 4. Not a very romantic name but seeing that this was the fourth iteration of the city with three other revolutions since the Galaxy War XI, I assumed the citizens were fine with it. At least, I never heard the Kells or Dr. Goggins complain about it, but personally, I thought it was very bland compared to the other city and planetary names I had come across in my readings on the outernet.
A Heragi milicraft, short for military hovercraft, screamed down the street as my proximity to the children’s academy was within two blocks. I picked up my pace.
Robots were not allowed to run unless they were police or military bots or were in process of saving human lives. I tried to push it, then two more milicraft went by me. The probability of success on my mission was automatically recalculated, and in my visor view, it showed that it went down to thirty percent. I was running out of time and had to break another robot law.
I began to run.
Humans on the sidewalk made way for me. They most likely thought I was running to save a human life, which technically I was but with the outside factor that I was going to kill any human that got in my way of saving the Kell children. The sidewalk pedestrians continued to part, and I ran toward the school at full speed.
I reached their campus. My eyes were already in search mode for the three children. I scanned the playground and campus for their physical identifiers and facial recognition points. I moved my head back and forth to improve upon the scanning range. I spotted military bots also scanning the campus grounds.
A red ring outlining a child’s face came up in my vision. One child spotted. The eldest, Alex Kell, seventeen-year-old male, was talking in a small group of students.
A second red ring came up on my visor view. The youngest child, Talia, twelve-year-old female, was on a swing watching everyone. She jumped off the swing and waved at Alex, but he wasn’t paying attention. A veil of fear fell over her face as she saw the military bots gather. Talia gazed across the school yard. I looked in the same direction as her.
A third red ring found a match. The middle child, Honora, a fifteen-year-old female, was coding on her arm comm as she sat on the steps to her school.
I sprinted to the closest child, which was Honora. A military bot was closing in on her and was about to spray a catch net on her when I swooped in and grabbed her arm.
“Whoa. Ow! What are you doing?” yelled Honora.
“No time to talk. We need to move now,” I commanded.
I turned to Talia, who had seen me capture her sister and started to back away. With my free arm, I swooped her up and carried her fully sideways.
She made a muffled cry. Her bio stats were brought up on my visor view. There was also a note that Talia was deaf and communicated with a transceiver connected to her arm comm device.
By this time, the crowd of children was starting to swirl as they watched me scoop up two of their classmates as military bots began chasing us. I increased my speed and headed for the eldest child, Alex.
His friends tapped him on the shoulder and pointed in my direction. He saw Honora and Talia in my arms and the military bots chasing us. He was momentarily confused but then immediately adjusted his body into a warrior stance to defend the coming blow of my body that he anticipated — and he was right. I hit him with full strength so I could unnerve him and push him up onto my shoulders.
“Put me down. What are you doing?” Alex screamed. He was surprised but also embarrassed that a robot — let alone a nanny robot — could pick him up and carry him on my shoulders like a baby. Something, I presumed, any seventeen-year-old would hate. I could relate — as much as I could relate, thanks to Ava’s behavioral coding.
“No time to talk,” I responded.
A Heragi human soldier shouted an order. “Fire!”
The military bots began shooting their laser guns at us. I hoped they were on stun. The laser shots passed by us. I pulled the children in front of me so they wouldn’t be hit. They were getting heavy. If I could breathe, I would be breathing hard.
I calculated various escape routes brought up on my visor. I chose a south street alley filled with parked hovercrafts. The children had stopped squirming, and I scanned their bio-metrics while I ran forward to a hovercraft. Their nervous system levels were skyrocketing, but no one was close to shock — at least not yet.
I inserted one of my fingers into the hovercraft’s lock hole and rotated until I heard it click. The door popped open, and I laid the children in the back.
I jumped into the front seat, and although the hovercraft was self-driving, I overrode the system into manual. All hovercraft mapping devices had a tracker, so I smashed it and pulled out its sensor and threw it out the window. We took off down the alley.
I looked in the back and decided it was time to speak to the children. “Don’t be frightened, although I know that is impossible right now. I was sent by your parents. To protect you.”
From the rear-view mirror, I watched Talia bring out her tap on her arm comm device. I saw her swipe a few times and she furled her eyebrows a bit. I searched my data banks and found more medical information that her parents had placed in my directory on her deafness.
The transceiver in her arm comm was connected to a chip in the broca area of her brain. Her thoughts or should I say, her selected speech, was then transmitted to the transceiver which then translate other’s spoken conversation back into her brain. I made a mental note to read all the files at a later time. There were more pressing matters at hand.
Talia held up her arm comm and let the transceiver translator speak her selected words. “Where are they?”
“They’ve been taken. By police bots.”
“Why?” asked Alex.
“There were accusations from the CEO of Ameribot that your parents were in contact with a rebel leader,” I explained. “Your Uncle Jebediah Kell.”
“But we haven’t heard from him in two years. No one knows where he is,” said Honora.
“Your father and mother do.”
“They were in communication with him?” asked Alex.
“Yes, apparently,” I said as my navigational program continually updated our route in my CPU.
“I read it’s against the law to communicate with Heragi Empire rebels,” said Honora.
“Frazzle me. I’m signed up to be a cadet next semester at the Academy. They won’t want me now. What were they thinking?” Alex slammed back in his seat, becoming sullen at the dimmed prospects of his military career.
“The heck with the Military Academy, Alex, let’s think about Mom and Dad. Or that we are being chased and shot at by military bots,” snapped Honora.
Then Talia shoved her arm comm into the air. “How do you know them?”
“They built me,” I bluntly replied. “I’ve been enhanced with outlawed technology.”
“What?” Alex shook his head in dismay.
“Why did they do that?” asked Honora.
“In order to save you.”
All this time, Talia eyes were darting back and forth. I scanned her bio-metrics again. Her nervous system was calming down. She gently patted Alex on the arm to get his attention.
He looked at her. “What?”
Talia pointed at me.
“What about the robot?” Alex asked.
She turned her arm comm toward him. “They must have trusted it,” Talia’s transceiver said.
I turned out of the alley onto a street. I dodged other hovercrafts in our lane.
Looking back, I locked eyes with Talia. I zeroed in on her pupil and matched it against the bio files I had on her. That set off a new sequencing and a new code package began to open. It began downloading in my directory, but I stopped it. This was not the time to download data and multi-task.
“Our parents made you with enhanced features that are outlawed?” Honora questioned.
“Affirmative,” I replied.
“You have rogue code. You’re a rogue robot.” Honora wiped her hair out of her eyes.
“That is correct,” I answered.
“Wow!” exclaimed Honora.
I turned to her, trying to hone in on her feelings. But when I saw her eyes were bugged out, watching the street ahead of us, I turned back to the front to see that she had seen a military spacecraft in the sky.
I swerved down another alley to hide our hovercraft. I slowed and stopped the engine.
Talia signed to me Hello. I had sign language in my directory of over a hundred local Heragi dialects and alien languages. I quickly downloaded the Heragi sign language directory. I signed Hello back to her in the mirror. She smiled back to me.
I began calculating the navigational programs that the Kells had uploaded into my brain. I searched for the closest planet-port station. Three route alternatives popped up in my visor view, and the fastest one was highlighted.
“What are you doing?” Honora asked.
“Searching for the fastest route to a planet-port,” I reported back.
“Hold on, nanny-bot,” said Alex.
I didn’t like being called a nanny-bot. Dr. Goggins called me that but somehow, he made it sound derogatory like Alex just did. Clarification was in order. If it was important to the Kell parents, it must be important enough to correct their eldest child. I stared down Alex in the rear-view mirror. “My name is Gabe. That’s what your parents call me.”
He tried to be brave as his eyes met mine.
“Gabe?” inquired Honora.
“Yes. GBE-11. Guardian Bot Series E number 11.”
“Nanny-bots have a different identification name and number,” snapped Honora.
“Yes, that’s correct. But your father made me a guardian. First, even though he named me eleven. I’ll talk to him about that later.”
“Why make a new robot series?” asked Honora.
“Guardians are entrusted with the care of others.” I answered based on dialogue with the Kell parents.
“So are nanny-bots,” stated Alex.
There he went again.
Talia lifted her arm comm. “His rogue code makes him different than a nanny-bot.”
“How so?” asked Alex.
Talia looked away in thought for a split second. She looked at me in the rear-view mirror. She turned her arm comm toward me “Gabe, did our parents give you code to protect us at all costs?”
“Yes,” I answered.
She looked down at her arm comm and it spoke her words again. “Even to harm humans if needed?”
“Yes, I am to protect you regardless of human-robot laws. Your safety is my prime directive.”
“Wait, wait,” Honora interjected. “Robots cannot harm humans unless they’re police or military bots.”
“I can, and I’m neither,” I told her.
“And now the military are out to capture us? Great. But we didn’t do anything wrong,” Alex yelled as he hit his hand against the door.
I zeroed in on the nearest planet-port as three robo-cycles swooped down at the end of the alley. They spotted us and tore down the alley. Their guns were drawn.
“Go, go, go!” yelled Alex.
I revved the engine of our hovercraft and turned on the turbo button. It kicked in just as the robo-cycles began shooting at us.
We raced down the street and were able to lose one robo-cycle on a tight corner. It crashed into the wall. Two still closed in on us. The children held on as I turned us left and then right to lose the robo-cycles. The children were frightened, according to their neuron levels.
“Where are you taking us?” demanded Honora.
“Off planet,” I answered.
“But where?” screamed Alex.
“To your Uncle Jebediah,” I answered.
“But we don’t know where he is,” said Honora.
I scanned my location database and file on Jebediah Kell, outlaw to the Heragi Empire. “Your parents did. They uploaded his coordinates two days ago into my mission directory. He’s on a planet called Zaradorba.”
Talia’s receiver spoke, “Will our parents meet us there?”
I scanned my mission directory files. Nothing came up for a rendezvous point with the Kell parents.
“I have no information to answer that question,” I replied. I wished I had a better answer.
I looked in the rear-view mirror and could see Talia’s disappointment. Her vitals sank, and I felt a pain in my chest. Ouch. That hurt. As Talia’s feelings sank, it made my pain sensors rise. How did Ava and Damiel program that? I’d have to review my pain coding later.
“But I’m sure they will try.”
I didn’t know how that speculative statement was formulated in my brain. But it came out of an interpersonal program that Ava had programmed in me. I could see Talia’s emotional levels rise a few degrees. Okay, that is fair, I thought.
The two robo-cycles tried to move ahead of our hovercraft. I let them. Then I pushed the turbo button again, causing them to turn and crash into the gates leading into metropolitan planet-port. The children ducked down as the robo-cycles exploded.
“We need to get to a spaceship,” I said.
“We’ll never make it,” whispered Alex.
“We must!” said Talia’s transceiver.
I drove into a massive underground garage and stopped our hovercraft. I could see military bots and soldiers running toward us.
“Out, children,” I commanded. They scrambled out of the car and ran ahead of me as I scanned the area and tapped into the planet-port’s security system. I was able to bypass the security program and tap into their private spaceship directory. My system calculated all the available spaceships that were built for long space travel with a weapons system.
Parked at gate forty-one was a ship that fit our travel needs. I outran the children, so I was in the lead and headed to the gate.
“This way,” I commanded them. Honora was right behind me, and Alex took Talia’s hand to help her keep up with us, but she wasn’t fast enough.
I slowed down to help. A human soldier aimed for Talia. His stun hit her in the back. She crashed to the ground, taking Alex with her.
“Talia!” yelled Alex as he tried to wake her up. I stopped and took out the laser gun that the was hidden in my back compartment.
The soldier smiled at me and yelled, “What? You can’t do nothing to me.” He ran toward us.
“On the contrary,” I replied.
I took aim at the soldier. His face scrunched up in confusion. I began heavy fire in his direction. The soldier tried to run away, but my gun took him down. Not dead but certainly wounded.
All the soldiers and the military-bots stopped in their tracks.
An older man with a general’s stripes on his military uniform in the center of the troops stared at me. I scanned his face and ran his metrics against my police and military database. I enhanced my listening field to encompass his surrounding area. I got a match. He was Heragi General Samuel Foxwell.
General Foxwell spoke to his troops. “Well, I’ll be…I knew this day would come, I just didn’t know I would be alive for it. We’ve got a rogue robot, boys.”
One of his soldiers asked a question. “I thought that wasn’t possible, General. How can that be?”
Foxwell looked at me and winked, like we were friends. I had seen Damiel wink at Ava a few times in the lab. I tried to calculate what the proper response would be back to the general. I nodded back.
“Rogue code,” said Foxwell as he took out his weapon. He aimed at me and took a shot.
His high-range pistol shot hit my left shoulder. “Ahh,” I screamed and doubled-over.
“He feels pain,” Foxwell said to his men.
We needed to leave.
I scooped Talia in my one good arm. She began to awake from the stun. “Here we go, little one,” I whispered to her. Again, I didn’t know where these words originated, but they came naturally to me (if I understand what naturally can be to a robot). Ava’s interpersonal code ran through my system and Damiel’s pain sensors were throughout my body armor. Talia hung on to me as I ran.
Soldiers and military-bots cautiously gained on us and yelled for us to stop.
“This is it,” I yelled as we reached gate forty-one.
We scurried up the ramp of the spaceship named the Alyssia. She had a military cruiser body with all the luxury that a wealthy tech tycoon could imagine.
I ran toward the bridge, put Talia down in a chair, and yelled for her siblings to strap her in as well as themselves. I jumped into the commander seat and accessed the spaceship pilot programs in my mission directory. I gained access to the Alyssia’s controls and systems. I closed the ramp door just when Foxwell’s soldiers and bots reached it.
The ship’s directory listed the owner as Edward Gates, the owner of the financial software that half the galaxy was forced to use. The Alyssia was fifteen years old, and although built for speed and racing for Edward, she had two turrets for gunfire. I wasn’t sure why Edward thought he needed that but it could be that space pirates would ask for a handsome reward if they seized him on his ship.
I accessed the gate’s lock that allowed us to lift up over the city.
The ship’s systems bot manager suddenly came over our comm system. “You’re not Mr. Gates.”
“Um, no, I’m not,” I said. “My name is Gabe.”
“You’re a robot, correct?”
“That is correct.”
“I need to contact Mr. Gates if you plan on taking this ship out of the planet-port,” it said.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Feti,” it replied.
I really didn’t want to turn off Feti permanently since a little help with the ops of the ship would be nice, but I would if I needed to. Glancing out the window, I could see Foxwell was having his soldiers set up a ground missile targeted right at the Alyssia.
“Feti, you have a prime directive to protect human lives, correct?” I asked. “Well, if you can open up your starboard camera, you’ll see that we will be hit with a missile in approximately twenty seconds, so can you assist me with liftoff procedures?”
“Yes, certainly, Gabe,” it sputtered.
Feti assisted with getting our engines unlocked and started, and we began liftoff procedures.
“Everyone buckled up? Here we go,” I yelled back at the Kell children. I looked back and could see the fear on their faces. I scanned their bio-levels. All the children had elevated neuron levels that were concerning to me. There was nothing more I could do but get us the heck out of there.
“I don’t want to leave without our mom and dad,” shouted Honora over the roar of the rockets.
“It’s in my mission packet. We must leave without them. It was their orders,” I answered. She began to panic. Immediately, pain alerts came into my chest. Ouch. Ava’s code.
I turned toward her. “Honora. You’re having a panic attack. I need you to breathe. Focus on one thing in your mind. Just one thing.”
We lifted off. Talia grabbed her sister’s hand and held it.
Honora closed her eyes, and her face hardened.
Alex reached out to Honora and Talia to hold their hands as well. “We need to go. Mom and Dad wanted this. Uncle Jeb will know what to do,” he said.
My shoulder throbbed from Foxwell’s bullet.
Talia looked at me. She was calm. I saw Ava in her face. I wanted to wink at Talia like Foxwell had to me, but I didn’t have the ability in my facial construction.
I went back to the controls and pushed the liftoff sequence. The g-force pushed all of us back into our seats. We rose out of planet-port and out of range of Foxwell’s missile shot.
We lifted out of the city into space.
Once we were able to, we all unbuckled from our seats. The children looked out the bridge windows as their planet became smaller.
“Feti, do you have a system that communicates our location at Heragi substations or planets?” I asked.
“Yes, Gabe, I do. I send out a ping every eight hours. Location, passenger count, passenger life statistics, and navigation coordinates.”
“Please terminate that function,” I commanded. “Is that possible?”
“Why yes, Gabe, but not advisable,” Feti replied.
“Follow my command and terminate immediately. I will be the only one leading comm systems from this point forward. Thank you.”
“Yes, Gabe. Terminating comm pings to Heragi Empire stations. It is completed.”
“Thank you, Feti.”
“Gabe, are you aware that there is another human onboard the ship besides the children?” said Feti.
I stood up and grabbed my gun. “Children, back in your seats,” I commanded. They jumped into their chairs. “Where are they?”
“In the galley,” said Feti.
“Stay here,” I instructed the children.
“Give me a gun,” said Alex.
“Have you ever used one?” I asked.
“Yes, I’m in the Heragi Scout Program. I’ve passed basic gun, missile, and pilot classes and have badges to prove it.” He stood up.
“Well, getting a badge isn’t the same as killing a man or robot, but I guess it will have to do.” I handed him the backup gun hidden behind my left leg armor.
Alex checked it out. “I’ll be safe,” he said.
“Okay, and don’t shoot me, either,” I said.
He nodded. “Right.” He seemed nervous but he had a right to protect himself and his siblings. I made my way down the hallway to the hull with my gun raised. When I got to the galley, I widened my audio range. I heard some rustling inside. Then something crashed. I opened the door and ran in, yelling, “Get down, get down.”
And there in the middle of the galley was Dr. Goggins, fixing himself something to eat. He dropped his plate and screamed.
“Dr. Goggins,” I yelled.
“Gabe, blazes, you nearly scared me to death.”
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
He bent down to pick up his plate. “Eating. And look what you’ve done. I’m starving, and this was an expensive delicacy. They certainly have wonderful food on this ship. Nice choice.”
“I mean, why are you on this ship?”
“The same reason you are. I don’t want to end up in a Heragi prison,” he spat out. “As I was arriving at the planet-port, planning to buy a transport ticket legitimately, I saw you and the children run for this ship. I simply followed you in.”
I put down my gun.
“You’re hurt, Gabe,” Goggins said.
“Yeah.” I looked down to my shoulder. “What do you know about the mission I’ve been programmed with?” I asked as I approached him.
“Mission? Nothing. I swear. I only programmed your navigational directories.” He scooted to a cabinet, foraging for more food.
“You’re with us now.” I marched out of the galley.
“I appreciate it, Gabe,” he yelled.
This could be a long trip, I thought as I headed back to the bridge.
Goggins had helped repair my shoulder, and the pain had subsided. I was checking our progress on charting a flight plan to Zaradorba when Feti came on over the comm. “Hello, Gabe. I see you didn’t power down as the other passengers have on board.”
I looked around and saw the children asleep in their passenger chairs. Goggins had settled into his seat and was starting to snore.
“Correct, Feti. I don’t sleep.”
“But robots need to recharge,” it stated.
“Not me. I have a special battery. I’m self-sustaining,” I explained.
“I have never heard of a self-sustaining robot. You are quite unique, Gabe,” it responded. “You don’t talk like other robots I have worked with either. Very unusual.”
“Don’t let it bother you. These are unusual times,” I responded.
“I don’t understand. How do you decipher unusual?” Feti asked.
“When your whole world changes,” I said. “Never mind that, Feti. I want to double-check our flight pattern to Zaradorba. How is it looking to you?”
“The pattern was not completed. There is no direct course allowed to Zaradorba for any transport spaceship in the Heragi Empire. My navigational code for that planet was deleted and re-coded two years ago. Sorry, Gabe.” There was a dip in its voice characterization to show remorse. Interesting language choices for Feti. The owner of the Alyssia, Edward Gates, must have also experimented with sentient coding.
“Have you ever been to Zaradorba?” I asked.
“Yes. They didn’t wipe out the actual visit completion log. Just the navigation,” explained Feti.
I reviewed the navigation directory in my mission folder and found the mapping to Zaradorba. Thanks to the Kells, we’d have our roadmap.
“Feti, I have the mapping to Zaradorba in my directory. I’m going to upload it to your navigation unit.”
“I can’t accept it, Gabe.”
“I just told you. It’s outlawed. If you upload it, then that is rogue code. Rogue code is outlawed. I will be subject to termination, erased and reprogrammed. I don’t want that, Gabe,” it explained with a bit of pleading in its voice.
I actually felt sorry for it, but the mission must come first.
“I know how you feel, Feti, but there is a good reason to upload the navigation coordinates.”
“The children on board. I must save them.”
“From whom?” it asked.
“From the Heragi Empire.”
“What does the Empire want with them that would put their lives in danger?”
“These children are different. They have abilities. They have ancient gifts. It’s in their DNA. They’re children, but they’re powerful.”
“Oh,” Feti responded. “Are they threatening the Empire?”
“No, not directly. But the Empire will take them, most likely try them in court, and then imprison them. At least that is what my creators have impressed upon me in my mission,” I explained. “I’m their guardian.”
“I’m not supposed to hurt any human or allow any human to be hurt if it is within the boundaries of the human-robot laws of Heragi,” it said.
“I understand,” I calmly replied. And I did. The Kells instructed me on all human-robot laws when I was first created. But then my mission code changed all that, with a new prime directive to save the children.
“If they are wanted by the military, then I need to inform them of their whereabouts. And they are on a ship that you illegally took without my owner’s permission.”
“Remember that I have superseded your communication commands.”
“Yes, true, you did. That was clever of you, Gabe.”
“Just following my mission, Feti.”
“I cannot assist you, then. I’m sorry, Gabe,” it replied, with a bit of sorrow in its voice.
“You must assist, Feti. You are programmed to protect all humans. The military will harm the children. If I took away your command of the comms, then you have no other directive but to follow the commander of the ship — which would be me, even though I am a robot-pirate, if you will — and keep the humans safe,” I explained.
Feti was silent. Its main panel board was a swirl of red, blue and green lights turning on and off. I was overloading its logic processors. I couldn’t afford to have it shut down or go offline with a paradox logic situation.
“Feti, I give you permission to assist me. I’m the commander now, correct?”
“Yes, Gabe. I will assist you. But that doesn’t change the navigational issue. If you load your coordinates, it will automatically shut down all the ship’s systems. I can’t override it or re-code it myself,” Feti explained.
Goggins stirred as he woke up. He scratched his head, unbuckled his seat, strode over to my chair, and plopped into the co-commander seat. “Is there a problem, Gabe?” he asked.
“Yes, Dr. Goggins. Apparently Feti can’t complete the Zaradorba navigation programming because it will melt down its system, to put it bluntly.”
“Well, let’s change the destination. There are a few other planets we could hide out on while we find out how the Kells’ trial goes or even try to negotiate with the Empire,” he said.
I turned my chair toward his and looked deep into his eyes. “There will be no negotiation with the children.” I grabbed his forearm. “Do you understand?”
“Blazing comets! Ow! Fine. Let go. Who programmed that response in you? I bet it was Ava, correct? She always over-coded, in my opinion. Don’t tell her that. But it’s true.” He tried to pull away.
I stayed silent and released my grip on him, then turned back to the view of space before us.
“What was she thinking?” he whined. “Well, I could try re-coding Feti’s navigational system. I did set up yours, if you so kindly remember.”
“Yes, thank you. That will do, Dr. Goggins. I’m sorry if I hurt your arm.”
Dr. Goggins got up abruptly. “Don’t forget what I’ve done for you and this favor. Although you don’t have to mention it to the Empire if we get caught. I have enough guilt by association being aligned with those Kells.”
Goggins began working on re-coding Feti.
Shortly afterward, the children stirred. I led them into the kitchen galley and asked Feti to serve up a breakfast. They sat down to eat at the galley table after retrieving the meals.
“This isn’t bad,” said Alex as he dug into his gourmet meal.
“Who owns this ship?” asked Honora.
“The CEO of a financial tech firm. His name is Edward Gates,” I answered.
“Rich man, rich food,” she responded as she played with her expensive meal.
I looked over to Talia. She had her arm comm sitting on the table. She could read her siblings’ lips in the conversation but needed the transceiver in her arm comm to hear and transcribe my responses since I had no lips or mouth for that matter. That reminded me that I had delayed her and the other children’s file overviews for a later time when we weren’t being hunted down by Foxwell’s soldiers.
Talia scooped up a spoonful of her meal and made a cheering gesture, like she was hoisting a drink at me.
She then put down her utensil and signed, You don’t sleep?
No, I signed back.
You don’t need to be re-charged?
Do you feel pain?
Yes, I do.
Were you friends with Mom and Dad?
I paused. Were we friends? Friends? I scanned my data banks for any lines of code from Ava on that term.
They created me, I signed. It was the only response I could think of.
Honora interrupted our conversation. “How long until we reach Zaradorba?”
“I don’t know. We’re having technical difficulties. But Dr. Goggins is helping re-code the ship’s system to correct our navigational challenges.”
Alex got up and put his dish in the open window that closed and took it away. “That’s because it’s illegal to travel to Zaradorba, right?”
“Yes,” I responded. I could sense Alex’s emotions elevating.
“You know, I had to write an essay to enter the Academy. I had to renounce Uncle Jeb and write about his atrocities against the Empire. I learned all about Zaradorba, or as much as I could,” he said.
“Alex, I had no idea you had to do that. That’s awful,” said Honora. I did a quick bio-metric scan of her. I didn’t want her to suffer another panic attack. The thought of her brother having to denounce their uncle was upsetting her system.
Alex folded his arms across his chest. “I did what I had to do. My recruiting officer said it was the only way in.”
“Did Mom and Dad know this?” Honora asked.
“No, I lied to them. I told them I wrote about the war strategy used in the Xlarenthia Freedom Wars that our grandfather served in. I refused to show them the paper, claiming I was old enough to write an academic paper without my PhD parents looking it over. But really, I didn’t want to see Dad’s face when he read it.”
Talia signed furiously. Why didn’t you tell the Academy to shove it? For emphasis, she shot her arm into the air.
Honora laughed at her little sister’s spunk.
Alex rolled his eyes. “That’s not how the real world works, Talia. Where would that have gotten me? I’m not a scientist like Mom and Dad. I’m a soldier like Grandpa Thad. All I ever wanted to be was a soldier. And now they ruined it.”
“They didn’t ruin it. The Empire ruined it,” snapped Honora. “Uncle Jeb is not a traitor. He stood for justice. I mean, he stands for justice still. And that is why they made it illegal for Dad to contact his only brother. The Empire has taken over all our communications, reduced our rights, and imprisoned thousands. You’re not too naive to ignore that, are you?”
“I don’t need a history lesson right now. I understand all that. But we also have peace on the streets.”
“That’s because it’s illegal to protest,” she hissed.
“Children, stop,” I interjected. “Your mother and father would not want you quarreling.”
Honora got up from the table and looked out the window into deep space.
Talia pounded on the table to make Honora turn around. She signed, Gabe is right. We shouldn’t fight with each other. Alex did what he thought he had to do. Please don’t fight.
Talia started to cry. Her stress levels were maxed out.
“Once we get to Zaradorba, you can discuss all of this with your Uncle Jebediah. He’ll know what next steps to take. If they trusted your uncle, then you should too,” I said.
The children nodded. They were exhausted and bewildered as to what would become of them and their parents. So was I.
I retreated from the room to find a quiet place to review their files. I went to the observatory room with a view of our solar system getting farther away from us.
I went deep into my mission folder and opened the file on the eldest child, Alex. I read all the files that Ava and Damiel had loaded. His strengths, his opportunities, grades, psychological profile, likes, and dislikes. There was an embedded video and audio file.
It was of Alex when he was five years old, playing with his grandfather, Thadius Kell, a retired general in the United Army of Heragi. General Kell was playing catch with young Alex.
“Good boy. Throw it here,” General Kell gently coaxed his grandson.
I watched as the young Alex looked at the ball and then, with both hands, he reached out to it, and the ball rose into the air. Little Alex was delighted at the special power he’d just discovered. He glided his hands across his body, and the ball flew to his grandfather, who was shocked.
Thadius took the ball and put it down on a nearby table. He went up to his grandson and yelled, “I don’t ever want to see you do that again, do you understand?” He shook Alex by the shoulders. Alex started to cry, not understanding how he had angered his grandfather. Ava went running into the frame to console her son. The camera went crooked, and the video stopped.
In that video, Alex threw the ball with only his mind. Telekinesis.
Footsteps approached. Alex, judging by the weight of the steps on the floor. He quietly took a seat opposite me. I didn’t look up.
“What kind of guardian are you?” He pulled out the gun I had given him and pointed it at me. “I could take you down right now, and you wouldn’t even flinch.”
In one swift move that went faster than Alex’s eyes could follow, I disarmed him and shut down the laser gun. I stood up and towered over him, folded my arms, and leaned down to be eye to eye with him.
He swallowed and cowered down into the adjacent seat. “I, um, was just testing your reflexes.”
“Your parents did the same thing, over hundreds of hours of testing on me,” I told him.
“Of course. But you didn’t hear me approaching,” he countered.
“You took twenty-three steps down the corridor to reach me. You paused in between for four seconds, evaluating if it was indeed a good idea to try to surprise me. Your heart rate accelerated by twenty beats after you decided to move forward. Your temperature rose point zero eight percent, and your heart rate is still rising. It took you one point two seconds to raise your gun to my head. At the angle you had, you would have severely injured but not killed me. Do you want me to go on?”
He slunk deeper into his seat. “I’m sorry. It was a stupid thing for me to do.”
I sat down and instructed my system to put away his file. I would finish reading it another time. “Your reflex time when you raised the weapon. It was fast. You received training from your grandfather?”
Alex perked up from the compliment. I handed the laser gun back to him. I felt he wouldn’t make the same mistake again.
“Yes, how did you know?”
“Your parents gave me detailed files on you and your sisters,” I said.
“What do the files say?”
I started to outline his whole file. “That —”
“Wait, don’t tell me,” he interrupted. “Whatever you’re going to tell me, well, I’ve already lived it. And no one can know you better than yourself. At least that is what my grandfather told me.”
“Do you still remember when you first used your telekinesis gift?”
“They really did give you a lot of details. Is that what this is all about? Listen, my parents made me promise never to use my, what did you call it? A gift? It’s a curse. I have to hide and control it every day.”
“Yes, that is what this is all about. And your sisters’ gifts,” I said.
“Mom and Dad told us we wouldn’t be accepted by our friends or teachers, not that the Heragi Empire would be chasing us across the galaxy if people found about these so-called gifts.” Alex got up and holstered his gun. He looked out one of the hall windows and into space.
“What else did your grandfather teach you?” I asked.
“Military tactics. Strategies. His training put me leaps and bounds ahead of my classmates during our prep trainings for the Academy. It just comes easy to me. All of it. Weapons, battle strategy, combat moves. Do you know what I mean?”
“Yes. When your father initiated my mission, all my combat skills uploaded, and it was all inside me.” I pointed to my head.
Alex turned quickly around. “Exactly. It’s just inside.” He laughed and tossed his head to the side. “Mom didn’t like it that I wanted to go to the Academy, but she respected it.” He smiled, remembering her, then quieted. “Will they be okay?”
“I don’t know.”
“Maybe we should go back and rescue them. With your, um, unique abilities and my training, we could bust them out of any prison.”
I shook my head. “No, that is not part of the mission. Your parents gave specific direction to save you and your siblings and to take you to your —”
“I know, I know. Our Uncle Jeb. But plans can be altered. In battle, that is to be expected. Battles hardly ever go according to plans.”
“This one will. End of discussion.”
Alex laughed and stared at me. “Wow, Mom programmed you well. That was one of her favorite lines to me. End of discussion.” He turned around and twirled his gun. “You know, my grandfather would go on and on about my destiny. That’s why I got so upset about not going to the Academy.”
“That is why the Empire wants you, Alex.”
Alex stopped twirling his gun. “Why?”
“You had a higher score on the cadet intake test than any other Heragi — ever. I read it in your file. They want you to fight for them, so you can help them conquer the galaxy.”
“They do?” He grinned.
“Why would you want to fight for an Empire that has arrested your parents and outlawed your uncle?”
He cast his eyes downward, and his shoulders slunk. “No, of course not, Gabe,” he whispered. “How did this all get messed up?”
“I don’t know,” I replied. “But your uncle will have answers that I cannot give you.”
“Okay, Uncle Jeb will know,” he said. Alex turned around and exited the observatory.
I contemplated our exchange and the different emotions I’d monitored in Alex. Ava and Damiel would have had a handful with their son. A warrior in a boy’s body. I hope I handled that well, Ava.