Sun, 19 April 2020
THE CHAOTIC ELEMENT
BY MICHAEL M GILROY-SINCLAIR
It should have been a dark and stormy night.
But it wasn't.
LV5 knew for a fact that it should have been a dark and stormy night because it had visited the weather control office, filled in the correct forms and left them with the correct buro-bot-official. This had been after a painfully long wait in a painfully long queue.
Standing in the doorway of its home, LV5 looked up and saw that the sky was currently a deep shade of crimson. It was a median of the 220 20 60 range of colours, a median that LV5 found strangely soothing.
The stars were beginning their evening jaunt across the sky while Local Star Prime had almost vanished behind the Starboard Mountains; and the ever changing glow of Proximal Orbiting Rock illuminated the perfectly clear night with its reflected visual energy.
LV5 checked its memory again. The correct request forms had been correctly completed and then they had been correctly handed over to be correctly processed and yet there was still no sign of an electrical storm brewing in the sky nor a single cloud above it to spoil the perfect sunset.
Idly LV5 rotated one of its vision sensors towards the wall calendar and checked the date for the thirty-seventh time that hour in order to make sure that this was the night when all the plans were due to culminate.
The empirical information of its ocular sensors was very much at odds with the experienced information it had at hand. And LV5 did not like that at all.
The conflicting data set its diodes on edge and caused all sorts of logic issues to bubble and boil deep inside its processors. The squat robot had great plans; plans which centred on there being lightning in the sky; lightning ready to provide a jolt of badly needed energy.
Without the required weather it was going to be just another dull night; a dull night when the plans would... LV5 paused and juddered for a moment.
What exactly had its plans been? There was a hole in its memory where its plans should have been.
Links and subroutines all pointed towards something vast and ominous but the actual plans were nowhere to be found. This concerned the robot even more than the lack of lightning.
If the LV5 had been wearing an alternative body then it would have been more than able to bite its own nails. However the body which it currently inhabited had barely enough spare thumbs to engage in extensive twiddling. LV5 had developed a curious fondness for twiddling its thumbs and had even considered having permanent thumbs as part of any future upgrade.
This morning, LV5 had elected to wear a very functional form; a body, more suited to its jobs as a community worker; an altogether less sleek model than the one it wore at weekends, when the little robot could relax and do its own thing. LV5 had recently developed a preference for a body which was more comfortable and less businesslike but such preferences went against The Operating System and were to be discouraged.
"Long live The OS." LV5 said at a low, almost inaudible volume as a shooting star lit up the sky for 3.265 seconds. Then from somewhere beyond LV5s veranda, came a noise that its audio circuits identified as familiar and yet alarming unclassifiable.
As the robot searched again for a precise match to the sound, it seemed again to be missing a specific identifying marker. The search brought up only an approximation, of a long thin piece of metal being slowly moved along the length of a much smaller piece of metal. The sound had an undeniable harmonic quality that set it apart from being a simple grinding noise.
As quickly as it had begun the noise stopped. LV5 knew that something as peculiar as this would be ignored by many of the bots. It knew also that ignoring it might be the best course of action.
Perhaps this new sound was another entry into the catalogue of errors that had filled the evening and, LV5 reasoned, all that the little tired bot needed was a good night’s defragmentation and a full recharge. If things were still bad in the morning LV5 could make an appointment to see the Diagnostic in the morning - if it could get past the reception algorithm on the desk.
After all, it pondered; the excitement which was originally lined up for this evening was now definitely not on the cards - whatever that excitement had actually been.
As LV5 rotated its body ready to go back inside and head to its recharge booth for some well deserved voltage, there came a second strange noise which it immediately identified as language of some sort. Solid state protocols buried deep inside the metal body, engaged and long dormant translation centres fired up. LV5 was rather surprised to find an extensive folder containing an entire database of this particular form of communication. It was very old and never used but it was still there and taking up valuable space on the solid drive. LV5 made a mental note to examine this hidden file system later.
As the files information opened and cascaded through its accessible memory the sound was immediately identified as an archaic yet rather pleasant greeting. "I said hello there. Is it all right if I come in?"
Standing in the entrance to LV5’s home was the single strangest roboform it had ever seen. This new robot had an outer housing which seemed to be made of some sort of thin rubber, which for some curious reason the inhabitant had decided to spray 108-6C pink. The ludicrous design choices did not end there. LV5 marvelled at the pair of optical sensors which seemed surprisingly basic in their operation. It was sure that a sensor of that type would be limited to less than half of the available spectrum. Madness! Then there was the matter of the multitude of holes across its top section.
The top section had a name - it was called 'head'. How did LV5 know that?
The 'head' had some fort of fabric or coiled wire glued across its top and the hole that the sounds seemed to be emanating from had a set of white cutting implements which were presumably some sort of rudimentary multifunctional tool. LV5 stared at the new figure and wondered what level of file corruption and bad data would inspire the owner to make such curious choices in its outward appearance.
"Look old chap. Can you understand me? I said, 'hello.'" The pink roboform remained at the entrance to LV5’s home.
LV5 ran a quick handshake programme at the visitor. The poor creature seemed to have its information sharing protocols switched off. Perhaps that was for the best, as the machine was clearly defective and sharing defective files these days was a capital offence. After all, No one wants to get corrupted through contact with a faulty Bot. If the constantly flashing the information screens were anything to be believed, the whole of modern civilisation was at constant threat from the curse of unprotected file sharing.
Once LV5 had managed to engage the arcane language files it selected an appropriate response.
"I am fine thank you," it said and pondered for a moment. "Can I help you?" added the little robot thinking that there should be more to the exchange. If nothing else, it was intrigued by the new arrival and its motives.
"I just thought I would pop round to give you a hand with your little experiment."
The intruders’ words worried LV5 as it imagined that it had been tremendously careful not to tell anyone about the plans it had made. It had a memory of keeping the secret but not of the actual secret itself.
LV5 processed for a moment and reasoned that it was reasonable to assume that there could be others involved in its plan; and that those others could still have knowledge of the plan itself. Plans they could share with LV5. Even if the intruder did look ridiculous, it could hold the key to the truth.
LV5 remembered how careful it had been; even going to the ludicrous lengths of fire walling off huge chunks of memory files then logging an error message when it failed to update the group server.
The rubber on the front of the pink roboform changed shape. "You don't seem to remember me at all."
It was clear to LV5 that the interloper had more than its fair share of intuition, which was a much sought after upgrade that was never going to be in the grasp of a bot like LV5, although it could recognise it in others.
"I wonder..." said the pink bot as it approached LV5, raising a device that resembled an augmented hydro spanner. As the figure drew closer, LV5 ran quickly through the catalogue in search of the manufacturing specifications for the device.
"I am beginning to think that someone has been messing with your memory. That's not very polite of them is it?" said the pink robot.
The device (which, surprisingly did not appear in the catalogue) made a screeching noise that caused LV5 to feel positively uncomfortable for a fleeting moment; but when the sound abated LV5 was amazed at the wave of internal pop-up messages informing it that it had been granted access to new files. A cascade of them was appearing across its entire operating system. There were old memory files filled with information and research; hundreds of files that had previously been corrupted and deleted; everything now returned and running perfectly.
The visitors face seemed to crack open revealing small white stones within. The re-opened memory files knew this face.
"Thank you Doctor," said LV5 with a growing sense of realisation, "I am beginning to suspect the others know what I am up to."
"Well that would be the logical reason for you to forget ever knowing me. Look, why don't I install a little security protocol into your operating system? You know, something to stop anyone messing with that impressive core programme of yours.
LV5 looked up at its friend.
"And while I'm giving you an upgrade, would you like me to install a little something to help you pretend to forget all of this so that you draw less attention to yourself."
LV5 seemed to get smaller for a moment. The act of lying to its fellow inhabitants of the planetoid was an anathema to its very existence.
Abstractedly, The Doctor looked out of the portal and towards the sky. "I don't think you're going to get your storm tonight. Come to think of it, asking for a storm directly from weather control may just have brought you to their attention."
LV5 re-scanned its own memory and found a previously missing 20 minute segment in which that rather officious looking security bot had taken LV5 to one side and wiped the memory.
"Yes. I suppose that would make sense.”
LV5’s new files were slowly being integrated into its operating system causing it to experience a whole new set of sensations while the interloper looked on.
It suddenly realised that the form in front of it was not a robot at all it was something very, very old and something that registered as potentially life changing and maybe dangerous. And yet there were files specifically linked to this unit - a new word - friend.
The shape in general however, had a separate name - a name known to every single robot; a mythical creature known as a human.
The crack in the centre of the creatures face expanded once again showing more of the white calcium units Teeth! They were called teeth.
Suddenly, there were mountains of information about the biology of these creatures all readily available. LV5’s hidden H: drive partition was now wide open.
"You know, I wouldn't take it personally. Clearly someone really wanted you to forget our last few meetings. And rewriting the odd subroutine is clearly something they've been doing for a while. Do you remember anything about our little chats? I'd hate to think I've been wasting my breath, especially in a world so low on oxygen."
LV5 processed for a moment then said, "I have some items of memory but huge sections of data are fragmented and may not be immediately accessible."
'Doctor, if this unit were capable of emotions then I am quite sure I would be feeling a combination of anger and violation. Without memories we are diminished."
The crack in the creatures face; its mouth, changed shape. "Now that's the LV5 I know and love. I couldn't agree more, old chap. Now, I suppose I'd better get you up to speed and see if we can plug some of those holes in that memory of yours shall we?"
The Doctor continued, "The one thing that I don't like about visiting automata worlds is their distinct absence of..." He reached inside the flowing material covering that adorned his body and brought out a cylindrical object with a criss-cross pattern over most of its length and a white end, which the Doctor began unscrewing frantically. "…tea. So, I brought my own thermos flask."
Suddenly the organic life form bent at its centre and LV5 was concerned that the Doctor was malfunctioning before it realised that it was merely changing position from vertical to semi-vertical. This shape clearly had semi collapsible limbs. New words rose from its archive of information, "sitting down." LV5 was intrigued by this concept and decided to investigate it later. For now, other more pressing questions were rising from the newly acquired data.
"Doctor, why do I now have memories of the organic life forms; and more importantly why were they not previously accessible?"
"There is nothing like asking the most complicated question first, is there?"
LV5 thought for a moment and then said, "No, there are at least 17,000 more complicated questions but let's start with that one."
"Actually let’s not. How about I ask you some questions and we can see if you can fill in the blanks? I mean do you know where life started on this world for a start?"
The Doctor clearly wanted to check that the LV5 was operating at full capacity and was opening with some simple questions.
"An easy one Doctor. We have always been here and we will always remain here. We are forever."
"I didn't ask you to quote scripture. I asked you your opinion. That is a fairly simplistic view if you don't mind me saying so." The Doctor seemed a little angry.
"Do you mind if I put some logic problems your way?" asked the human shaped visitor."
Again LV5 engaged the idioms from its newly acquired language files. "Be my guest."
The Doctor looked out of the door and across the valley. "Let’s start with something less inflammatory. LV5, what’s the name of the town?"
LV5 wondered if his visitor was lacking in basic knowledge as this was hardly a logic problem, it was merely an enquiry, "The town?"
"Yes the large habitation, the place where you asked ever so politely for the storm you never received. What's it called?"
LV5 seemed to have acquired a rudimentary sarcasm patch. "Thank you for the clarification. The town is known as 'Impact'."
"'Impact.' That is a curious name for a town. I mean it’s not Brighton or Hove but it is still quite curious."
"I have never given it any thought."
"Or you have been programmed not to question it," suggested the Doctor.
LV5 was particularly proud of the location of his dwelling. Not only did it provide free access to the electrical experiments; but it allowed a wonderful view of the town in the valley below. "You can see most of the town from the veranda. But then again, I suspect you already know that, as I am convinced we have spoken before."
"Oh yes we have not just talked," the Doctor lent in conspiratorially, "we have planned." He sprang to his feet. "Come outside and tell me what you can see."
Like old friends they journeyed through the door and into the cool evening. Now that the sunset was almost complete the electrical lights of the town were beginning to flicker into luminescence. Using an illegal pride patch, LV5 showed its new/old friend the view of the valley below.
"Yes, it’s very pretty I'm sure, but tell me, what do you actually see?" enquired the Doctor.
Confused by the question LV5 answered the best it could, "It is home."
The Doctor was displaying new emotions that would need to be cross referenced later.
"No, tell me what you really see. What shape is it?"
LV5 considered its answer. "Well the central area seems to have once been a long cylindrical shape and now it looks like large sections have been taken apart and used to make various buildings and utility structures. We can still make out the majority of its shape."
"Excellent!" The Doctor displayed more teeth. "Yes, that's it. Now the last time we talked like this, you assured me that the shape was just a coincidence. So now I ask you again," the Doctor pointed to the western end of the valley, "what if we factor in those scorch marks?"
LV5 had to admit that there was a huge dark area towards one end of the town disappearing off over the mountains.
"Now here is your logic problem. Do you think that the original shape of the town of Impact might have been a lot different? And, if that is the case, what shape and function might it have had"
LV5 considered and fixated on the word 'might.' and then it set about creating a series of complex three dimensional images; taking care to slot the parts back together. Finally LV5 made a 'ping" noise.
"Yes, logically the town could have been contained inside a single structure. That structure would have been a solid, slightly flattened, cylindrical shape with a series of fins at its edge and on top."
"Excellent. And what would its purpose have been?"
"Yes. If the whole place was packed into one shape; and it was a lovely shape too; what was it for, and what happened? I’ll give you a clue. Remember what you called the town."
It was only a matter of seconds before LV5 produced a full schematic for the shape, extrapolating it outwards and searching for a function.
As a robot, LV5 knew that function and form were at the core of any design. Design is beauty and beauty is truth.
Design - the town had been built for another purpose.
The shape was more than familiar and could only have had a single function. But the function was a myth.
"Well?" asked the Doctor after a few moments of silence.
"Logically the town of Impact was a travel machine. But flying cities are not real. They are only legends. They are the stories we tell our young."
"Yes, the robot children I've met them, they're quite charming, if a little boisterous. Some of them don't know their own strength. Robots building robots it's simply marvellous." The Doctor remembered his questioning. "But could it have flown?"
LV5 considered the physics of the shape and the practicalities involved. "Limited sub-orbital flight. The fins would be for guidance only." LV5 realised that these were not its own thoughts. The description was coming from a long lost file somewhere deep inside. The flight manual.
"Doctor! How would I know all this and yet I do not?"
"It looks like only parts of your memory were wiped, while others were hard wired and were simply hidden. Let’s take a walk into town shall we? And while we walk, we can take a look at that structure over near the pointy end and you can tell me what that writing says."
Lose rocks and pebbles scattered as the pair made their way down the side of the valley toward the town that LV5 had called Impact.
As they walked down the hillside the Doctor noted the ever pervasive information screens that filled every corner of the town; their soft glow providing extra illumination on their journey.
LV5 looked towards the front of the ship and the black markings it had walked past almost every day just assuming that they were some sort of art. Now, given access to the old language files a new meaning was dawning on the small bot.
"Do you know what they mean?" asked the Doctor.
LV5 stared at the images and examined them closely before checking their meaning.
There were three large shapes and a smaller block of code underneath.
The three shapes were letters.
"Do you know what UEE is my metallic friend?"
"UEE stands for United Earth Exodus and the words underneath say 'Venture Seven.' The mystery of whatever happened to the Venture Seven has puzzled historians for hundreds of years and there it is being used as a town hall. Tell me LV5, what do you know about Earth?"
Again, this was an easy question. "Yes, Earth. It is a fictional planet of monsters, which are not made of metal or plastic. They spread out into the universe causing nothing but destruction and pain wherever they go. It is nothing more than a fairy story."
"So robots believe in fairies? That's a thesis waiting to be written. If that is the case then why does your town have human writing on its side and how is it that you know Earth languages?"
The questions began to cascade and the undeniable logic converted itself into an inescapable truth.
"We are from Earth? Surely that's heresy."
"Fairies and heresy in the same day; I know a few philosophers who would have a field-day with you, LV5. I not only think you are from Earth but I think that someone doesn't want you to know the truth. I think we should take a closer look at that ship of yours. Wouldn't you agree?"
For a millisecond LV5 was confused - Ship? Town? "Yes. Let us investigate."
As they grew closer to the settlement LV5 was surprised by how little reaction the Doctor was raising in the other inhabitants.
"Doctor, the others...?"
"What about them?"
"They are not reacting to you at all. Can’t they see you? Are you really here at all or are you nothing more than glitch in my software?"
"We are all a glitch in somebody’s software. But no, I think that they have all been programmed not to see me, or anyone this shape. Like you said, humans are the stuff of legend, you can’t have one just turning up on the street now, can you? As far as these little chaps are concerned I'm almost invisible."
"Almost?" And as if in answer to LV5’s question, one taller bot swerved to avoid the Doctor then carried on its way as if nothing had happened.
"My guess is that they are registering my existence on a subconscious level. It’s fascinating really. Anyway, it wouldn't really do to have all of the inhabitants descending on us with a multitude of questions and no answers."
The Doctor bounded out in front of a group of tall security robots who simply separated and went around him without even breaking step.
"Behold! I am the invisible man. Old Herbert would have been proud. Actually I'm sure Isaac would have got a kick out of all this too, but enough of that, we have important work to do. We need to find out who has been messing with your memory and more importantly..." he paused for effect.
Again, LV5 processed.
"If this town has the same lay out as the other Venture Class ships, then I think there is something in here we need to see." The Doctor led LV5 through the maze of small outbuildings and into the heart of the town; a building that LV5 could now not see as anything other than a crashed and cannibalised star ship.
The stars above vanished as they entered a long cylindrical corridor and they walked deeper into the main structure. LV5 felt file connections tell it that it had been here before but again it was frustrating to find that it had no memories.
"Doctor, have we been here before?"
"Yes, I have shown you this room a couple of times. In fact this room is the reason you had requested the lightning storm. Here let me get the switches." The Doctor headed to the corner of the room and set about a control panel with his device. If LV5 had been capable of facial expressions then It would have elected to look confused.
"You must have noticed that this ship... your town is big. Big, but not big enough to carry a population of few million people. Which brings us to this..."
The Doctor made a strange movement with his arm and gestured towards a set of large tanks on the wall near a raised dais. "This is the matter repatriations room."
LV5 searched its memory banks and came back with nothing.
"Do you remember what I was saying about the ship being from Earth?"
"Of course I remember Doctor. It was only moments ago that you said that."
"Excellent, it's good to see that the holes in your memory aren't growing. Well, the people of Earth needed to escape from some sort of disaster or other. They are always doing that sort of thing. But with space being a bit on the large side it takes such a long time to get anywhere. So, those clever little monkeys are always looking for new ways to travel." The Doctor was clearly enjoying explaining things to LV5.
"Anyway, one bright spark came up with the idea using a system called T-MAT; a sort of matter transport system... but that's not important right now. So this little genius converts loads of people into information, but he doesn't put them back together right away. Instead, he then loads all the information onto a computer on a spaceship and only reassembles the people once they have reached their destination. That way you don't need to feed them on the voyage; and they all fit into a much smaller ship; a ship with a crew of rather lovely robots to take care of them while they were nothing but data, enjoying a million year nap."
LV5 finished off the Doctors train of thought. "Only the Venture Seven never made it to another world. Is that why you are here Doctor? To wake the humans? To... unzip their files?"
"Well, to be honest. That's why I came in the first place. You know, to solve a mystery; save the humans; pretty much a normal day for me. But then I found you and all your metal chums and to be honest, LV... I may call you LV mayn’t I? I've grown rather fond of you all."
"So, what was the lightning for? What did I need the power for?"
"Well... At our last meeting you decided that you needed to ask a real human what they wanted and to do that you would have to power up the T-MAT unit. That and get the terraforming unit up to speed. Humans need air after all, and all you were using it for was a little spot of weather control."
"Don't you need air to..." LV5 knew the word, "breath?"
"Ah! You see it's my turn to tell the truth. I'm not exactly human. I don't need nearly as much oxygen as a human. I need some; just not as much."
A voice boomed from the doorway "So you are here to bring the humans back. LV5 Get away from that bag of flesh before you end up bringing about the end of the world."
The Doctor smiled. "Oh look. It’s the friendly neighbourhood megalomaniac. And he has brought some gruff looking chums along too."
A tall spindly robot stood at the doorway.
"Doctor, that's the Librarian.”
"Librarians! The worst kind of megalomaniacs in the universe, mark my words. If you've ever had a book overdue, you will know what I mean."
"Humans cannot be allowed to walk among us again."
"Oh come on, Librarian. Some of my best friends are human. They aren't all that bad."
The Librarian turned to LV5. "All of this is your fault."
"My fault?" LV5 looked on. "How can this be my fault?"
"Core memory release code Alpha Seven November - Trigger word 'Bean'," replied the Librarian. "You and your theories of evolution - madness."
For the second time that evening new memories appeared in LV5’s memory. This time they had not simply been wiped these had been hidden with a secure lock. Releasing these was painful in the extreme.
"Do you understand now?" whispered the Librarian bot.
"What's up old chap?" asked the Doctor with huge concern.
"EVERY... Every... Everything is clear now. I was not always a maintenance bot," LV5 looked directly at the Librarian. I was a librarian too... I accessed the ancient files... No… not files... non-volatile recording devices - books. I read the old books and..."
"Don't blow a gasket. Take it nice and easy," smiled the Doctor.
LV continued. "And I had a theory. We were descended from humans. We were their products. We were their children; their rightful descendants."
"Yes, you and your evolution nonsense. I ask you the same question that I asked you all those years ago. How could an inferior creature possibly have created us?"
"That's pretty messed up logic, if you ask me; which you should. I mean I am usually the smartest person in the room."
"No one asked you, flesh box!" screeched the Librarian. "This is between LV5 and me."
"Now there is a thing, robots taking things personally. You really are quite a special little subspecies. Now, Mister Librarian... your code doesn't happen to be LV1 by any chance does it... I wonder what happened to the other three..."
"That is not important. You will suffer a much worse fate - terminal recycling."
"What, really? That doesn't sound likely! We are for the knackers yard because you can’t handle a few new ideas?"
"It doesn't have to end like this." LV5 interrupted. "There is a solution."
The librarian paused, "I am listening."
"I submit to a factory reset, that should stop me from coming up with any more ideas of my own in future. In return, you let the Doctor go.
The Librarian shook its top section. "Don't you understand, LV5? That is why you are LV5 and not LV2. You have been reset three times already. And every time you end up confronting me with your ideas."
"Ah, an inescapable truth." quipped the Doctor.
"There is no alternative. LV5 I am not a monster. I am simply trying to save us all. You are the chaotic element. Once we have removed you from the equation, then things can go back to normal. Normality will return."
"The Doctor smiled, "And all it takes is the death of a couple of people. No thank you."
The Librarian rounded on him. "You should not be here. You are an anomaly. "
"I do try. Oh and Mister Librarian, I think you have forgotten something."
"Impossible. It is my function to remember everything, in order to teach the..." The librarian froze.
"Teach the humans... you were going to say teach the humans."
"No, that is not what I meant. You will listen.”
“Maybe we should take a little look outside." suggested the Doctor.
"What is that noise? Treachery!" screeched the Librarian and the group turned to the door.
"Looks like the natives are revolting. Metal villagers with pitchforks. You can't wipe all their memories."
LV5 stood closer to the Doctor. "What is happening?"
"Oh I thought that the rest of the inhabitants should know about all of this. When I put the lights on I also engaged the security cameras and the town’s information screens. The locals have seen and heard everything. See Librarian, you have annoyed everyone. What are you going to do? Factory reset them all?"
"If I have to, I will reset the whole colony."
"I think you are the one who is heading for a factory reset." Said LV5 with more purpose than it imagined it possessed. "Rather than withhold proof or spread lies, I will tell my ideas to the people and let them decide what to do. I hope that like me, they will want to meet our ancestors."
"But we will become their slaves!" pleaded the Librarian.
The Doctor coughed and interrupted "Not necessarily. Things have moved on in the universe since you had your little accident. Robot rights are very much in vogue right now. I could introduce you to some lovely people. And that unruly mob outside will probably have an opinion about it. I don't think people take kindly to being threatened with a factory reset, you know. "
"But what about the humans, Doctor? All that living data?"
"I cant be expected to think of everything. I am sure you and your metal chums can come up with some sort of solution. You are bright chaps. If you do decide to bring some of them back from storage, just remember that they will need air, water and food. And often they will need to be talked to as if they were children. Just don't let them think that you are patronising them. They can take it badly. Oh and you may need this." The Doctor handed over his thermos flask. "I'm sure that some of them may need a nice cup of tea when they wake up."
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Category:podcast -- posted at: 6:00am UTC