A robot detective has to bend the law, when all humans have left.
I know that we’re programmed to feel naked if we have nothing on, yet I was a little amused when a robot with a tux, white silk shirt, black bow tie, and platinum cufflinks walked into the building. But, worst of all, he had pseudo hair on his crown. That’s going a little too far. He’s got a screw loose in my opinion. Myself, I like to give an image of being ready for action: a brown leather jacket over a charcoal gray pullover, a pair of jeans, and a sandy fedora.
I accessed the camera I’ve got rigged in the rented room across the street. I backtracked till he was turning into the building from the north. Then, scanning the north side parking lot with infrared, I found a car with a warm engine and checked the license number. Records showed it was stolen.
I activated my robotic alter ego. The dust on my leather jacket showed it had been a long time, 285 days to be exact.
My visitor stepped into the elevator. I zoomed the camera inside to the numbers which showed him selecting the fourth floor. Most likely, he was coming to my office since the room across the hall was a dance school long out of business. After all, who can imagine twirling robots in leotards? The squeak of joints needing oil and his silhouette darkening the frosted glass stating my business, Asimov Detective Agency, confirmed my deduction. I think you can understand my choice for the name; among us robots, Isaac Asimov is the greatest writer of all time.
He knocked on the door. I rose from the chair behind the wooden desk and yelled, “It’s open.”
Glass rattled and hinges creaked as my visitor strode in with a hand in his jacket pocket. I let him take three steps then demanded, “Who are you and what do you want?”
That question in a commanding voice stopped him. With a hand in his jacket pocket, pointing what might be a pistol in the center of my chest, he said. “I don’t have a name and I’m here to waste you.”
“What have you got against me?”
“Me? Nothing. My owner just wanted you to be a pile of junk.”
“I see, just following orders.” I snorted, then added, “It must be easy living with programming so unsophisticated.” Getting no reaction from that insult, I was now more confident I’d get out of this unharmed. “You’re aware that none of our owners are left, aren’t you?”
“That makes no difference to me. Only the need to eliminate those on the list matters.”
“Well, in that case, shooting me won’t eliminate me. My real package isn’t in this metal hide.”
“I don’t believe you. Why would you tell me this?”
“I have no reason for existence now. I was created to solve crimes committed against my clients. My fees were small thus I was always busy. Seeing that justice was delivered was what motivated me. I haven’t done a thing for nine months. I might as well let you put me on the scrap pile.”
“Where is your, as you say, real package?”
“I can show you from this window.” Slowly moving my hand to the window, I pulled the rope to open the blinds, which activated the release of the heavy twine net above my assassin.
He was better and faster than I’d thought, but I was lucky. The gun roared as the net dumped him onto the floor with a heavy thud. Fortunately, the net screwed his aim and the bullet whizzed by.
I rushed over and twisted the gun out of his grasp. I took out my extra thick handcuffs and bound his hands behind him. Pulling him up, I said, “These steel handcuffs look better on you than your platinum cufflinks. I guess our tastes don’t match.”
“Where are you going to take me? Have you forgotten civilization’s dead? There are no courts left to judge my creator nor to recycle me.”
I knelt by his side stunned. He was right, for no robot had ever been devised to judge the proper lawful penalty for a crime. Only humans had been trusted competent and wise enough for that, and now there were none. My built in sense of justice couldn’t bypass the law; I couldn’t be judge and jury. Neither could the rule of self preservation let my assassin go.
In my consternation, I yanked him up and shoved him down onto the sofa. I wondered how codes of symbols made us different; programming that we had no power to choose nor alter, but that forever created the paths we tread. People, it was people that had done this to us; they with the power of gods, but often not with equal wisdom. What could I do that wouldn’t violate the rules that constricted my actions? If only our masters had made a detention center for robots, and with that thought I got my solution.
I added compassion to my voice, “Stand up. We’re taking a drive.”
“Where are you taking me?”
“Where you belong.”
I grabbed the car keys from a drawer and drove us to our destination. We walked in the shade of trees and through the rusty gates into the deserted concrete walkways of the park. Hardly glancing at the skeletons scattered in their various enclosures, I led us to the office where I expected to find the robotic caretaker.
We came to a door marked Control Center. I knocked. A few seconds later a friendly voice said, “Come in.”
We stepped inside and were greeted by a robot in a dusty blue suit, “Please excuse me for the condition of this office. It’s been a long time since a visitor and I hadn’t expected you. How can I help?”
I pointed to my handcuffed companion, “This robot has committed crimes against society. He is suspected of murder and willful destruction of valuable property. He needs to be kept somewhere that’s safe and strong till I can inform the authorities.” I showed my license. “I’m sure we won’t be violating any laws if we use one of your facilities.”
“This is a zoo, not just a convenient place where you can keep your suspects.”
I paused for the words to convince a reluctant bureaucrat. “A graveyard of bones is no more a zoo than a barren yard a garden. No law prohibits a robot suspected of crimes from being kept in an empty cage. No mortal life will be inconvenienced, neither will this robot be damaged. Furthermore, obstructing the law can result in an overhaul.”
He took a few seconds to answer; no doubt his logic chip was calculating the safest course of action. The glow in his eyes brightened. “This is highly irregular, but as you say I don’t see it as being illegal, and there will be no danger for he will be alone. Which cage do you wish for your suspect?”
“I think the jackal cage would be most appropriate.”
My would be assassin protested, “You can’t put me behind bars. You don’t have the right.”
I answered, “The law allows me to hold you until the proper authorities arrive. Prisons aren’t for robots, however, this is a new kind of place; I think we can call it the Caves of Steel.”
I got the key, led him to the cage, and locked him in.
Back at my agency, sitting behind my desk, I reflected that bending the law, even to uphold its spirit, strangely slows the smooth movement of internal switches. I signaled to the mainframe for the cure to calm my circuits. There was an internal rush as the words introduced the saga: A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...