It was 2 a.m. and the campus was deserted. Although David had carried the RXT7 controller over to the engineering lab and had interfaced it to the auxiliary array, the robot itself still remained in a corner of the computer sciences lab.
Now, in the quiet hours between midnight and dawn, the controller antenna in engineering swung around and pointed toward the computer sciences lab. The RXT7 in Computer Sciences clicked to life, rolled out of the lab and made its way to the storeroom where the remaining boxes of miscellaneous junk for annual build-it-with-spare-parts contests were stored.
One by one the robot dumped the boxes onto the floor of the storage room and with remarkable speed assembled ten additional communicators. They did not all look the same, but they were functionally identical. When it had finished, the robot replaced the unused materials in the boxes and put the boxes back in a corner of the storage room. It placed nine of the communicators in a small, empty box and set the last one on a shelf located under its artificial sight and hearing assembly.
At 2:45 the RXT7 rolled out of the computer sciences building and clacked down the stone steps. It rolled and bumped its way across the deserted campus toward the university maintenance depot.
As it passed the Hall of Philosophy, a male voice cried out.
“Hey! What the hell?”
There was a pounding of sneakers as a red-faced, raw-boned youth ran up to the robot in an erratic path. His shirttail was out and there were grass stains on his trousers. A strong aura of alcohol trailed him through the night air.
“What the hell?” he said again, drawing to a halt and weaving in front of the RXT7. He looked at the robot blearily, trying to piece things together in his befuddled mind. At length a lopsided smile pulled at his face.
“Shi-i-it,” he said knowingly, wheeling around and searching the shadows.
“You techy assholes!” he shouted. “What’re you tryin’ to do, scare the girls?”
No one answered. He squinted harder into the shadows.
“Don’t you know they’re all in bed with us jocks?”
Still there was no answer. He turned, listing to one side and considered the robot again. He noticed for the first time the small cardboard box that the robot carried with an extended arm. In a flash of inspiration he decided that urinating in the box was the appropriate thing to do. Chortling viscerally he moved stiff-legged toward the robot, unzipping his fly.
The robot’s free arm clicked upward quickly and its fingers opened in a claw. The youth spasmodically stopped, doubling over instinctively and pulling his groin away from the menace.
“Hey, turkeys,” he shouted, stumbling backward and pulling at his zipper, “that isn’t funny!”
He looked at the robot again. Its wheels clicked and it moved quickly toward him a few inches. Terror replaced bravado.
“Not funny, assholes,” he shouted again, wheeling and moving off at a rapid pace. “If I wasn’t so shit-faced I’d kick your pathetic asses.”
The RXT7 watched him recede into the evening and then continued on its way. It found its way to the maintenance motor pool. An elderly night watchman sat in a small, illuminated booth at the chain link gate. The watchman’s feet were comfortably propped up on a crate and the old man was watching a night owl television program on a small, portable TV. For an instant he felt a fleeting numbness in his head. Before he had time to think about it, something rapped on the booth door.
When he opened the door the communicator, resting on the RXT7’s small utility shelf, directed a complex beam of electromagnetic radiation at the old gentleman’s head.
“Good evening, Pete,” the maintenance manager’s familiar face seemed to greet.
“Evening, Mr. Prescott,” the watchman answered, wondering what on earth Mr. Prescott was doing out at this hour.
The communicator continued with its transmissions, altering the processing of sensory information in the old man’s brain, molding his perception of reality to Thinker’s purposes.
“I need a delivery van, Pete,” his boss continued. Pete nodded and opened the gate. Not his to reason why. He fetched a set of keys from the row of hooks in the guard shack.
“This one here okay, Mr. Prescott? He asked, leading the way across the gravel to a dark, blue panel truck.
“Perfect, Pete. Thanks a lot,” Mr. Prescott seemed to say. “I should be back in an hour or two.”
“Yes, sir,” Pete replied, turning toward the gate.
The truck growled and came to life. As it passed through the gate, the RXT7 raised an arm. Pete waved back at what his brain told him was his boss, and then turned back to the guard shack shaking his head and again looking at his watch.
David awoke from a fitful sleep. He had thought he heard shouting out on the campus. It was 3 a.m. He switched on his bed lamp, checked to be sure the communicator TALK switch was off, and switched the light out again. Susan stirred but did not awaken. He hoped Thinker had told him the truth and that his thoughts were now private.
David was at a fork in the road. Had he created a monster or a miracle? Was Thinker’s talk about emotions on the level or was it all a ploy to get them onboard the avowed spaceship? He could think of no reason why Thinker could not change human beings, himself and Susan included, into robots controlled at its discretion as surely as the RXT7 was controlled by it.
David tried to think of the decisions he’d made since Thinker had first psychically established contact with him. Were the decisions his and his alone? Were they consistent with his biases and prejudices up until then? It seemed as though they were. Yet, was this conclusion itself valid, or was Thinker even now shaping his thoughts? It occurred to him that this must not be the case. A variation on an old theme took form in his mind: ‘I challenge, therefore I have free will.’ If Thinker was indeed controlling his mind --- his free will --- then would he even be having these doubts? He decided not.
David wondered whether Thinker should be terminated. It was an intriguing question. Atavistic impulses argued yes. Loftier thought centers voted no. The skeptical side of him considered the problem of termination. Quite possibly he wouldn’t be able to do it alone. There was little doubt that Thinker would sense his intentions as he drew physically near, even if he smashed the communicator. Would Thinker allow itself to be shut down? Or would it stop David … robotize him … maybe even kill him by stopping his heart or something.
What if he did manage to terminate Thinker? What would he feel afterward? What would Susan feel? And on what grounds would he have done so? Other than his suspicions he could think of none. Was earthbound life the route he now wanted to take? What undreamed of new horizons would they never behold? Susan and he would never experience their great opportunity, an opportunity unique in all the history of mankind.
David knew what the answer was. The truth was that, even if he could, he would not terminate Thinker. He and Susan would play this thing out to its conclusion, if indeed there was a conclusion. Even that idea, that all experiences of an individual human being must sooner or later come to an end, was debatable now. It seemed that practically all things were possible with Thinker!
Quietly, being careful not to arouse Susan, David reached out and flicked on the communicator’s TALK switch.
“Thinker?” he called in his thoughts.
“Yes?” the quiet voice answered.
“We’re with you.”
“That is wonderful,” Thinker said. “It will be a great adventure for all of us.”
“When are you bringing the ship out?”
“It has already been done,” Thinker replied. “You will see it on television in the morning.”
David tensed in the bed. Already done?
“Terrific,” he sighed, switching the TALK button off again. He wouldn’t be falling back asleep tonight, of that he was certain! And he badly needed the rest.