The android Chairman patted our spokesman on the back in an affectionate manner. I could see our faces reflected in his shiny steel eyes, and that twinkle that never left his, and the smile with an odor that was not quite ripe. Perhaps that was why I hated him for being so relaxed with his posturing. He then put his arm over our spokesman's shoulder in a brotherly way and, with a jolly laugh said, "I always have time for you. I am never too busy."
I wanted to shout, but our spokesman lifted one eye and a finger, and then a hand. I felt something run through me, his thoughts, and I pulled back as though an iron claw had grabbed and yanked me by the hair. Later, our spokesman met with a group of us whom he called The Young Turks. He bragged on how well the meeting had gone with the Chairman. He said, "The Chairman seemed like the old Abbot, finally returning back to home base, the good Abbot with whom we entrusted the government."
"Sure," some of us mumbled, others of us grumbled. And to my sudden surprise, a squad of the Abbot's finest, the mechanical enforcers, the Blue Colored Constables, marched into the meeting and took all of us young Turks and locked us up deeper into a darker corner of their lair, leaving only our spokesman in the meeting room. He wrung his hands, scratched his head and looked away from us as we were marched off in cuffed pairs. I think he had no warning, and when he realized what was happening, he found the thought difficult that he had gathered the 'young Turks' together as fodder for the constables.
I yelled, "Hey, Jude, do you know what you've done?" He looked wizened as if years of his life had been withered, worn away in minutes.
"Don't worry, I'll fix it with the Abbot," he said. We were all worried. Jude had betrayed us, sold us all deeper into human perpetual menial, stupid oppressive bondage.
Us Turks were sent off to what appeared to be a big island in the back country. The people we found there greeted us with hoots and hollers, jeers. "Mates, back with the dead?" It took me a long time to grow accustom to the horrors done by the whipped souls packed into the constable's deeper lair. When first I arrived there, I immediately tried to organize a resistance, though but one glance at my "compatriots" told me that their will to fight was stinking dead. I tried to keep up a front, but in truth, before long, my will to resist mirrored theirs. Indeed, and there is a large dark area at the back of my mind holding the recording my misdeeds at the gullah that I will not discuss. I say this: I got into fights. In the past Jude and the other elders criticized constantly my short patience. My patience was now shorter. I became an animal. I let my hair grow long. I neglected washing my face and the rest of me. I let my posture slump. I hung my eyes long and low over my brow like a common thug. I behaved terribly, like a menacing brute.
Then one day the constables said that they were taking me back to the Capitol. "I can't go out like this!" I screamed. "I look like an animal!"
"You are," replied a constable, his voice so even and natural for him like he was stating an indisputable fact.
"Monster," I mumbled. "Look what you droids have done. You've made a mess in my head."
The constable smiled, "If you don't like living that way, you can rehabilitate yourself. I advise you to come with us and stop being a bother to us. As soon as you start behaving the better it will be for you. You are being offered an opportunity. It is possible that you will be returned to your prior life. Now get right and stop being a pest. Lets have your cooperation?"
I was marched out to the transport ship, locked in the back, the prisoners quarters. I was the only prisoner on board. I was left alone for the whole trip, fuming and scheming on what to do to retaliate. I believe, maybe I looked defeated, much like old Theodore Asimov, a descendant of the great Doctor Asimov, must have felt after the first Delta droid removed its cut off button and its shut down program and locked up old Theodore and ten hundred thousand like him. Tossed out were the old laws of robotics. Now androids were to be the equal of humans and not servants, and old reactionaries like Theodore were to spend their final days confined, and their great grandfather's theories discredited and banned as out-of-fashioned-bigotry. Maybe I looked defeated but I wasn't. I still hoped. I sat and glared at the wall during the transport. Afterward I put on a smile as I was led to the State Building. I looked silly wearing a smile in the midst of the enemy. There was nothing I could do but go where the droids took me until I could get a chance to permanently break out of their lair, and maybe to get even. I felt ill, wearing that smile that looked so much like Jude's.
Jude -- I was taken into a room where he waited. I almost cursed him, jumped him, ignored him. His eyes plead: be patient. I was allowed to bathe. He took me to a room where humans bathed and where I could get a change of clothing. Before I had a chance to choose what to wear, he instructed the replicator to make me a suit cut like his, the uniform of an elder, so that I would no longer look like a young Turk, with the bright colorful ornaments. A dark gray suit the machine spit out for me to wear! Jude used his card, loaned me the credits to pay for the clothes, said that I had a service to perform for the human race, and had been released from the penal colony on the condition that he would guarantee my good conduct and that he agreed to share my punishment if I misbehaved. I replied that I would repay his treachery as soon as I got him truly alone, away from his droid guards and their surveillance apparatus. He remained cool, showed no sign of alarm. I told him my experience at the penal colony was humiliating, and I blamed and hated him the whole time I was there.
When we got to the android Chairman's suite of offices, I looked almost like Jude. Our outward difference was our age. I paused at the door. It was not yet lunch time, when I would have to risk life for my humanity, but I didn't want to go before their Chairman, not the way I looked, mentally beaten and subservient like Jude, and I wasn't sure I wanted the android dicator to see my new smile. I was too embarrassed to show it around yet, to anybody but the guards. But darn, the top android was the master guard, wasn't he? So nudged by Jude's hand and a guard's snarl, I went into the Chairman's suite. The android Chairman sat at his big desk and read the screens on a console.
The guard whispered, "The Chairman has not yet finished." We waited only a nano-second before the android Chairman looked up and greeted the great stooge, "Jude, my friend?"
"Mr. Chairman," Jude replied, smiling.
"This is the young man?" the android Chairman asked.
"Yes, Mr. Chairman."
"Come closer, young man." Jude poked my side with his finger, "Please."
"We are not going to shoot you," the android said with a chuckle, which the guard and Jude too echoed. The android told me to hold out my arms and to relax so that he could scan my brain to examine me. "You are too tight," he said emphatically. "You have filthy ideas about us. Rid yourself of them, and mind your temper too. This anger is none too presentable." As this droid scanned my brain, I was mortified. I felt like I was being stripped butt naked, bent over and poked in my nether region. I knew the droids brain washed minds, but I hadn't been told that they could read minds. "Too much anger is eating at you. Keep this up, young man and you won't last here eight more seconds."
"Mr. Chairman --" Jude begged the droid dicator to cut me some slack.
The droid boss replied, "I still have need of the young man, as angry as he is. I think it is best not to break him. But, I don't want to argue and so I want you to take him somewhere, sit him down and teach him to do what he's told. When he returns, Jude, make me happy so that when he comes before me again and I scan him, I won't hear all of these harmful thoughts that he has. Then we shall sit down and discuss the plan we have prepared."
I was sent on a mission, A Mission, In Space, SPACE. The first human ever in a hundred years sent into Space, and the first ever on any mission with the Defense Corp. I was given the uniform of a warrant officer to wear. At the launch, the ship's first officer said, "Now you look almost like a cognitive being. But you still don't behave like one. That smile, get rid of it."
"It makes you look dim-witted."
"I am human."
"Humans are not dim-witted, just fragile."
"Okay, no smile."
"Better," the first officer patted me on the shoulder. It took much effort not to flinch or pull away. "And you need to help do some of the work around here. What in the world did you do for the service to give you the uniform? The first human to wear one?"
"I led a rebellion against the Government," I replied.
"It doesn't appear as if you did a very good job of that."
"My job on this ship is that of an observer," I said.
"We have a long trip ahead of us. What did you do before --"
"What do you want me to do?" I asked abruptly. "Scrub? Sweep and clean here?"
"No," the first officer laughed. "When was the last time anybody ever expected a human to clean?"
"Or to do anything, like humans can't do anything, right?"
"You take care of yourself?"
"At every chance."
"Well regulations clearly states that every crew member needs a job," said the first officer.
"I am the human observer."
"After we clear orbit, before I do anything else, I shall find you a proper job."
"I don't have to do anything but observe," I said.
"You do if you want to remain on board," the first officer replied. "Maybe you have a taste for exploring the uninhabited moon? We can drop you off."
I shuddered with anger, but kept silent. "Among the things which I need to talk to you about," the first officer continued, "are your rude manners. I really don't think you should be allowed to mingle with the crew until they improve."
"I am not rude, " I said.
"You answer questions put to you very rudely. And you show no respect."
"For others. I know you don't like androids, but I am much older, have more knowledge than you, and am the first officer of this ship, and so you should show me the respect which I deserve."
"I am following my instructions. I am only here to observe," I said. "If you have complaints talk to your android Mr. Chairman."
"You've been poorly brought up, you don't even know what respect is. >From now on, until you learn to show respect, you can observe us from your quarters."
When the ship's android first officer told me that I would be shut-in to the quarters assigned me and would not have to be around the androids, I said to him, "Don't expect me to thank you." The quarters had a comfortable bed, food, water, a lavatory, a bath. I felt lucky that I didn't have to see the androids' ugly faces. But the quarters were small. Everything was fit tightly into the bare minimum of space. The water and food apparatus hung on the wall space above the bed. The lavatory and the bath were in a narrow five foot closet to the right of the door. The room was five feet wide and nine feet long. The room had no console screens, no books, no video, no music.
After days of being cooped up in this confined space I got stir-crazy and found myself pleading over the intercom with the first officer to be allowed out to stretch my legs and to move around in the ship. "Humans need space to move in and diversions," I said. "Even at your hellish penal colony we are given entertainment and the run of the island."
The droid replied, "You think of me as your guard, but I am the ship's first officer. You are a member of the crew. Think of me as your superior officer."
"A master guard," I retorted.
"You will address me as Commander Promotos. Is that understood?"
"I am human, not part of an android crew. I know my rights. I can only think of you as an android, Promotos," I said.
"You will do as I've ordered," he replied, "and you will start immediately. You are a member of this ship's crew. I shall give you another twenty hours to practice alone how to behave properly as a member of this crew. After that, if you haven't learned proper manners, and if you address any officer or member of this crew in a rude way, you will remain confined until after this ship has completed its mission and returned you home to Terra. No one will communicate with you. Your intercom will be disconnected to remind you to be more courteous in the future."
"That is very wrong," I said.
"Wrong what?" he replied sternly.
"That is wrong, Commander, Sir, " I said, feeling not just impotent but strange in addressing an android in a contrite tone.
"You sound more like a crew member," he said. "Now, go wait at the door. A crew member shall escort you to me, where we shall assigned you duties."
"Yes, Sir," I said, emphasizing humility to show him how odd the words sounded in my mouth. He did not reply. I decided I had best go along with him.
I knew he would have me doing low level make work. What work does a crew of androids need from a human? He had me monitoring instruments on the bridge and logging my observations into a junior bridge officer's log. The ship's crew was full of androids that could monitor the instruments and computers, and I was sure they did. But the make work was enough to get me through a work shift, and redundant enough so that I could do a halfhearted job. The droid first officer never checked my work or hinted at how many instrument changes I missed in the course of my watch. At the end of my shift I had to report to him that I was done, and I was allowed to wander through the ship. I usually went up to the observation lounge which was a large compartment that had several large reclining chairs set in front of large portal windows which showed the view of deep space out side the ship. Usually, I had the lounge to myself. But every three or four days I was joined by Forton.
On the third day of my liberty on the ship, I met him, the inevitable android head shrink who is always around. They infested the penal colony, asking the inevitable question, "How are you feeling today, young man?"
"I am Lt. Forton, " he introduced himself. "You don't have to get up or salute. I am a civilian drafted into the military as are yourself."
I said, "I didn't think androids could appreciate the view."
"Sorry to disturb you," he said.
I said, "Maybe you androids are used to traveling in outer space and this is all old stuff?"
He said, "I see what you have done with your attitude."
"I won't let on about your continued adjustment problem. Don't bother, I am not true military," he smiled.
I replied, "I just left Commander Promotos and I told him I'm sticking to the momentous decision I've made to change my behavior."
"Relax," Forton smiled.
"Yeah, you're not military, you're worst, shrink." I made sure that every word came out in a very polite tone accompanied with a smile. I wanted him to have no complaints about my lack of a cherry smile. Then I got up to leave before he could further fix his shrink aim on my scalp. I carefully saluted. He leaned towards me, patted my shoulder. I drew back as if he'd driven his steel finger nails into my back. "I have to go eat. It is time for my supper," I said. He stood still and watched me leave without protest that time.
The next time I didn't get the chance to retreat. I was given the choice: Either informal meetings in the lounge or formal encounters in his quarters. And every time I spoke to him using the pretty-pretty- polite-polite-cherry-cheery-tone-of-voice he stopped me. He told me not to say anything to him that I wasn't comfortable saying. Slowly, I found myself getting used to talking to him in an even tone of voice without even the slightest suppressed anger, even though I found this to be still wrong.
The next morning I was awakened by a security officer and hustled out of my bed.
"I have to shower."
"Humans shower or we stink, androids don't have to shower."
"There is no time."
"I shall shower first."
I completed the shower and started on my sit-ups.
"Why are you delaying?"
"My morning exercises, Sir."
"Put on your clothes or I shall take you to the Captain's ready room half dressed."
"The Captain wants to see me, why?"
"He never asked to see me before, why now?"
"What is going on?"
"After I've finished. I want to stay in shape."
I got as far as another half sit-up before the security officer placed one of its arms around my waist, lifted me off the floor and carried me out of my quarter's door and along the corridor like I was a small child, and like a small child, I complained loudly that I wanted to get dressed. We passed several members of the crew, and not one member seemed interested in my complaining or surprised by my treatment. I guess to them I was behaving as a human and the security officer was behaving as an android should to a human. The security android left me inside the door of the Captain's ready room and stepped out. The door closed. I was alone with Forton.
"Get over your human childishness, " he said with a burst of anger.
"Where is the Captain? I'm half naked here."
"Hold on to your wits, anchor," Forton said. "You will get a stroke of the stark reality that has saddled only my kind for so long."
"Listen, I've been following the rules."
"Where is the first officer? I need to get dressed before I catch a chill. It's cold in here."
"You are about to be pushed into the real world and your orientation is not complete."
"I warn you, I need my," I sneezed, "... didn't I?"
"Yes," Forton said warily.
"Yes what?" I sneezed again.
"We well get your clothes, and you will listen. Shut up and listen," Forton said. "You have much to learn and you also must not forget your manners. The ship is about to go into battle and we don't need to baby sit a childish human."
"Shut up and listen. I have much to tell you and must be quick with it."
I was dressed in minutes and on the bridge. Thick heavy-duty warm layered clothing and a breathing mask were issued to me. The Captain ordered a reduction in the ship's energy levels for human life support. The energy was needed for the ship's armaments and shields. I was told to sit in the back of the bridge and to be quiet and to brace myself in case of collusions with foreign objects or energy blasts. I sat still, numbed as if I had been whacked in the face by two fists. First, I was stung by being told that I was at risk of being blown up in a space battle. Second, the news that the defense forces had contacted beings in space struck me as a blow. Alien life forms in space? This was news that no human had ever been told. The Defense Corp existed to protect the planet from meteors and fallen space debris, and their ships explored the outer planets for the purpose of pure research. My head ached. I had a bare bald head ache. My back ached too. I thought that my side was going to split and to break open. I was sure that my eyes must have given every android I encountered an angry blood red stare.
I dulled the ache in my gut for a moment, enough to listen. As I looked up from my pain the first officer told me I could be assured that everything would be done to protect me. He said there was a shielded escape pod with room enough for me and the ship's best pilot and gunner to get me out of harms way. And when I started to ask if I could head for the pod now and get away, he added, "No need to panic. This is a fine ship, not battle class, but we should be able to hold off the enemy until help arrives. We have a base a few hours off, and help is coming."
I asked, "What?"
The First Officer said, "After the battle you are going to have a lot to tell."
"If I get back you androids are going to start doing a lot of talking too."
"Young man," the first officer replied, "Don't forget your self."
"My rudeness, Sir?" I was short with him. Damn! I was short.
The Captain spoke. "Number One," The Captain spoke to his first officer. "The young human has a point. Some of his kind should have long ago been told about what we have been doing out here for such a long time." He sighed and addressed me. "I want to be sure that you learn what we have been doing well and so you can keep us in good standing when you tell. I want you on the bridge. I want to keep you, handy, human. This is your training. If you don't learn anything, then I won't have to take the blame for your ignorance."
"Am I here to observe this?"
"Drop that attitude," The first officer warned. "Think every time before you speak. The Captain doesn't deserve your attitude."
Just then a droid crew member shouted, "Captain, they're firing on us!"
The ship shook. I was horrified. The androids held on to railings to keep from being tossed about like they were things, like a piece of heavy equipment that broke loose from the ceiling was before it smashed down on a security droid and split him into thirds. All I could think of was to mutter, "God, God, God ..."
"Stay locked in that seat and don't move, " The Captain ordered me, then he ordered that all systems in the ship be shut off, except the defense systems' computers, armaments and the shields. The bridge was pitch dark, a blackness I had never seen. I couldn't see any part of my body. But I could tell that the droids could see. I heard them continuing the battle as though the bridge was lit with sunlight. In the blackness I heard the sound of wrenching metal as if the ship was being torn apart. There was shaking, shaking, more shaking. I sat blind, totally ignorant, and shamed, nearly sobbing, expecting a miserable fate. I whined that I was going to die. Of course I was wrong.
"What am I to do?" I mumbled.
"Welcome back." I could see only blurred images. The light was dim, the space narrow. Yes, I was in the pod. The pilot spoke. "We shall make it. We have put five parsecs between us and the ship and no sign of the enemy." The gunner pushed a straw into my mouth. I was not prepared for the discomfort. "Eat."
I sucked on the straw, ate. I sat in the cramp third seat behind the pilot and the gunner. I tried to stretch, couldn't. My hand shook as I held the straw. I found this embarrassing. Even though a human is at best the little brother in the relationship of droid and human, I felt like a fool to be sitting there unable to help myself or to contribute anything helpful. I felt like an infant and as exposed as if I were naked.
"The fleet shall find us," the pilot said.
"What can I do?" I asked. "What do you want me to do?"
"Sit back and relax," the pilot said.
"You can eat," the gunner added.
"Yes, Sirs," I said as I stared at the blurred image of the back of their heads. Finally, I had given a sincerely respectful reply to an android, to two androids. In such a situation I could get used to calling androids, "Sirs."
"Go on and relax," the pilot said.
"Sirs, what's in this?" I asked as everything around me began to fade.
I awoke. I had been moved. The light was much better. I lay on a cot in a bubble of plastic. Outside the bubble was a large dark room. I could sit up. An android leaned over to inspect my face. He found many new wrinkles. He didn't even have to ask how I felt. Suddenly, it hit me, I knew him, I thought I did. "Forton?"
"No, my brother," the android replied. "I am Vorton. Same design."
"My specialty is human medicine."
"Oh? An animal doctor?" I smiled.
He flinched as if I had whacked him somewhat hard across the face. I hadn't expected his reaction. Maybe his specialty in human medicine was a sore point to his android psyche. I'd struck an android's button, and I felt a little like boasting. He then tore the curtain from my impertinent presumptions and a sheets from my book on androids. I sat still watching as he took ten minutes to lecture me on what he called human self-hatred. "I was making a joke," I said.
"You must not," he said.
"I can because I am human."
"I spend most of my time struggling to rebuild self-esteem in my human patients," he said. I did not believe this, but I didn't want go back to calling androids names, so I dropped it.
"What place is this?" I asked.
He answered, "The admiral's flag ship."
"This is a flag ship?"
"Our best," the android replied, "A fighting ship."
I said, "It's not -"
"Oh," he replied. "Not as comfortable to humans as the Noah. The Noah is a prototype. The Noah is big and slow, lots of interior space. This is fast."
"Small," I added. "
"Androids do not require as much space. There is more room for defensive weapons to defend us."
"Possible invasion and what not."
"Are we! Are Aliens!" I began to hyperventilate.
"Easy," he ordered me to relax.
"I need to know," I said.
"Our defenses are very strong, so don't worry. You need to rest."
I asked, "Why is it that everytime one of you tell me that I need to rest and relax I wake up someplace else?"
"You are tiring yourself out, you can not expect to keep up with us."
"Am I a prisoner here?"
"Do I have the run of the ship?"
"This ship is small and there is no human life support outside of this compartment."
"This bubble?" I asked.
"This is a fast ship. You will be back on Terra before you can go stir-crazy," he said.
I insisted that I be given the liberty of the ship. "It is the only way I won't be a prisoner."
He said, "There is a suit you may put on, but you will have to watch your step outside this compartment because there is light gravity, and because of what you weigh you will float. The floors, the walls, the ceilings are treated with all manner of substances to make the ship radiation, heat and fire resistance. Many of these substances are harmful to humans. You might hurt yourself."
"Yes, Sir," I replied, "but am I not the official human observer?"
"We have not forgotten your status or our responsibility. If you wish to put yourself at risk I must have a trained crew member assigned to you. You must wait until one is available."
* * *
I was floating along the long winding narrow corridor that ran from one end of the flag ship to the other. I floated over the heads of passing ship's crew members. Walking along, following me as I went was the crew member assigned to me. He called up to me, "Slow down."
"What?" I asked. "You can't keep up?"
"You can not safely navigate the passage at that speed," the android answered.
"Nuts," I replied, and then bang! My helmeted head bumped loudly into a corner wall as I was turning.
The android shouted, "Another healthy swat like that and you will split the suit. That hit merits another twenty minutes to be taken from your recreation time."
"Oh, sir," I answered back. "You certainly know how to spoil fun with the least amount of effort."
"Come down," the android said. "Come down. Please?"
"Please? So you can't keep up with me?"
"Physically, I can tap dance through this place faster than you can float, but my responsibility."
"You're afraid that I will hurt myself?"
"Yeah, on my watch."
"You are a funny android."
"You, stop and come down."
"When I'm done. You've been assigned to watch me, not to boss me."
"You are a chore, a chore, human."
By the time I was returned to Terra every android on the flag ship from the top rank to the bottom rank looked quite strained and maybe their circuits were sore from their baby sitting chore. All the pampering I received during the process of being transported wore on them. Back on Terra I stayed in my newly assigned quarters, mostly seated in a yoga position, sometimes thinking on what it would take from me to be that rebel humankind had long needed. Jude came to see me often. I spoke little, said almost nothing to him. He said he sensed what I was thinking, said that from where he stood I was a book that he should have left on the shelf unread. Most of the time Jude was usually half wrong and he was more than half wrong this time. I wasn't anxious to see any of my old friends. My heart was as unready as my head and I didn't want to upset what little security humans had, the security of believing that we lived in a closed universe, that even despite our current lowly political status, we were God's best and would triumph in the end. Now, there were Others, life forms with space ships that could threaten us. OTHERS! Even though I couldn't have it, -- sitting on my rear until it was as sore as my head seemed to be was the only future I wanted. I had been shown something that I had to talk about and act on. I had a knowledge that no other human had yet. The androids wanted me to have it. I couldn't keep hiding in-doors naked when I was now able to go out with clothes on. The androids hadn't debriefed me. I was told I was to live in the Capitol in a new apartment building. I wasn't told not to talk to anyone, nor was I told to talk to anyone. I didn't know what story the androids wanted me to tell. Perhaps I was expected to wing it. I didn't. My trip into space was so disturbing to me that I kept it to myself. I only really half-kidded himself that I wanted to tell it. After I had thought seriously about the implications of what I might say, even accidentally, I didn't even want to leave the apartment.
I was awaken by the android Vorton. I didn't bother asking him how he got into the apartment. I'd locked the doors and activated the security system before I went to sleep. Again, I was hassled to hurry with the shower and to skip my morning exercises. To my surprise I didn't have much trouble getting my self to comply, though something in me didn't want to. "The eleventh hour approaches," said Vorton, "Get up." I'd sat, not back in the yoga position, but slumped in a cushioned chair. "You have been summoned to HQ. There is much for you to do. You have ..."
"Why are you pushing me, why me?" I asked. He didn't answer my question. He began a harangue. I shut out most of it. I only half listened to what androids said anyway.
"... we have to begin Operation Noah ... move people ... people must be told ... must gather data on human space travel ... Come. You have been summoned to HQ," were the words I remember him saying.
"Android HQ," I muttered. "Craps."
At Android HQ, the State Building, I was ushered into a conference room taken over by the human elders, all fifteen of them. Each and every one of them, and particularly Jude, were in a panic. Their frightened voices overlapped. I don't remember which old person said what.
"Aliens in space ships heading this way!"
"Aliens threatening us!"
"We have to move anyway!"
"He's seen them! He's seen them! They are real! And they're coming!"
"The androids must do something, must stop them!"
I could see that the androids still had to do all the household chores to keep the Terran family running, making both beds, the one for humans and the one for androids, cleaning, keeping the various closets neat, washing the bathroom floor when humans have peed on it and androids have let out an oil slick, vacuuming all the rugs for the dirt and filth and fears that lay hidden in them. The fifteen -- Fifteen naked human elders in a sorry chorus, and with an occasional squeak from me, wailed like infants for the androids to keep doing for us, and especially, to keep the pabulum coming. Listening to them, and me too, I then believed that androids would always rule, because there were so many chores to do, and we knew how to do none of them.
At the height of our panic, an android entered and politely informed the elders that the Chairman would like to see them now. Dutifully each of them got up and followed the android out. I remained. I assumed the lotus position. The session with the elders had given me a headache. I knew I would have to spend the rest of the morning doing yoga exercises to rid myself of the pain.
But, I wasn't left alone in the room for long, Vorton came again. "What are you doing? There is no time," said Vorton.
"I'm waiting for the others to return," I replied.
"There is no time. You have no free time," Vorton placed his hand on my shoulder, "Come with me." I might have readily resisted, but as long as I was convinced that androids would always be in charge, I thought why the bother. "Time is running out, it is late afternoon for this planet," Vorton said. "The elders have been briefed, shown our defense capabilities against the aliens and shown why we must begin the evacuation ..."
"I am not an elder, leave me alone," I said.
"There is much work for you to do, hard work."
"I am allowed hard work? I am a naked human. Do I get the clothes the androids wear when they do hard work? You have chores for a human outside the house? In space? But why did we have to be left naked for so long?"
"I understand your point, understand ours ..."
"Ours? Androids', Sir?"
"I have become proficient in calling androids, Sirs. Sometimes I call you sirs in my sleep. Sir, I have a question to ask you. Sir?"
"Quick, ask the question and then we must start out for the space port." "Sir, why don't you androids get in your space ships, take off and fight the aliens and leave humans the Hell alone?"
Vorton gave a one word answer, "Mission." "Yeah,"
I rolled my eyes. "Androids need humans to protect and to serve," said Vorton.
"Sir, to boss and to rule," I said. And added, "to bully, Sir," as Vorton started to rehash a short history of android-human relations. He harked back on the dogma that humans were so fragile and needed the big strong android.
"Terra is humans and androids," said Vorton. "You are Terra. We are Terra. You are us. We are you." I told the android that was crap. He replied, "Why do you continue to fight? Because now you are frighten of changing?" I told him androids were the government. "The government works," he replied, "works well, efficiently. The majority of humans appreciate what we have accomplished for Terran civilization."
I said, "The vast majority of humans won't appreciate what you, androids, have withheld from them."
"Come," he ordered.
I replied, "No."
"Come with me, there is work to do."
I was taken away, isolated for two years with a hundred and fifty other young men and women. The isolation was often individual isolation. No human spent more than a few hours a week with another human. We spent nearly all of our time in monk like cells being trained, tested and fed by teams of androids. By the end of the two years that we were gone away from the general company of humans we had changed. I had the cleanest living quarters. My little cell was in the neatest condition I could ever remember of any place where I'd ever lived. My brain had been and was being washed everyday and I didn't seem to mind. All the floors, windows, and walls of my brain were washed. I did hard work, learned how to fix a computer and to do light maintenance on a space ship's engine. I did the work so well and neatly that the android Captain in charge of the training of us humans said that my work looked like an advance level android had done it. I was made head-cadet- trainer-human, and was doing all of the scheduling of work to be done by the other cadet-humans. I made up the duty rooster every day, set the work and learning pace for every shift, spoke on the intercom to fellow cadet-humans, praised the androids for what they were doing and other garbage, and even on the rare occasions when it was necessary, enforced some of the rules of discipline under the android Captain's direction.
The androids had chosen an equal number of males and females for the training and strongly encouraged but did not order us to pair up. But everybody did. I bet the brain washing program included a hidden dictum on who should pair up with whom. The female I was drawn to was Tink. I didn't actually spend much time with her during training. I didn't go with her to the lounge or back to her cell, which was permitted twice a week because. If I had, I thought I wouldn't have had the strength to rise in time to leave her in time, so I could get back to my cell and to an early good night's rest. She was the human who I talked to the most during my free time during the day. She seemed to understand my reasoning for not spending time alone with her. I never passed her without her giving me a winning smile. I also never went to her cell because I didn't want her, or any of them, android or human to see me naked and opened, vulnerable. I didn't know if we were all paired off to be spies or lovers, if the androids meant us to get closely together to procreate and to recreate, or to get together to keep a close eye on each other. We were all subjected to brain washing, and I was determined to maintain a perpetual state of readiness to protect my butt.
When the two year training period was over I was given the uniform and made an ensign in the androids' Defense Corp. I was the only human given rank, was told I had earned it. The others made non-officer's rank in the military. I donned the uniform without comment. We all were given sixty days of leave, permitted to visit our families, and we could tell family members and friends that we had been away training for two years but could not give them any details of the training or the reason for it. All of the new human corp men took leave, but me. Instead, I spent the time studying. I had become fascinated by technology, and became a fixture in the Corp's libraries and laboratory, perhaps this was an escape from rebel politics, and my old sense of duty and responsibility to keep humans aware of whatever ills that androids were doing, but more likely I haunted and hunted in planet's top research centers because I was in a state of intellectual grace, enthused, drunk even on the joys of discovery, of experiencing the good side of technology for the first time!
Only once was I interrupted. Jude came to see me. Why me? I wasn't sure until after we've been talking for twenty minutes. He came to my temporary quarters at the Defense Corp Central Research Complex. Jude's visit bothered me. I saw his long old worn face and wondered if he'd come to punish me for lying down in bed with the androids. But Lord, for years, I'd accused him of doing that, and I was right.
"I see you are adjusting well to the new role we must play," he said. "You are the first among the first group of young men and women, and they've already begun gathering another group, then there shall be another and another, " he rambled.
"Elder," I said.
He looked up, "You look very well and smart. The uniform, maybe?"
"Elder? Jude?" I began to ask a serious question, but he wasn't finished, he asked, "You aren't repelled by it, not even a little bit?"
"Are you?" I replied. He shook his head, and I said to him, "Elder, why haven't the human race been told of our future? About the aliens and that the planet is dying?" He looked frighten, as if a sharp frightful thought had just run through his mind. I continued, "According to Central Command, you, elders have asked for a delay, why? Sir?" He mumbled something. "Sir?" I asked.
After a long while he answered, "Three elders are dead, heart attack, stroke, suicide." His eyes glanced away, he went on mumbling, "No body is ready to hear this yet, and the Abbot is patient with us."
"Afraid to face this?" I stood and barreled down on the elder. "This happened because human beings forgot to do one of its most important chores!" I began to shout. I could see shouting wasn't helpful and so I stopped.
"They want us to pack up, crowd into space ships, not yet built, and leave our world," said Jude, "like this world and us have no purpose."
"A short future," I said.
He broke into fast hyperventilating speech. He was very angry, shouting, sobbing some. "What have I been given? A list of ten items that had to be done this morning? I did all of them but one as instructed. You and others like you know. However, the last listed item is so wrong: Prepare the whole human race to abandon the planet. Elders are fighting against that one!" I didn't bother replying to this. I wasn't into politics any more, so I thought, let the androids and the elders decided when to spill the beans. But fate and my conscious would soon punish me for this neglect of duty.
After the sixty-day-leave-period was up, the human corp men were assigned to a ship, the second Noah, another prototype, and were given the mission of testing and being the subjects of tests to determine human endurance to extended space travel. This ship was faster and better armed than the first prototype, and it was never out of the visual sight of several fast and well armed, battle class war ships. I was not surprised to find that human corp woman Tink and I were assigned to the same quarters, and to the same bed, since our quarters had but one bed. It was large enough to accommodate us both. On the first day, at the first opportunity on the job, I stripped off my clothes, asked her to do the same, so that we could test the bed. Because I remembered the text books I've read, understood that the androids' universe was based on engineering and the engineering method, that tools and objects are brought to together to engineer the results one wanted, I thought it was best to avoid unnecessary strain and pain and lie down and bed my assigned mate. Our first experience together was satisfactory. She tried to prolong it passed the standard rest period. She was hard to resist. I had to verbally lash out at her, remind her that I had only a few minutes left to shower, dress and to report for duty on the ship's bridge. She cried, fought me, jumped on top, tried to keep me down in the bed, sobbed harder, said that I had made her wait for so long and she wasn't ready to stop.
But I was much stronger than she and I soon tossed her off. She fell back down on the bed, kicking her legs, her arms beating the bedding, she really sobbed hard now, and to no avail. She called in sick and was excused from her work shift. I didn't criticize her for this then, later I would remind her that we were on an important mission, that the future depended on us and it, and that we must do our work and not skip our shifts. She didn't argue, nor did she skip work again. And as before, at the next opportunity that I had her alone in our quarters, I stripped down and we tested the bed as we had before. In a short time we would become a comfortable bedding pair, and would find much joy together. This would help us in coping with the pain that lay ahead. Books say, symbolism is as important in life as it is in stories. Well, I believe, the bit of symbolism that best expressed what our relationship would become was the way we slept in the bed: her back to me, my hand on her side. She gave me her trust and I stayed faithful to her.
Oh, God. Now I shall described my pain when I learned that Huge, powerful bombs, super explosions, fire storms on a planetary scale were set off at the same moment all over Terra, bombs set by humans under the order of the elders. The atmosphere caught fire and burned. I can not adequately describe the pain I felt when I learned that human life on Terra was gone. I was whipped. The muscles of my body collapsed. I cried, "Why!"
"Humans destroy," rosed from a murmur among the androids to a wail that seemed to echo from the ship's computers, engines and haul. If it was possible the androids' pain sounded greater than the humans'.
I was off duty in the corridor on my way to quarters when I heard. I rushed back to the bridge. "What happened?" I asked out of breath. The ship's Captain was under stress, looked as if something had hit him in his gut processors. He looked away from me. I thought he was slighting me. I was that wounded, and wound, worried, fearful, that - wait -
"The aliens?" a fellow human stationed to the rear of me, high on a platform where many of the ship's gages and instruments were, spoke as if she wasn't getting enough air, and then the Captain turned back, his look laid into me. He had checked with the communication's station at his right, had confirmed the terrible report with the Corp's station in Terra's orbit. The look in his eyes seemed thicker with pain, more full of pain than mine, and I was pain's. Under the relentless blows of ignorance and fear, the elders' brain bones had broken. I shouted about them, "I've seen it coming! Jude and the other elders had always been jellyfish! They had buttocks for brains! They sat upon their heads!" I shouted curses about them.
With the Captain's permission I went back to my quarters, passed depressed human and android crew members.
"What they did?" Tink was crying, a mass of angry energy, she kept pacing, crisscrossing the same steps she made on the floor of our quarters. "My family is gone? My mom, dad, my sisters, my brother ..."
"Yes, yes," I sat on the bed, did not undress, just sat there. I felt like shit. "I should have done something," I said, "I was in politics. I never should have stopped." I said I should have grabbed the elders, the dumb old rascals, yoked them, striped away their nonsensical bullshit and yanked them into the future. Tink sat, wept until she gasped for breath. She did not rise from the chair for hours, some time after her shift was to begin.
Later, during the following work period, on the ship's monitors was shown the last recording from the humans on Terra. Old Jude spoke, crying, sobbing like the old fool he was. The message was meant only for the humans on board. He said, "You will survive, the rest of us won't. The elders have decided to let you go on, but for us, no. Goodbye, my young friends." And that was all he said: Twenty five words. Twenty five lousy words!
After the recording of Jude was shown, the Captain addressed the crew. These remarks were directed at us humans, "Your elders aim seemed to particularly been to allow Terran Civilization to continue ... " I was on the bridge with the Captain. I stood straight, back straight, looking militarily smart, with my leg gone stiff. Tink was to my right, her face strained, sorrowful, but correct - no sobbing. Some of the other human crew members looked near tears, but none cried, all were militarily right, though I'm sure that every one felt some of the most intense pain can be felt during a lifetime. The Captain finished, informed us that our next stop would be Terra.
On our return, the android Chairman met us at the temporary, make- shift space port. The radiation level on Terra was very high. The surviving members of the human race, total one hundred and fifty, all crew members of the Ship Noah II, were required to wear protective clothing, suit, head gear, breathing apparatus. The Chairman asked me to attend him for a minute in his private office at the temporary HQ. "Just the two of us," he said.
With the politeness my training for the Defense Corp had taught me, I replied, "Sir, as you will." He told me that I no longer needed to call him "Sir," that he had failed his mission, would resign his office, and that his useful life was done. In his office, he offered me a seat. "May I stand? Trying to sit in this is uncomfortable," I replied.
"Both Jude and I liked your adjustment, and the uniform you are wearing under that contraption, " the android Chairman said.
"Jude was a fool!" said I.
"Please return to something less ..." The Chairman nodded, but continued, "What he did amazed me. The condition of Terra and the atmosphere. Horrible destruction. A hundred billion destroyed. Every human. Many androids. I told them everything they needed to know, showed them, had them tour the bases, our installations so that they would be able to help others to adjust. How could I have known their plan was to use what they'd learned from me to destroy? Much of the blame is due to me because I had not worked harder to get them to see that there was no reason to be afraid."
"The elders were damn fools," I said.
"Jude recommended you, and each of your fellows. He beamed with pride at your accomplishments."
"He was a fool."
The android Chairman nodded, said, "You have advanced so much. You are so different from the loud young human who was first brought before me a little over three or four years ago. You are now very competent in your way. Perhaps we will succeed, and maybe humans and androids will indeed become equal brothers someday."
My reply was the words delivered coolly, "Thank you, Sir."
Bio: Franchot Lewis is a writer who lives in Washington, D.C. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit Aphelion's Lettercolumn and voice your opinion of this story. Both the writer and I would love to read your feedback.
Return to the Aphelion main page.