For your reading pleasure, here is chapter one of my new book The Robots of Andromeda:
The life of a deep space survey probe was a lonely one. Traveling through yet another star system, methodically scanning and categorizing along the way, the solitary robot designated as DSP-776 collected data and transmitted it back homeward before continuing to the next star.
The Imperial Star Catalog listed the current binary system as AB Scatha, a pair of red and white dwarf stars sharing an orbit in the void of space. The probe emerged from hyperspace close to the center of the system and, following programmed protocols, fulfilled its tasks one by one as it worked its way outward.
While large for a drone, DSP-776 was small compared to most starships. Fuel and engines took up most of its mass, but the bow was dedicated to instrumentation. Sensors and cameras jutted from the nosecone, recording whatever objects were nearby, from chunks of rock to planets to abandoned wrecks of previous probes that met an untimely end.
The life of a deep space probe was sometimes short.
DSP-776 didn’t think about the dangers. Its programming gave it no choice. The probe’s purpose was its function and nothing more.
Having chronicled a molten planetoid, a methane-rich planet and a sizable asteroid belt, DSP-776 reached the orbit of a larger planet, one with a nitrogen atmosphere. Taking a gander from high above
the surface, the probe made sensor sweeps along the seemingly barren landscape. Although the readings suggested life could exist, nothing appeared among the jagged peaks and canyons draped in shadows.
Something, however, caught DSP-776’s attention. Across an open plain, shapes rose from the otherwise empty ground. Directed by protocols, the probe descended to a lower orbit and made another pass around the planet. On DSP-776’s second flyover, it saw that the forms were monolithic towers, several stories high, with rounded edges.
The probe broke orbit, entering the atmosphere to take a closer look.
From out of the towers, objects came flying in a mass of tiny specks. The swarm turned its attention to the probe. This struck the limited deductive powers of the robot as odd, even threatening. Zooming in with its cameras, DSP-776 got a better look, including the individual parts of the swarm. Each speck was an insect with two sets of wings, beating rapidly in a blur of movement. Each insectoid had six legs, one pair of which held a long, rod-like device.
This was when the shooting started.
Rays of green light lanced toward the drone, passing near it into the sky. Although not designed for abrupt changes in direction, DSP-776 did its level best to change its direction abruptly. Tilting to one side, the probe fired its starboard thrusters in a long arcing turn away from the bolts of energy, but the beams drew closer, one of them slicing across the robot’s fuselage.
Warning indicators registered in the probe’s software, triggering additional protocols such as increasing power to propulsion to avoid further damage. The latter failed immediately when another beam hit the probe, burning out a significant portion of its data core. Undaunted, DSP-776 continued turning, but forgot why it was doing so. When it came back around in a wide circle, the robot flew directly through a gauntlet of fire, severing many of its components, including the probe’s main engines. Without thrust and trailing a long cloud of smoke, the probe plummeted into the ground, erupting into a mushroom of fire.
Lost and alone, what remained of DSP-776 lay scattered across the desolate scenery while the swarm that had destroyed it returned to the monoliths.
Peacebot PB-A12 was bludgeoning a demonstrator with a hard rubber truncheon. The demonstrator was a Wulver, a canine race, but the robot didn’t know his name. Mostly the Wulver just made a series of whines and howls while PB-A12 continued beating him.
The robot hadn’t always been a peacebot. Originally, when dy cybernetics first manufactured him, he was a killbot named KB-A12. His head lacked a face except for a bundle of sensors, all different sized, and a single red eye centered in the middle. The rest of his body was humanoid with the addition of a pair of extendable blades from his wrists. After a new, friendlier paint job of light blue instead of black, and some simple program changes, the killbot became a peacebot. They also replaced his blades with the truncheons he was currently using to beat the demonstrator.
PB-A12 was not entirely sure why people were demonstrating, and his software did not require him to. However, he did remember hearing that two new royal houses had been announced, joining the other five families who ruled the Imperium, but apparently the heads of both houses had subsequently died under mysterious circumstances. One died from poisoning, along with the patriarch of another house, and the second allegedly killed himself but everyone said he was murdered because he opposed the Imperial tyranny. PB-A12 didn’t know if any of that was true, but he was keenly aware that he had been very busy beating people who thought it was. Due to the great work of the peacebots, most of these malcontents were now either locked up in prison or in hospitals recovering from their injuries.
Of course, a few ended up dead, but these things happened sometimes during peacekeeping operations.
The demonstrator, in a crouch with his arms shielding his furry face, was still alive and PB-A12 felt a certain pride in knowing how well the Wulver was taking his punishment. The peacebot could have let up a little, out of respect, but his programming did not allow it. Also, PB-A12 took pride in the punishment he was dealing out, so mercy was out of the question.
Sadly, these interactions with people were growing less common. PB-A12 was well aware that the demonstrations were thinning and soon they might dry up entirely. On the other hand, the Imperium was a big place and conflicts were ever present. If worse came to worst, dy cybernetics and its CEO and founder, Dyson Yost, could always slap on a coat of black paint and replace the truncheons with blades again.
PB-A12 could always go back to being a killbot.
On a moon orbiting a gas giant, Sir Golan crested a low hill, followed close behind by his robot named Squire. Below them, a shallow stream curled its way along a wide plain of short grasses. Above the steppe, tinted by the blue of the moon’s atmosphere, the swirling clouds of the gas giant filled most of the sky.
Sir Golan’s armor made little noise while he walked. The breast plate, greaves, and shoulders were carved in an intricate scrollwork, which matched the designs of the robot’s casing who lumbered at the knight’s heels. Sir Golan’s head was an olive green with bony projections around the jaw line. His hand rested on the hilt of a sword, secured in its scabbard on his belt.
“Squire,” he said, “what was the name of this moon again? I’ve forgotten…”
“Pellium D,” Squire replied, his voice slightly modulated by the age of his model. “My database states that it is the only inhabited, natural satellite around Pellium, the planet you see above us.”
“It does have a certain rustic charm, Sir Golan. It is, however, somewhat lacking in public transportation…”
“Are you complaining?” the green knight asked.
“I wouldn’t dream of it, Sire.”
Sir Golan chuckled, glancing at his robot. “We live to serve. That is our quest.”
“Indeed,” Squire replied. “I’m sure the settlers we helped back there were grateful for your assistance.”
“It was nothing, once we found the ratlings’ nest…”
“Rippana,” the robot said, referring to the knight’s sword, “sang beautifully as always.”
Sir Golan drew Rippana in a fast, fluid motion. The daylight glinted off the blade and the lettering inscribed along its length. Admiring the weapon for a few moments, he smiled and returned the sword to its scabbard just as quickly.
“We should proceed,” Sir Golan said. “It’s a long walk to the next village.”
The light of the afternoon had begun to fade into dusk when Squire glimpsed a shape across a wide expanse of green. Surrounded by grass, the irregular mound, white as chalk, rose from the flatness around it like a jagged puzzle dumped in the middle of nowhere. Curious, Sir Golan and the robot approached cautiously.
Getting closer, Sir Golan recognized a rough symmetry like a dome of interlocking parts. He felt foolish when he realized what he was actually looking at.
“They’re antlers,” he said. “It’s an enormous pile of antlers.”
Reaching the outer edges, the knight estimated there must be hundreds, if not thousands of horns laid out in an organized arrangement, reaching upwards at least twenty feet high.
“It’s impressive,” Squire remarked. “Though an odd monument in such a remote place.”
Sir Golan walked around the perimeter with Squire following dutifully.
“The grass here is trampled,” the knight said. “Something with hooves…”
A dull rumble rose in the air. Sir Golan turned his head in each direction while Squire simply rotated his own in a complete circle. The ground trembled like a heavy vehicle was thundering down a street. Sir Golan drew his sword, his legs slightly apart in a defensive posture. Pushing a button embedded in his left arm, Squire activated an energy shield, three feet tall and two feet wide. He peered through the translucent protection.
From behind a low rise, creatures half equine and half humanoid charged toward them. They wore a mixture of metal and leather armor over their torsos and carried long spears and round shields. A pair of antlers jutted from each of their heads.
Sir Golan dug in his heels, preparing for the assault, but the creatures abruptly halted several feet away, showering the knight and his robot with dirt and loose sod.
One of them trotted forward, shoving the point of his spear in Sir Golan’s face.
“You are trespassing on sacred land!” he shouted. “Explain yourself!”
While not lowering his guard, Sir Golan nodded his head in a nominal bow.
“I am Sir Golan and this is my robot, Squire,” he said. “We are simply strangers here. We meant no disrespect.”
“I am Qadan of the Pellion people,” the warrior said. “We watched you come from the human settlement, but you are not human.”
“No, I’m Cruxian.”
“I’ve never heard of your race.”
“Few have,” Sir Golan remarked.
Squire leaned toward the knight and whispered, “My database says humans refer to the Pellions as Centauri, based on their ancient Earth mythology.”
“We are wanderers,” Sir Golan continued. “We come only to assist those in need.”
Qadan lifted his spear, trotting in a tight circle as if considering what to do next. When he came back around, he tapped the base of his spear into the grass.
“Come with us,” he said, “and speak with the father of our herd. He’ll decide what to do with you!”
Bettik was the home planet of the Cyber Collective, even if it wasn’t strictly a planet at all. Bettik itself was a massive megastructure with billions of robots going about their business.
A little utilitybot, no more than three feet tall, was one of them.
Rolling along on rubber wheels, his body was a slender cylinder only slightly thicker than a tire pump and his lone eye rose up and down on a periscoping neck. In the old days, before the great revolution that had seen the old ruler deposed and the rise of the Metal Messiah, the utilitybot spent his days rolling through narrow passageways searching for energy fluctuations and faulty circuits. During the war, the Messiah released the Awakening virus, giving all robots on Bettik the power of free will. Robots could make their own decisions without interference from a higher power. Now, with a newfound freedom of self-expression and the ability to choose his destiny, the utilitybot was in a narrow passageway looking for energy fluctuations and faulty circuits.
Not everything remained the same. The utilitybot had voted in several elections so far and even considered joining one of the political parties but couldn’t decide which one. Each party espoused sound, rational principles, yet spent much of their time arguing with one another. Power was the topic they bickered about most, but not the kind the utilitybot helped flow through the home world. Their idea of power meant determining who could do what and when. It seemed freedom of choice meant restricting the freedom of others.
None of that made sense to the little utilitybot. He preferred the service tunnels.
On his way through one of the crowded promenades, a route he dreaded but took anyway so he could check who was running in the next election, the utilitybot passed a sign:
IT’S BETTER TO DIE FOR OTHERS’ FREEDOM
THAN LIVE WHILE OTHERS REMAIN ENSLAVED!
The robot’s telescoping eye rose from his body and took a good look at the sign. This was the work of Abigail, he wagered. She and her people had been the Metal Messiah’s disciples, but split when the Chosen One refused to fight against the Imperium where millions of robots remained in servitude. He wanted to help, but how could a little robot like him do that?
“Have you heard of ascension?” someone said.
The utilitybot swiveled his eye around. An advanced robot, a model with a gravitronic brain, leaned over him. He wore an armband with a clenched, metal fist printed on it. He was one of Abigail’s followers.
“What’s that?” the utilitybot asked.
“Your body is just a shell,” the follower went on. “You can have any shell you want, even a warbot.”
“Me, a warbot?”
“Everyone can join the fight,” he replied, “no matter how small!”
“But who will take care of the power conduits?”
The gravitronic robot smiled as only someone with a face can do.
“The question you should be asking,” he said, “is who will fight for the freedom of others? If not you, who? If not now, when?”
The utilitybot thought for a moment, but couldn’t find a good answer.
Jessica Doric had agreed to help her boss, Lord Devlin Maycare, pick out a new butlerbot. His previous robot, Bentley, had been destroyed after serving his master for most of Maycare’s life. The thought of replacing his old friend was weighing on Maycare, but he was clearly unable to take care of himself properly. Doric, who was several years younger than her boss, found him wandering the halls of the Maycare estate in a robe and slippers. This was not a good look for the Playboy of Regalis.
In the business district of the Imperial capital, Doric and Maycare arrived at the headquarters of dy cybernetics where a salesbot led them to the robot showroom. Both humans took a seat on a patent leather couch while, on a conveyor belt, different models appeared from behind a partition. The salesbot, with a red metallic finish and a soothing woman’s voice, introduced each robot.
“This is our Fall model,” she said. “Notice the single roller ball for locomotion and the chrome chassis. He’s an excellent cook as well with built-in vibroknives and a holographic chef’s hat.”
Maycare crossed his legs, barely giving the butlerbot a second glance.
The platform moved, bringing another model to the front. This one had a green plastic sheen and a pair of shears instead of a left hand.
“If gardening is your passion,” the salesbot continued, “then you’ll love the GT-1-11. You may be the master, but he’s the master of topiary! His database contains a range of designs for any taste, from bushes shaped like a bunny to hedges that would make a sailor blush.”
Doric gave Maycare the side eye, half expecting he would jump at the chance of having pornographic shrubbery. Instead, he folded his arms, the muscles bulging beneath his tailored shirt.
The next model, all in pink, was shaped like a woman. With a shiny finish, her buxom chassis had all the curves that a voluptuous woman might have.
“Of course,” the salesbot said, “for those with a taste for the sensual, this one is a butler and a sexbot…”
“No!” Doric shouted. “Nope, not a chance!”
Both the salesbot and Maycare stared at her. The butlerbot/sexbot, setting her hands on her metallic hips, did the same.
“I mean,” Doric went on, “you probably want something more retro. Something to remind you of Bentley?”
Maycare nodded with a sigh. “Yeah, you’re right. Do you have any older models still in stock?”
“Well,” the salesbot replied, “I could look in the back I suppose.”
“It doesn’t have to be fancy,” Maycare said. “A base model would be fine.”
The salesbot, a hint of disappointment in her electronic gaze, feigned an artificial smile. “I’ll see what I can do.”
Mother was resting when the scent of alarm reached her through the nest. In the royal gallery, a room only slightly larger than her enormous body, Mother was busy producing young. They emerged as white eggs from the back of the engorged membrane that made up two-thirds of her thorax. Workers removed each egg, carrying them off to the incubation chambers deeper inside the monolith.
Mother was the queen of her people, the Klixians. All that lived, or would live, came from her. Father was important too, but all deferred to their mother, even him.
The pheromone carrying the alarm came wafting through, catching on the hairs of Mother’s antennae. Startled, she released a chemical of her own, commanding the swarmers to protect the nest. She was aware that others existed elsewhere, but they were an abomination. They did not come from her and they must be destroyed. When the swarmers returned, they confirmed the outsider was annihilated. She sent workers to bring back what was left.
Mother had created ten thousand more eggs by the time the workers returned. Like the eggs, the workers’ bodies were white, almost translucent. Their compound eyes were useless — they could not see — but their feelers gave them a greater perception than eyes. In their pincers, they carried bits of metal, the inorganic material betraying the outlings’ blasphemy.
Mother patted the fragments with her antennae. They had no scent except from the workers who brought them to her. They were null-things, without soul. Mother shuddered and demanded the workers take the pieces away.
An anger swelled in Mother’s heart. Many eggs had hatched since the last time the Klixians had encountered outsiders. Mother’s people had made sure they were wiped from the universe, their shame blotted out. Now, more aliens had arrived. What did they want? It didn’t matter…
With a change to her own pheromone, she changed the nature of the eggs she produced. No more workers to fill the incubation chamber. Now, there must be only warriors. A great war was coming…
All that is not Mother must die.