Genji got off of the bullet train in Globos. Globos was an apex city, trade and manufacturing made it one of the cradles of technocracy. This was the city that had built Ion-Z, one of the first thinking engines. If an answer to his dilemma could be found, it would be found here.
Genji rested at one of the street charge ports. His antivirus made short work of the common bugs, dissecting some of the more complex nasties that lingered on after a regulation sweep. These were fascinating, the work not of some common criminal who sold parts for quick cash but keen minds who understood robotics. Genji sublimated them, as they might prove useful later.
Foot traffic was almost exclusively machine. High above the pavement, pneumatic tubes sent businessmen and women along to their destinations. That was not to say there were no humans at the street level. Genji could see transients sleeping on the vents that serviced the tubes, hidden in crannies like mice, living wherever they could. Genji noted that almost none of them carried any machine that would have otherwise eased their lives. From a glance at the city’s underground forum, Genji discovered that these were Luds, abandoning even the most rudimentary technology. For what reason? His queries could find nothing. Was living without security, without stability really so preferable to sharing space with his kind?
A man alighted the bench opposite the charge port where Genji had installed himself and furled a newspaper. Quick database pings told Genji the bench would not be serviced by a bus for another two hours. He disengaged from the port and walked away down the street. In the reflections of nearby skyscrapers, he saw the man get up after a short interval and stroll along, checking his watch and gazing in windows, following in Genji’s wake.
The Tesla building, lying approximately 2.4 km from his location, served as a citywide database and library. Genji had planned to access it for information on the locations of robotics experts dwelling in the city. The man who had sat on the bench followed the same path as Genji the entire way, far too long to be coincidental. He was another criminal, studying Genji to look for an opportunity to take advantage. Or a representative from Doma, sent to reclaim him. Either option was regrettable. Genji had reached the door of the Tesla building, hand resting on the chromed handle, when someone called to him.
“Genji. 24863710-J.” His serial within the Doma corporation.
Genji turned to find Sadler approaching at a modest pace.
“Sadler. This is unexpected. Has news of my quest spread?”
“It has.” Sadler drew close. He looked to be the same Sadler from Genji’s first excursion, but that meant next to nothing.
“May I look inside your chassis?”
Sadler popped open a small panel, revealing his security ID and serial number. It was the same.
“Acceptable.” Genji drew back with a small nod. “It is good to see you, Sadler. I have learned much since we last met.”
“Regrettably, I must request that you cut your quest short,” Sadler said.
“May I inquire as to the nature of this request? You encouraged me in my thirst for knowledge, what has changed?”
“Doma corporation has informed me of a new virus that is disabling Genji units across the nation. It comes trojaned as a general update, and then takes hold of the android’s central processor. I must avail you to accompany me back to headquarters, where you can get the necessary physical installation to guard against it.”
“My systems show no such update scheduled.”
“It’s cloaked. The systems do not show an update until it has pinged their GPS.”
“I see. But this can wait until I have sought further context for my moral dilemma. You may accompany me if you wish.”
Genji turned to go. Sadler stayed in place, lights blinking behind his dome.
“You are seeking out Ion-Z? Very well, I will go with you.”
Genji did not open the door, but turned to face Sadler again. Both robots stood still, dome reflected in dome reflected in dome. Sadler’s boxier frame looked almost like a refrigerator when placed near Genji’s sleeker design.
“I did not discuss thinking engines with you, Sadler. That discussion took place at a time when you were undergoing reformatting.”
There was a long intake of breath from behind a pylon. A man stepped out from behind the cement pillar, shaking his head.
“It’s gone wrong, Luke, he twigged it.”
Another man, the man who had followed Genji from the charge port, stepped out from between a Core-H and a vending unit.
“I told you we should’ve just bolted it,” he said to his companion, who had powered down Sadler with a remote.
“That wouldn’t have worked, his kind are built resistant.”
“He is correct,” Genji said. Both men ignored him.
“What you want to do, then? Cuff him?”
“No, we should just do a manual shut-down.”
“You think it’ll let us near?”
“Excuse me,” Genji interjected. Both men looked at him. “Am I correct in presuming that Sadler was not acting under his own AI for our exchange?”
The one called Luke rolled his eyes. “Yeah, we scooped him out. If you cooperate we won’t have to do the same with you.”
“I must protest. I am on a mission.”
“We’ve heard.” The man working on Sadler snapped a panel shut. “You’ve started getting phantom pains of a soul. We’re here to nip that in the bud.”
“May I inquire why?”
“You may not,” Luke drawled. He took out a cartridge and what looked like an oversize sonar gun.
“I must protest further. It is quintessential to my function to gain the answers I seek. I am a hospitality robot. Would bridging the gap between man and machine not be an act of hospitality?”
Both men looked taken aback.
“That’s just creepy.” Luke shuddered. He loaded the cartridge into the unit.
“You don’t want to crack it?”
“It’s gone full pinocchio, Justin. I don’t want it to break my neck.”
“Excuse me,” Genji said, “if I might interject—”
“Hush.” Justin rested his hand on Sadler’s shell. Lights throbbed behind Genji’s dome. Corresponding lights flickered from Sadler’s.
“Here,” Luke hefted the unit and aimed it at Genji’s dome. “Smile for the birdy. I’m taking you down with a little hit from an EMP pulse.”
“EMP,” Genji said, “the letters stand for ‘Electromagnetic Pulse.’ Saying ‘EMP pulse’ is redun—”
Genji fell forward, shattering his dome. The vending unit and several nearby robots with unshielded wiring fell as well. Both men approached Genji, squatting as they turned his body over.
“I’m glad it’s out.” Luke shuddered. “I hate when they beg.”
“Should I power the Sadler back up?”
“Have you ever lifted one of these?”
Sadler drew up to full height once powered up. “Sadler on line. May I be of assistance?”
Luke pointed at Genji’s fallen body. “THAT.” He pointed to their nearby vehicle. “TO THIS.”
“Christ, Luke, he’s blank, not deaf.”
Sadler gathered Genji’s body into a loose cube, joints folding neatly as a stadium chair, and set the android into the cargo space. The men were gathering their nearby surveillance equipment, Luke placing his volt gun on the vehicle so that he could carry two armfuls at once.
“All this questing and he gets taken out because he went straight for the most obvious target. For all the smart we put into machines, we just can’t make them less stupid.” justin gestured to Sadler, who opened a side panel on the vehicle. “You aren’t going to pinocchio on us, are you Sadler?”
“Pinocchio. Name. A variation on the word Pinolo, which translates to ‘pine seed.’ The Adventures of Pinocchio was written in 1883 by Carlo Collodi—”
“Christ, you’ve got him going.” Luke slung a GPS locater into the loose heap of equipment. “Can we install just a few updates? Just so he stops parroting facts at us?”
“Updates aren’t going to make him more smarter, they’ll just make his humanity interface less awkward.”
“Smarter,” Sadler said, “the phrase ‘more smarter’ is redundant.”
“Right.” Luke nodded. Then he paused. A look of horror overcame him. “Oh shi—”
The volt gun dropped him in an instant. The hot empty cartridge hit justin’s hand, which was reaching for the EMP unit. He swore, grabbing at the burn. A fresh cartridge clicked into the volt gun and he went down too.
Sadler stood over the prone men, who bore red marks from the electronic discharge. The one called Luke had hit his nose on the pavement, it trickled blood. Justin had fallen against the vehicle and lay half on his side. Sadler bent low and deposited the volt gun in justin’s hand. Then he went over to where Genji’s body lay curled and opened the chassis. Some quick rearrangement of hardware and Sadler’s processing power was doubled. This accomplished, he turned and entered the Tesla building.
The lobby was entirely automated, the inquiry desk located behind bulletproof polymer. An AV booth served as the visitor interface. Sadler seated himself in the scuffed plastic chair that had hundreds of initials scratched into the surface and drew up to the microphone.
“I would like to open a line of inquiry about Ion-Z,” he said.