• • • Day 0.09.28
Round Table 1. the table around which King Arthur and
his knights sat. 2. [r- t- ] an informal discussion group
“Good evening, everyone,” she purred at the red light. “I’m Sylvia Robinson, and we have a very special show for you.”
She shifted smoothly to face the red light again as it flitted to another camera, and on the monitor her head-shot dissolved to a group shot showing the panelists arrayed behind two curved desks on either side of her. The machine was to her immediate left, and since its box part was hidden from the camera behind the arc of desk, Robey looked just like any other human expert. That is to say, it wasn’t Hollywood handsome, and it looked different in an imposing, slightly eccentric way. But obviously it wasn’t human.
“Actually, ‘show’ is not the right word,” she continued, “because there is no script, only a list of topics. And neither I nor my Director has even the vaguest notion about what will happen, except that it will be very …something.”
The machine examined her face in the monitor. Then it looked over to her real face, and then back to the monitor. It did this quite a few times. Its side view of her face was imperfect, and it leaned for at least a three-quarter view to better catch the infra-red wavelengths. The TLC viewers noticed Robey’s fascinating mix of calm intense focus and eager wide curiosity. Indeed, that feeling filled the entire room to the walls.
Sylvia showed a delight almost to the point of triumph, which was interesting because nothing had happened yet. Her delight wavered a bit as she sensed what the machine was doing. “With us today,” she continued, shooting Robey an involuntary glance, “is…”
Guy watched from the wings, pacing like a deer trying to cross a busy road at night, sensing danger but not comprehending it. All he knew were the lights, vague vibrations, things moving, and the smell of his own fear.
Listening to her introduce the panelists, he suspected that really she did have expectations, and that they were probably more along the lines of a massive pie fight but with words instead of pies. He recalled the pristine royal bakery in Blake Edwards’ The Great Race with shelf after shelf of freshly baked pies, and the General’s urgent words to the fake Prince Hapnik: “Your Highness, we’ve got to get out of here.”
• Day 0.09.29
“Well, Doctor, you got what you wanted,” Bozworth said the next day as he burst into Doc’s office and shut the door impetuously behind him. Ignoring Robey, which was on its usual spot, he seated himself in the nearest side chair. “Ms. Robinson did a brilliant job moderating, and an equally brilliant summation of that fiasco on TV last night.”
“I didn’t want any of this, and you know it,” Doc said hotly, shuffling the morning’s newspaper accounts and the scalding email feedback from the round-table discussions—if one could call them discussions.
“Well,” Winston amended, “then you got what was inevitable, given what you wanted. Maybe that’s the better way to put it. You said you wanted to find out what that machine of yours is capable of, and now we know. About the only group it didn’t offend were the French.”
Little poked at the pile of papers and slid one out. “Robey,” he asked, “did you really say Frenchmen make better lovers than Americans?”
“Not exactly, no.”
“What possessed you to do something like that?” he replied anyway. “You’ve never been to France. You’re not a human being. You’ve never experienced that culture anywhere but in movies. How can you know the truth about it except as hearsay?”
“I do not have to experience the rituals of romance to distinguish the various forms. I do agree movies are not as reliable as some may think for a source of those things. But no,” said the machine, coming explicitly to the truth, “I have never been there. However, I have talked to enough of the French—and French women in general—to think the old cliché about Frenchmen as good lovers is true, perhaps more often than not. French men tend to think about what will please the woman.
“Americans, on the other hand, tend to assume that what makes them happy should make others happy too. …Of course, it could be that French women know how to manipulate French men better than American women know how to manipulate American men. I wish I had considered that point of view before the telecast. In any event, my comments were not intended to either praise or condemn either nationality or gender; they were merely observations about statistically significant differences in national character—statistically significant according to my research, anyway. I meant no harm. I was just answering a question honestly.”
“So,” Winston said with the confidence of one who has just been proved right yet again, “We must salvage what we can from this by minimizing bad publicity, or turning it into good publicity if that’s possible. In any event we simply cannot have that thing going around wherever it wants and saying anything it wants any time it wants.
“It doesn’t matter what the ‘truth’ is,” Bozworth continued, anticipating an excuse that Doc no longer considered worth giving. “What matters is the truth that it’s causing havoc on every imaginable front. And it must stop. Now.”
With this last point Doc of course agreed completely. He didn’t know what to say as he felt the initiative slipping to Bozworth in this contest for deciding whose plans would go forward. On the other hand, he well hid his anger at Bozworth for treating the machine so much like an over-eager toaster while both the machine and its creator were present.
Little ordered Robey back to work.
The door hadn’t shut behind it before Winston went on: “We can’t hope to profit from this brilliant technology as it now stands. We have to find a way to cleanly separate the technology from the current public perception of what it produces. Then we patent the technology, and build on the patented foundation. We have to distance ourselves from the machine ‘Robey’ in every way. At the very least, it will have to stop giving interviews, and talking to people on the Internet, and visiting schools, and acting cute. No one will believe it harmless, now that it has publicly offended every religious and political group one could imagine except maybe the Cynics.”
“So,” Doc said at last, with a strange combination of disgust and agreement, “you want the machine to just shut up and do as it’s told?”
“To be frank, yes. After all, it’s just a machine.”
“Do you really think just ordering that can make it happen?”
“Find a way to make it so, Maynard.” Then he rose to leave. “You make it sound like it’s not a machine. But it’s a machine.”
“I don’t think you understand, Winston,” cautioned Little with a calm resignation at the man’s obtuseness. “It may not be possible.”
Bozworth hesitated. Then he turned and left the room without another word.
Doc sat for some time giving the wall opposite his desk the thousand yard stare.
Words startled Winston as he stalked thoughtfully down the hall.
A voice had said, “Boz. You were right.”
Bozworth turned to see Ronald Nichols catching up. “Right about what,” the chairman replied absently. He continued to walk, and the consultant explained:
“He’s going to make us rich.”
Finally Bozworth stopped. “Rich? Who?”
“Doc Little. His inventions are going to make us rich and you predicted it.”
“What?” the chairman asked.
“When we were at MTM. You told me Little was going to do something one day that would make us all rich.”
As their shared memory of events returned to his mind, the chairman smiled without at all feeling like it. “Yes, I did say that, didn’t I.” Skipping a beat he asked, “Did you watch the Round Table discussion last night?”
“Yeah. So what?”
Nichols continued his thought as he obeyed Bozworth’s signal to walk along. “It might happen later than you imagined, but it’s definitely gonna happen. That machine is amazing.”
“Yes,” Bozworth muttered. “Little’s a genius, and people are going to get rich. But if we’re not careful it won’t be us.”
“What do you mean?” Nichols asked quietly.
“I’ll tell you later. You’re done here for the day, right?” Without waiting for an answer he added, “Let’s go.”
They walked away, their footsteps echoing faintly down the hall. Robey poked its head around a corner and quietly watched them disappear.
A Literary historical science fiction mystery
Table of Chapters
Chapter 0. Problems
Chapter 1. Headaches
Chapter 2. Happy Holidays
Chapter 3. Mr. Nice Guy
Chapter 4. The Brainless One
Chapter 5. A Little Crazy
Chapter 6. Grave Consequences
Chapter 7. Core Directives
Chapter 8. Expect Difficulties
Chapter 9. Caveats
Chapter 10. Mister Machine
Chapter 11. Good News, Bad News, El Cheapo
Chapter 12. New Memories
Chapter 13. Little Problems
Chapter 14. Lasers, Language, and Happiness
Chapter 15. Chatterbots
Chapter 16. Ready Or Not
Chapter 17. Not a Turing Test
Chapter 18. Reality Test
Chapter 19. Chess, Anyone?
Chapter 20. FOM
Chapter 21. Chairman of the Board
Chapter 22. The Usual Suspects
Chapter 23. M. God
Chapter 24. Walkabout
Chapter 25. Why
Chapter 26. First Blood
Chapter 27. More Machines?
Chapter 28. POV
Chapter 29. ROI
Chapter 30. Last Blood
Chapter 31. Don’t Want to Talk About It
Chapter 32. Round Table ----------------------------->
Chapter 33. A Change of Mind
Chapter 34. Threes
Chapter 35. Knight Moves
Chapter 36. Little Combinations
Chapter 37. Can We Talk?
Chapter 38. Pas de Deux
Chapter 39. The Jig Is Up
Chapter 40. Good, Bad, Ugly Chapter 41. Function Goes On