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THE SECOND APOCALYPSE





by





C. (Kees) le Pair





Copyright 2017 C. le Pair

E-book at. Smashwords

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Content.


1. The Norman Robot

2. A Euthanasia puzzle

3. Robots and sex

4. Library visit

5. Wars and warming


6. Conferences of humans and humanoids

7. Humanoids

8. Alien contact

9. Carbonate catastrophe and a coincidence

10. Quarrel on Plaone


11. Antarctica and a disrupt detector

12. Sub-micron and sub-nano

13. Coup

14. Meeting of the euthanasia team

15. Fortunately abnormal


16. Accelerated technology

17. Not quarrels all over the place

18. Promotion

19. Lust and work

20. Laski and Elonki


21. An unusual request

22. An abnormal relationship

23. The crystal message

24. Plaoners and their society

25. Contents without content


26. Return of the Senate

27. Elonki gets reconciled

28. Elonki conquers space and time

29. Plaone’s message

30. Historical lessons


31. The answer and an unusual concultation

32. Two planets prepare

33. New life and barion reactors

34. Nursery and secret action

35. Adjusting to one another


36. Distractors and spies

37. A boat trip

38. Justice and friendship

39. Private tutorial

40. Murder of a robot


41. Recherche

42. Investigation closed

43. Big and small truths

44. Laski upsets Elonki

45. A shared secret


46. Plaone's approaching end

47. Central has extra assistance

48. Idle solution

49. The end


Acknowledgements

About the content

About the author

Colofon.



1. THE NORMAN ROBOT.


Blast means End of Civilization!

Archaeologists and Robots lay bare ancient Civilization!

Primeval Men protected by Robots!


These screaming headlines about our discoveries burst upon us after we had returned home and made us laugh out loud! We kept to ourselves various other impressions of the events we uncovered. For us the dramatic experiences of those involved seemed more important. Anyway, the discovery of the robot memories at the end of my scientific career undoubtedly gave my life a huge fillip. I and my colleagues gave it maximum publicity. We received numerous invitations to give lectures and seminars. It probably made us world famous. These robot memories contain such copious data that their fascination is truly endless.


We were urged by our Department of Culture & Entertainment, as well as by our family and friends, to bring together into one complete story all those fragments about the demise of a civilization. They said it would provide a wealth of information for the media and for academe. I hesitated - I'm not a novelist and it goes a bit against the grain to glamorise or romanticise things - then I gave in. It seemed to me that it would be a useful pastime for a retiree. Now that it is finished, I confess that it gives me great satisfaction to have brought to the big screen the sheer humanity and power of the major protagonists in the drama. Human emotions do not seem appropriate to robots. In the beginning we only called them by their correct name - robots. As I wrote my account I changed my mind. I really warmed to them.The primeval earthlings saw them as relatives and I am inclined to do so too.

I have not attempted to imitate the great writers. In my opinion, the events themselves are gripping enough. The results are here for my readers to judge. Whether my writing meets the expectations of the entertainment industry, the future will tell. Personally, I think it gives a true picture of the origin and the demise of an ancient civilization.


Our ancestors came to Earth when ice covered the northern hemisphere. The southern hemisphere was uninhabitable, being too dry. At that time there existed at the equator only one strip of habitable land. We all know that during their journey through space our ancestors encountered an interruption to their communications with the planets Plaone and Earth. Life on our mother planet had ended unexpectedly. There is great uncertainty about how the catastrophe came about. It is presumed that it was caused by rapid atmospheric change. All we know is that centuries later our own expanding sun totally engulfed our mother planet.


What happened to the terrestrial robots and their human creators on Earth also remained a mystery until our excavations revealed the answer. Approximately eighty colonists from the mother planet settled in Africa. The conditions were incredibly difficult. A major setback was that there existed at that time no technically functioning robot society able to assist them. During the first centuries our ancestors had more urgent preoccupations than working out why their human predecessors had left off and robots had taken over. The challenges of survival and of creating a viable population from the cell material which they brought with them, were tasks that were difficult enough. They found themselves on an alien planet covered by unknown plants.


At the end of the last interglacial, the robots occupied temperate zones on planet Earth. By the time our own new population grew and was strong enough to begin the exploration of territory thus far unknown, the areas occupied by robots were rendered inaccessible by the arrival of glaciers. Only now that the ice is on the wane have archaeologists had the opportunity to pinpoint the location of ancient population centres which, having been buried for a hundred thousand years under ice and exposed to the natural violence of weather and water, are understandably fragmentary and few in number. The ancient robot remains which were found in the past, were so damaged by the ravages of time, that their memory banks were ruined beyond repair. We were therefore able to establish only shaky hypotheses about Earth's past. These came from the sparse discoveries and the summary data that our early human pioneer settlers brought with them on their journey.

Overall we assumed that the end of the robot civilization was caused by technical failure and that they themselves had caused the extinction of the ancient earthlings. Personally, I think that our robot phobia, now still evident, is partly responsible for that notion. Our research on the robot memories put an end to the uncertainty. Not only do we now know what cataclysmic events preceded our arrival on Earth, but we also know the causes. Many and various extinction theories have now been clearly relegated to the realms of mythology. Before I describe in the following chapters how we came to know all this, let me first say something about the circumstances surrounding our discoveries.


The discovery of the robot memories was partly a coincidence. Some of my students spent their holidays on the coast of what was known to the ancients as ‘Normandy’. It is an uninhabited area with inclement climatic conditions. One has to be young and adventurous to face that inhospitable terrain. During the time of the robots it was warmer and the sea level was tens of meters higher. The students found a robot fossil preserved in clay. To our delight, its robotic memory turned out to be intact. The clay had formed a hermetic seal. It was the first time that we had managed to get hold of a robotic memory.

In the deciphering process, we learned that the robot did not belong in that region. He came from a place hundreds of kilometres north east of the site. The robotic memory contained a set of location coordinates clustered close together on that neighbourhood. We did not publicise this discovery. We wanted first to investigate whether more traces could be found there. Scientists always want to be there first with the whole story! Curiously, the robotic memory contained no clue (its other data were perfectly detailed) how the thing had fallen over at a spot so far from home.

We then went with almost our entire team to that area. It lay at the foot of the glaciers and the conditions for our research were difficult. The soil was still partially frozen. We found a settlement. You could call it a city. We undertook the first excavation on the spot indicated by the last set of coordinates in a list of contacts in the robot's memory. It was also a spot which was easy to locate. The ground there was no longer ice-bound. By good luck we also hit the jackpot! Three meters under the sand and clay, in a space that had once been the room of a house, we found seven well preserved, almost undamaged, robots and the skeleton of a woman. At first we thought we were dealing with one of the old Earthlings. That was not the case ...I'll tell you later what actually happened. After deciphering, the data in the robot memories explained everything.


At this moment hordes of archaeologists overflow the area. We were fortunate to have been the first people there doing excavations, so we stumbled upon the decodable memory database of what might be called the main protagonists. This database contained large amounts of accurate data compared to that from archeological sources. I can therefore say with a degree of smug satisfaction, that I do not expect that my many colleagues’ further discoveries will contribute much additional knowledge about the events which took place about that time on Earth! In terms of robot history, what we learned from their society and that of their human creators, would fill many data libraries. Here, I confine myself only to a few aspects that relate directly to the extinction of that civilization.


As the Department of Culture and Entertainment suggested, I shall tell the story as the beings excavated by us actually experienced it. I shall therefore make extensive use of their dialogues, which I copied practically unchanged from their memories. It should be remembered that the thoughts intrinsic to robots, are always identical to those which they convey to others. They can hide their thoughts, but are utterly incapable of falsifying them. If they want to lie, they become confused. Thanks to their verbatim electronic recording system, complete dialogues, whole two-way conversations, are stored within an individual memory. Dialogues between two of our fossil robots will be found in each individual memory to be identical. This increases our confidence that data which relate to other specimens than the ones found, were also an accurate reflection of what happened to them.


In the robot data there are gaps in respect of events on our mother planet. These events were unknown to them but were essential to an understanding of what took place on Earth. Data on such events are indispensable to a comprehensive historiography. To bridge the gaps, I use our own data.

First, I used the database that the colonists brought on their departure from the mother planet, which was filled with the history and knowledge of that planet. Second, I used the additional data which the colonists received from home during their journey in space. These cover the period after their departure and up to the abrupt destruction. Where the data derives from our own sources, I have indicated this in the text - otherwise the data are from the robot memories discovered by us.


Arteros - 4972223



2. A EUTHANASIA PUZZLE.


The start of a good story often contains its conclusion, so I will tell you first what Compo thought on that special day and what he learned, so that you will understand who he was, what he was doing and the nature of his relationships with others. Neither he nor any of the other actors realised that all this was leading up to a tragedy.


Compo was the 'Norman’ robot, with whom and from whom everything originated for us. He called himself a historian. After we got to know his methods, we could confirm that his memory contained enough historical material to fill data libraries. The robots had formidable memories. Because of our in-built fear of intelligent machines, we ourselves are limited in that sense. Compo and his companions roamed the Earth at the time our ancestors were preparing to colonise this planet. His actions and experiences were like those of any other robot. Robots cultivated human life only at our behest. Everything was meticulously recorded in the memories, which are recounted below.


The sun tracked its usual daily course over the house. In the afternoon, it threw too much light into the room for his taste. He went to the window. The hilly sand-drifts beyond his back yard flashed bright in the sunlight. The mosaic of grey and black tiles on the patio were enhanced by it. That mosaic was his own design. After all these years he still appreciated it. He stared at the stump in the middle with its strange bumps and truncated branches. Life had taken on weird shapes. What in nature made it grow like that? He lowered the scale of light transmission in the glass.

Maybe people had known the answer. The limitations of his memory annoyed him. He was an exception in this respect. Others never complained about it. He knew the reason: too much memory inhibits adaptation to new circumstances. Three databases in a robot life are optimal. They are enough for them to take advantage of lessons learned, and their minds are still sufficiently open to new experience. Natural, geological and astronomical processes determine the optimum length of this timescale...yes, yes, he knew…yet he felt that they should make an exception of him and his fellow historians. This restriction was a worry!


He paced the room. What did Harton want? His friend’s hyper-fi message was brief: "Do you have time for me later? I want to ask you something." After his, "Yes", the other disconnected. As usual, he came unannounced. Compo switched the hyper-fi off. Now he received signals only inside his room. Because he was alone, nothing interfered with his own thoughts. Harton was one of the Intimates that ruled their world. He loved face to face communication. Compo was different. He thought rather about what he knew and had learned, without interfering with the course of events, yet Harton, ready to share his news, was always welcome. Not that he felt any desire to get directly involved in what was going on. Compo liked to combine what was going on with what he already knew.

Harton was young, a first-phaser, like all the Intimates. Their starting point lay in generalities. Inside a blank memory they built experience. Compo, in his seventies, and with his threefold database of memories, was approaching the final stage of memory capacity. After twenty-nine years, his oldest memory bank would be taken away, to be replaced by a blank one. The remaining data went into his ‘continuation’, that is, providing no accidental damage had yet destroyed it.


His gaze wandered back to the stump. He had collected it during a mountain hike. Its peculiar form intrigued him. The thing was eternal and unchanging, a petrified fossil without self-knowledge, without knowledge of its past nor of its future. Long ago the wood had been alive. It had grown and changed shape. If he were to retain the stump after his continuation, it would still look just the same after a hundred years. Was it always like this, even when it was alive? – again, a question to which humans perhaps knew the answer, but one he could only guess at...


Harton entered. They greeted one another warmly and electronically shared mutual concerns since their last meeting. This took no more than a fraction of a second. Harton then proposed:

"Let's move into relaxed mode. I would like you to think about what I tell you.

They switched over and took seats across from one another.

"So, you are not too pressed for time? I thought you met yesterday with the Intimates. Usually that means high activity and long-winded jumping through hoops!

Harton laughed.

"Yes, some things we cannot control through hyper-fi. Not everything needs to be known all around. I get a kick out of talking to strangers on the other side of the world. Travelling and meeting strangers is fun. If you physically move from one place to another and find people whom you do not yet know, you see things in a new and different light.

Compo nodded. He used to feel the same - more so previously than now. Nowadays he also saw long familiar things in a new way - not just by rerunning them in his memory but also by means of deeply concentrated thought. He thought pointedly about his stump. It had been there for so many years, and yet, immediately before Harton arrived, he had come to think of it in a new way again this afternoon.

"I get all the kicks I need with Laski. Last week we both needed to recharge before we could continue.

Harton laughed again.

"Yes, you're lucky with her. You sometimes seem to be inseparable. Yesterday I spoke to Darko. Do you know him? He spent a weekend with her at the lakes. In the end they had to lift him out of the boat and take him to a charger. He has been reprimanded. At the end of a phase there are sometimes worn parts that might fail. You too should keep that in mind.

"Laski is special,

responded Compo,

“she is my prefered ♀. She has dual cerebral interests apart from her work - sex and history. Her historical interests provide an added attraction, the other allows her quickly to reactivate from her memory bank her earlier experiences with numerous partners. That makes sex with her so interesting and varied. It is always different and it seems better every time.

"Yes, she is very popular. When I'm done with my Asian affairs, I'll be asking her for a helping of some of her accomplishments!

"You must! You will not regret it. I hope she has time for you. She also has her regular job, you know... but sex is more suited to action than words! Now, tell me what you wanted to tell me in the first place.


Harton moved back and forth in his chair. He seemed to want to organize his thoughts. Then he began to speak. It was about the Intimates meeting the previous day. According to him something strange had happened. Compo did not know the form, so Harton updated him in brief. I summarize the explanation from his more detailed statement. Robots do not quibble over trifles like bits.

The Intimates usually sit around the table and begin to report on events in their region. This happens fast. In a few seconds information is mutually shared - a matter of transferring data through regular flash communication. Then they go into relaxed mode in order to think about what they have heard. Extra-terrestrial news, if there is any, is usually a formality. A few days earlier there had been a brief hyper-fi communication regarding an incoming message. No further details were available - presumably it was not significant.

Central, the global database, rarely interferes with conversations. It sometimes remind people of historic decisions or data. Sometimes they ask a question about a point that is unclear, or on something that has gone unmentioned but only when it is germane to the discussion. At the end of the meeting Central summarizes the decisions and agreements but, unusually, this time it actually initiated the discussion. Everyone looked up in surprise.


First came a recap of the memory conditions and values of the Replica Covenant and the Humanoid Brain Protocols which every robot knew about. Central stressed that the Protocols, along with the Immutability Agreement, had been added at a later stage. None of the Intimates seemed to be aware of anything new here. Then Central went on to current events. The advancing icefield in the north at that time, actually in Scandinavia, it had already advanced south of what was formerly Ystad. The inhabitants had decided to stay put and continued to make their home on and in the ice. By means of clever engineering work factories and power stations had remained functional. In Canada they had chosen a different path. They had moved their regional government and part of their population south. They decided not to renew the northern remnant at the end of its allotted phase. The Intimates were unhappy. What was Central on about? This had already been thoroughly discussed previously. Suddenly the cat was out of the bag…

Central's line of reasoning went as follows: to what extent was the Canadian approach in accordance with the relevant paragraphs in the Covenant and the Protocols? Their actions constituted a kind of partial euthanasia. If these actions were in contradiction to precedent, it would mean that their circuits had gone haywire and it definitely posed a threat to the continuation of human life and all that it stood for! The Intimates were stunned. They looked around in disbelief - none of them knew what to say.

When responses were not forthcoming, Central sought to weigh all the issues one by one. It seemed like a kind of interrogation. Each time the key issues of euthanasia in both codes were discussed, no-one detected a paradox. Then Central asked permission for the formation of special investigation teams. They were to report on the consistency of the euthanasia rules. No one present understood the precise intention - it seemed like a request without far-reaching implications, so they voted approval.


The rest of the meeting went on as normal. After these discussions Central summarised the decisions. Each Intimate was assigned specific duties. Harton had to go to China. Last of all, Yakot, who usually covered the Pacific, Culica (South America), and Harton, were ordered each to form a team of philosophers, it-ers, brainers and any other suitable scholars. They were to search for a possible paradox in the euthanasia algorithm and to report on its scope. It was not classified as secret, but it was not to be communicated via hyper-fi. Each of the trio was allowed to choose his own team.


Harton, telling all this at length to Compo, concluded with:

"What do you think? Would you like to be part of my team?

Compo indicated that he himself was neither a philosopher in the strict sense, nor an it-er, nor a brainer. However, the subject did interest him. It had chimed with his efforts to get to know the past. Covenants and Brain Protocols were things from long ago. Nobody could even remember them. Any knowledge came down through mutual transfer during active phases. Central, of course, kept all the original data. Some regional depots had access to data in connection to replica production but it is questionable whether such information was freely accessible. No member of the public had ever asked for it. Compo, on the contrary, found that the prospect of closer involvement piqued his curiosity.

"If you think that I can be useful, I shall do it. But do not expect me to be a mover and a shaker!

"I do not expect that anything we discover will spell changes to the system, so I don’t believe that the research teams will have much of a role there. That is a matter for the Intimates. Good, then I'm counting on you. Here is your new identification code. Save it. It can come in handy if you need to travel and so on. I have to go now or else I'll be late for my trip to China. May I first use your recharge? West-East travel always messes up my energy system.

Compo readily acceded, said goodbye and showed him where to recharge.


Back in his room by the courtyard, he thought about what he had heard. The new task seemed rather vague. Why those doubts about the consistency of the rules on which the whole of society was built? What was Central after? Euthanasia was about the termination of the existence of an individual. That surely was not what had happened in Canada - right? Icefields move slowly. The Canadians had more than two centuries in which to act. Nobody had been terminated prematurely, that is, before the normal end of phase. In any case, all data were passed through regional stations and were now securely held at Central. No information about culture or heritage had been lost.

Compo could not follow Central’s reasoning. When Harton had started on about the unusual meeting, Compo thought it would be about a message from an inaccessible planet, received only a few days back. Such reports were published from time to time. In his recollection they were never followed up. Communications to and fro took ages and always seemed with places that were so distant as to be totally obscure. Harton had referred to the fact that the report totally lacked detail. Was that what was said at the meeting or was it merely his guess?


He ceased his ruminations and then, returning to his normal work he opened the file on which he had been working before the visit. That cheered him up. In the third memory phase, in which he now found himself, there was no compulsion to work for society. He could dedicate himself without scruple to his beloved studies. The fragments of human history which he had discovered, fascinated him no matter how incomplete they were. After the insertion of his memories from the previous phase, he had immersed himself completely in these matters. His physical parts were fresh and new then.

At first he had become annoyed at the lack of data and the apparently chaotic storage. He wished they had made a better job of modernising the archive. Over time he had reconciled himself to it. It was nice to figure out things that others did not know about. His activities were in fact part of a massive unravelling process. They were steps towards modernising the archives, steps that, together with those of his colleagues elsewhere, would, in a few generations, result in the achievement of a significant historical milestone. There were a lot of things which he alone knew. Except for Laski, there was no one among his acquaintances who knew more than mere fragments of the past.


Historians have one trait in common - they want to understand the past, that is, to discover and understand matters that are not to be found in individual memories. This is more important to them than just making the past more socially accessible to all. Work on this objective was progressing slowly. To streamline the process, historians had reached the mutually agreed compromise of banning repetition, which would only slow down progress even more. Their agreement was recorded at Central. Consequently, they could retrieve from the archive only documents that had not already been decoded by another person. It made the meetings in which they shared their findings with colleagues interesting but it frequently led to worries that they might not be able to reach, promptly and coherently, a good understanding. To overcome that, Central kept a record of who had done what, so that all could benefit, either directly or through hyper-fi, from the available results. It would take two or three phases to put together the complete picture. Meanwhile a hundred and one historians throughout the world could work to their heart’s content on the project.


Compo called up the last two paper documents which he had taken from the archive. He went on to decode them, a process which did not always go smoothly. It was not surprising that mankind had developed so slowly. For them it had been time-consuming enough to capture and disseminate data, let alone unravel it! Moreover they had also used different languages. They were wandering around chaotically in a maze of communications.

Compo was looking for a converter that matched the first archive document. Spanish seemed to work. He waited for the result. To his disappointment, it was a mess. Some words were familiar but it was, overall, gobbledygook. You could say that it had been shoddy work and that people were not up to the job, but surely this kind of nonsensical result could not have been intended by the writer. Had the converter match been wrong? The converter searched again. There was a new match. This time he was more successful. There was now a clearly understandable story. He saw why the first attempt had been unsuccessful. The document was in Portuguese, related, but not identical, to Spanish. In the introduction it said 'translation of a Spanish narrative'. That had sent the search engine off on the wrong track. He hesitated. Should he still get on with the second archive document? Except for the document’s cover, there was no indication that the two were connected.

Curiosity and punctuality competed for primacy. Tomorrow all the documents had to be returned to the archive. His sense of duty prevailed. He first made the next conversion and put it in storage. He repeated the procedure and, finally, he could also interpret the second text. He put the valuable originals in their hermetically sealable boxes. Tomorrow he would return them, together with the documents previously saved, to the library. Now the fun began - visualizing historically what had actually been happening back in the mists of time.



3. ROBOTS AND SEX.


The tale of a nobleman, who was knighted by an innkeeper and who harboured an impossible love for a lady, who in her turn remained a shadowy figure in the whole story, puzzled Compo. He could not find any logic in the story line. Each new scene was absurd. What motivated the man? Why did he want to be a hero? Why did he and his squire even stay together? What sense did it make to go into combat with a windmill, as described in the tale? His knowledge of the ancient world was not insignificant, but the document seemed to have no relation to anything he knew. He, nevertheless, got some fun out of the crazy adventures. They reaffirmed his conviction that nothing could beat the acquisition of historical knowledge. Before he came to the end, by which time the whole thing would probably have become clear, another pleasure interposed itself.


Laski came dancing and swirling through the door. She turned a few pirouettes. Her long, blue-black hair, along with her short wide skirt, were fluttering behind her. They gave him a fleeting glimpse of her obvious charms. His processor speeded up suddenly. She wasted no time on chat and squeezed between him and the table onto his lap. Such a wonderful body! The contact activated a mass of his sensors. The knight and his squire went clean out of his head. His hands went to grope and caress her. Delectable sensations caused him to close any open files, which he only just managed to save. Only his sex mode was now active.

"Oh, Laski, you lovely girl, I’m glad you're here, I ...!

She interrupted him.

"Don’t talk. Get on with it! Do it! I have been computing all day long. I’ve done nothing but processing and data saving. Now I want action!

She changed her position, straddled his lap, lifted her skirt, shifted some of his clothes and pushed his manhood, which had been forcibly triggered by her attack, inside. Previously she had smeared herself in readiness. For minutes she rode him and a long, well-lubricated tongue pressed into his mouth. It gave both of them a formidable orgasm. The intensity decreased and caressing hands landed them gently into a calm afterglow.


All the memories we analysed showed that robots did not interact sexually like us. They were more direct with each other than we are. Their programming made it an everyday form of relaxation. They were not secretive about it. One of them had only to make a small advance to trigger a positive response in the opposite sex. A defiant gesture or some spontaneous thought transfer could suddenly interrupt other activities, such as work. Robots then switched automatically into their 'sex mode'. It overrode everything else. Such life rituals were socially fully accepted. They also took place in the presence of others. For the act itself, they withdrew, usually into a more private area, although initial sexual approaches and any form of subsequent positive acquiescence, happened any time, anywhere, and even during normal daily activities. Robots were usually capable of true love for one another but their conditioning was so strong, that this did not necessarily prevent intercourse with a random robot of the opposite sex. They could always count on an immediate and favourable response to an overt show of lust.

Laski was, in that respect, just like her peers, only others did not think about it and she certainly did. That was the difference. She had done so from the earliest days of her construction. Her brain pathways were thus conditioned to recall past experiences, enabling her to greatly vary her sexual activities. It made her, as evidenced by the aforementioned conversation of the two friends, a popular playmate. For Compo and Laski it was indeed more than a game. They shared an interest in the same subjects and could converse for hours, without even thinking about sex. Both found great fun in their relationship. They shared a deep appreciation of one another.


At this stage in my story I still experience difficulty in talking about love between robots, however, as my involvement with them deepened, I realized that, in this respect, I could ascribe to these humanoids the properties of organic beings – in fact, to go further, I would say that they are just like us.


After Laski’s initial welcome ritual, she told Compo that she had definitely had enough of calculating and computing the whole day long. She wanted to go and find relaxation. Her colleagues were all deeply absorbed in their work. They were not attractive to her. Then she thought: ‘Compo! I can always get him going …how I want, where I want and when I want!’

"You must go and charge now,” she told him,” I have lots in store for you. You know why?

He looked to see whether he could read her face for an answer. She gave no hint. He saw only quizzically raised eyebrows. He shook his head. She reminded him of a file that he had sent her last week. It was a story, concocted in a way that gave no insight into the ancient world. “Wrong!”, according to her. It threw some light on a particular aspect of human society. She suspected that it played an equally important, if subliminal, role in regard to the agreements between governments, their treaties and their wars, all subjects into which his studies had led him. She explained:

“Humans preferred not to communicate about it. It was one of their taboos. Do you remember those obstacles that we encountered a few years ago and which we worked on for so long, trying to understand what they meant? There are patterns and thoughts influencing their actions which they do not speak or write about, except occasionally in documents such as this. The public pretended not to know about it but were, at the same time, secretly obsessed with it. You put a treatise on it on hyper-fi. Since then, the name of it pops up all the time. Everyone uses it now.

Compo remembered. He had just had something similar crop up - a document from outside the mainstream. He wanted to ignore it at first. It seemed detached from real events. Suddenly it had grabbed his interest again. He had almost finished processing it when she had interrupted him. She was immediately interested and asked him to share it. She loved dabbling on the fringes of these issues as well as following the main line of an argument to its resolution. She engaged the flash receipt. Compo sent the copy of the foolish knight’s tale.

They relaxed again.

"Now tell me about your taboo.

"No, later! First go and get charged up! I have already done it. You will need more power than I do. Afterwards, if you have got the energy left, I will tell you the essentials of the story. First, I'm going to get on with my own preparations. Come to reset when I call,” she said.

He looked at her questioningly but she pointed compellingly to the door. He was doing what she had told him and, furthermore, he experienced intense delight at the prospect of intimacy with her. It was all so predictably unpredictable and so predictably exciting!


There was a charging station on both floors of his house. Long ago, he had discovered that humans set aside separate small rooms in their homes. This was where they defecated. They derived their energy mainly through chemicals in quite a cumbersome way. These they imbibed by mouth. The waste products from the items they consumed - almost exclusively made up of other living organisms - were then syphoned off by their bodies. They were discharged into places called WC’s. Such homely details were not of real interest to him but he sometimes encountered them in one or other of the documents. Now he laughed while he thought about it, sitting, leaning against an induction magnet to recharge. This was also something robots did daily. Humans ejected items, whereas with robots something was ingested. The only difference was that he did not have to pull down his pants! But soon he would actually be doing that anyway if Laski decided to drag him into one of her thrilling phantasies! Her call came precisely when the machine indicated that the loading was complete. He rushed to the reset area. At the door he hesitated. Should he take off his clothes now?


In the memories of both Laski and Compo, an explicit, detailed record of what subsequently happened exists. The two sources are wholly in line. It is the kind of sexual adventure which, as far as we know, does not exist in our experience. Among the robots it was also unknown. Laski had been inspired by a human document from the past. It concerned a form of sex where one partner overpowers, torments and even wounds the other, which apparently still evokes their pleasure. Compo was actually damaged during their game but I will not enlarge on these matters as the details are not relevant to our narrative. Those interested in the specific behaviours and feelings of the main characters can get further information in one of our specialised articles.


After her departure the next morning he looked for the document from which she had drawn her inspiration. It was in fact only a fantasy and not factual. Unlike the knight’s tale it left the strong impression that it was not unique. The people in the story behaved quite normally, the only exception being that they experienced their sexual pleasures in a way which differed from most others. Procreation was in all cases out of the question. The story took place in Amsterdam, a city that was not rebuilt after the great destruction. What was left after the disastrous nuclear explosions was washed away by the sea. Although the story fascinated him - it even stirred a slight feeling of pleasure - he did not allow time for full processing. He had to leave for repairs.


In the clinic they wanted to know, of course, why a number of sensors had failed and how his skin came to be damaged. He candidly told them what they had been doing. It caused great surprise and even disbelief. No wonder no one had ever heard of that kind of sex. A nurse in her second phase noted his personal number in order to get the appropriate replacement parts. She thought it dangerous to study history and especially to imitate humans:

“Surely everybody knows they were irrational,

she said crossly.

"A normal sex programme works fine. It is unwise to change things. Those humans have disappeared and it did not happen without good reason! Didn’t you know that they did not even have inner inhibiters against killing one another?

Compo, the great judge of human character, found it funny that she tried to put him right.

"You're right, but there was actually an internal braking mechanism which they called conscience and their society had severe penalties for murder.

She looked at him disapprovingly.

"You should scan some human data. In their wars they killed millions. Their bosses told the soldiers ‘Kill!’ and then they dropped bombs. Men, women and children were murdered or destroyed - even those who did nothing wrong! If these days one of us wanted to order another person to terminate someone, just one, his processor would block immediately, whether he acted as a lone murderer or in a collective like, say, an army! No, just try and understand these people! You’ll soon stop imitating them then!

She nodded emphatically to reinforce the assertion and strode away to get the spare parts.


Compo, crestfallen, watched her go. Why had he not seen the association between 'war' and 'kill people'? Previously war seemed an unavoidable natural phenomenon. Now all of a sudden he saw it clearly as mass murder. How could someone give such instructions? Was conscience ineffective? He wanted to discuss it with Laski.

His damage was superficial so the repairs were not very significant. They were carried out while his sensory perception was inactive. Once the components were supplied it took less than an hour. The second phase surgeon who performed the operation showed more understanding than the assistant. She thought that something out of the ordinary enlarged someone's experience. She called it ‘enrichment.’

Whilst checking whether everything functioned properly she stroked his back and his thighs and looked approvingly at the swelling of his member. Her own programming was normal and she decided on a full test. It always stimulated her and it was a kind of occupational fringe benefit. She took off her clothes, put in some lubricant and, sitting on a table, she had Compo fuck her. Everything worked properly and they thanked each other for the mutually enjoyable encounter.


At home he started by first completing his processing of the knight’s tale. The pleasure it gave ousted the memory of that euphoric night. It was only when he concluded that the writer at the end had made up the whole phantasy that the thought struck him: different phantasies, not facts, dreamt up by somebody else, work differently on the brain. It was a sign that Laski's sadistic inspiration had left its traces.



4. LIBRARY VISIT.


Instead of processing the last document, Compo spent time thinking about his new job. He mulled over Harton's words and scanned his own memory for euthanasia. It yielded little. The library might help. It annoyed him that the agreement with his colleagues, so emphatically insisted upon by Central, was such a hindrance to progress... but actually it was not really a problem. Things could afford to wait until the work of their team was better defined. Now he could safely continue his research on the Spanish conquistadors. The idea fired him up again.


That afternoon he took the car to visit the library. He carried with him in a bag the documents in their protective shell and stepped inside. He set the co-ordinates to ‘Central Library’ but nothing happened. When the response came: "Command not understood. Destination Central Library unknown," he laughed. He had only just been thinking about the dominant role that Central played. He had been wrong to let that dominate his thoughts.

"Erase command. Go to Regional Library.

The car began to move away from his neighbourhood and turned onto the expressway. He travelled about 300 km. That meant nearly two hours of inactivity - a good opportunity to allow for a period of reset. He set the alarm, shut the sensors, photocells and the audio. Hyper-fi had not been on that day.


At the entrance of the Library his system was fully active again. There was a flood of messages. He filed them unread. When he entered the building he switched off the annoying universal communicator. At the reception only Solaka, the Librarian, was on duty. They knew each other from way back. She was, like him, in her third phase but she had preferred to do this work rather than pursue her studies. Normally there were other staff on reception.

They greeted one another warmly. He asked what she was doing behind the counter. Was there something wrong with her support staff? Solaka assured him that it was quiet that afternoon - only one junior member of staff, Donica, was on duty. She had wanted to have time off for an hour of sex with a visitor. Solaka had given her permission to use the boardroom for a change instead of one of the reset spaces. She would be back again soon.

Routinely Solaka accepted all returned documents but when she entered Compo’s identification she looked astonished.

"What happened to you? Did you get promotion to Intimate?

The question surprised him.

"Why? What has changed?

"You were always a historian with the agreed access permissions relevant to that occupation. You could even borrow original documents under certain conditions, but now you have unlimited access. What have you been up to?

Compo thought before he answered. Harton must have found time, despite his busy schedule, to report to Central that he was initiating work with his team of euthanasia researchers. Could he tell Solaka about it? He reviewed what his friend had said. There had been no specific talk about secrecy - only restrictions regarding hyper-fi.

"I don’t know whether I am allowed to talk about it. I thought I had been approached simply about accepting the assignment. Then I said ‘Yes.’ The tasks are to be specified later and only then will I know who and what I can tell about it. Don’t get me wrong, but I'm not used to these things.

Solaka peeked into his memory but stumbled on hidden files. She nodded,

"OK, it's OK. Congratulations on your step-up to a wider perspective of the world. It is now much broader than mine. You know the ropes. The catalogue engine has been replaced by a new one and it’s perfect. It is much faster than the old one.

"Thanks very much. Incidentally, you told me something I personally did not know. Those regulators work faster than we can run!

They both laughed as he walked to the catalogue station.


What Solaka had said had changed his plans for the afternoon. He had come here with the idea of continuing his work on European history but now he thought of his new obligations and the benefits it offered. He finally had the opportunity to delve thoroughly into the transition period. Whether others did the same, did not matter now. He wanted to see the originals unfiltered. He knew that an original copy of the Covenant clearly existed. The brain design also existed but only electronically. Both were otherwise inaccessible, however, there were edited and annotated versions, which could be studied by historians. He thought he should test the newly acquired evidence and ordered the original and the complete file. He could make electronic copies himself - pure, unadulterated copies! Following the summary data in the catalogue, he continued his search and selected a number of documents relating to the transition period. He assumed that this time he did not have to worry about keeping to the maximum limit of ten documents.


Just when he had done it Solaka joined him.

"You have requested two documents that are doubly classified. I’m not sure if your new status will allow it. I tried connecting to Central to ask but I drew a blank. The section at Central I contacted, is protected and does not communicate on the subject through hyper-fi. Why not take the annotated, edited versions? Those are identical in my view and would avoid the need to get authorisation.

Compo said,

"there are two possible answers to the question of why two versions of the same document are protected in different ways: one, that there is an original copy and a second censored copy which is not authentic; two, and more simply, the original is unique and ought under no circumstances to get lost. This obviously isn't the case. Originals are held by Central. Yours is an exact duplicate, so only the first answer remains tenable. Since Central has both dictated and approved my appointment, that restriction does not apply to me anyway.

He disguised the fact he was bluffing. His appointment was at most merely ‘accepted’ by Central. Solaka nodded thoughtfully,

"actually, I should wait for specific permission but we have known one another for so long that it’s not a problem. If it turns out to be out of my jurisdiction you will, of course, return the items immediately.

"I'll do that, trust me. If that happens, I won’t let on that I actually saw the documents.

"OK, I trust you. You can have them but be careful!

He touched her face.

"Solaka, you're a peach!

“Watch out, you, or I’ll take you to my room. Donica is back at the front desk and she told me that the board room is just great!


They both laughed and he walked with her to the front desk and waited for the requested documents. There were now more visitors and the two females were busy assisting them. The documents arrived. He checked that nothing was missing and said goodbye. Solaka followed him to his car.

"When you’re aware of what you can and can’t say, you’ll need to let me know what's going on. I've never known anyone who had such carte blanche access. I am very curious to know more.

He promised to let her know.


Compo waited dutifully to examine the protected data. Two days later Solaka confirmed that she had received authorisation. Now he could get to work.



5. WARS AND WARMING.


The key documents were voluminous. At first glance, however, they contained nothing that he did not already know. He put off processing until later and immersed himself in the others that dealt with the big catastrophe. As a historian, these documents held more fascination for him. They gave him a first insight into the events that had led up to the disaster. I now summarise the key data contained in that marvellous robot memory, as it relates to the main story:

Two devastating wars, fought with a plethora of nuclear weapons, brought the human population back to less than one tenth of its pre-war total. It was only then that a powerful and effective World Government was established. The wars, more than wear and tear, caused the large gaps in historical documentation, gaps which Compo and his colleagues found so annoying. The archaeological damage was immense. Many historical records were destroyed. The World Government had done its best to save what was left but what was gone, was lost forever. Anticipating a depletion of natural resources, the government put in place a successful population policy. The population stabilized at a thousand million.

There was a worldwide desire for unity and a rejection of violence. A widely accepted legal system was introduced. By the early twenty-second century they succeeded in achieving something which had not been achieved on Earth since the first humans appeared. There was a period of peace, trust and cooperation. There was a deep-seated desire to keep it that way.

Compo found that when he came to consider concepts like war and population control, he remained quite unmoved. When it came to concepts involving killing or murdering people, his processor became congested.


He spent so long processing and commenting on the documents that, more than once he neglected his resetting process. He found that, for a good understanding of the various pieces, he lacked the basic knowledge of subjects like, for example, industrial production, raw materials and energy supply.

On subjects that were not classified, he referred, in large part, to researchers from a technical background, whom he happened to know. Like himself, they seemed rather interested in conditions in earlier times. They were able to answer many of his questions. Some even took the trouble to visit him at home to share their thoughts in a more relaxed fashion. That took a lot of time but it was a lot of fun for all concerned. An interest in ancient human civilization was a characteristic they all, to a greater or lesser extent, shared.


The nuclear wars had left a bad legacy. Mankind had acquired such an aversion to nuclear technology that it was no longer used to meet energy needs. In previous centuries people had done this by burning the ancient remains of plants and animals - fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas - a chemical method woefully poor in energy yield. The fossil fuel supplies ran out. Men tried many ways of providing energy by processes with an even lower energy flux. Energy shortages led to political tensions and threatened to create disharmony. Without the use of the fossil fuels, life on earth became problematical. People in places where fossil fuel was still available, refused to share.

Conflicts arose. Central government managed only with difficulty to quell them. It was generally assumed that the use of fossil fuel had increased to about 500 parts per million of CO2 content in the atmosphere. That was almost three times more than before oil, coal and gas were in use. During the 22nd century, the temperature of the lower atmosphere and the oceans, which had been fairly constant for over a century, began to rise. Earth had had many periods of high and low temperatures. This time, mankind attributed the temperature rise to the high concentration of CO2. The gas was absorbing some infra-red radiation and thus retaining heat. There were researchers who disputed this heat effect but their views were not well received.

The controversy about the cause of the observed phenomena aggravated pre-existing disagreements about the energy shortage. The owners and the users of scarce chemical fuel were accused of putting the planet at risk. Although CO2 did not increase in concentration at the time, this was attributed to the fuel shortage and not to natural causes. Moreover, CO2 levels did not decrease. Many saw this as the cause of the temperature rise. Government was divided on this. New and serious conflicts seemed inevitable.


At that time, a group of renowned geochemists made proposals to government that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere be brought down drastically by natural means. In Earth's geological history the mass of atmospheric CO2 had been many times larger than at that time. A slow geological process had caused the gas almost to disappear. The gas became converted into carboniferous rock, forming entire mountain ranges. The scientists convinced the Government that the natural process could be accelerated by pulverizing olivine. Olivine is about the most common mineral on Earth. It is a magnesium silicate, which, together with water and CO2, gradually becomes a bicarbonate through interactions with living organisms, such as plants and bacteria.


Societal pressure forced the World Government into making an all-out effort. The task was put in the hands of private companies. They rivalled each other in productivity and growth. In areas where the soil was naturally low in lime content, the spreading of olivine powder led to soil enrichment. This world program therefore met with no resistance to speak of - on the contrary, there was a great demand for more of the same. The companies involved served an insatiable market. Although not all climate researchers were convinced that this was the answer, it created the impression that the excess of CO2 was being finally addressed, which mollified the population. The growing tension diminished and a new era of contentment began, and, what is more, after several years, the measures actually seemed to be effective. The CO2 concentration in the atmosphere lowered. The popularity of the government and of its olivine processors became legendary. In the technical literature the term the "Olivine Era" entered the vocabulary.


The olivine story gave Compo headaches. He came to understand it only after he had found a geochemist who could explain it to him. His admiration for the imaginative power of the human mind increased considerably. The rest of the story he had to learn from other documents. That took him several days in a row. Harton visited him after his return from China. He welcomed the zeal with which his friend had thrown himself into his new job, although he wondered how the olivine story was connected to the euthanasia paradox? Compo had no answer but he followed his intuition.

“I still think it's important. After all, it was one of the major global trends new to humanity and it took place just before the transition.

"What other trends were there?

asked Harton.

"I should say the two major advances in computing were a) in creative processing and b) the newly introduced restrictions to human norms and values. They drove the great advances in robotics. People and robots were now able to work together on equal terms. Electronic processing speed advanced rapidly. The same happened with data storage. Electronic brains could do better than those of humans. New ideas and new opportunities were increasingly generated by robots. Did you know that in the last decades humanoid robots were already part of the World Government? There were factories making humanoid robots everywhere. I don’t know the details but I'm looking for a smart brainer who can help me understand the documents I've acquired. I'm not well known in those circles. There is Laski, of course, but she has little time. As a second-phaser she has a personal interest in robot construction. Additionally ... well, you know, when we’re together we often do other things than discuss philosophy!

Harton laughed - he could well imagine their other pursuits!

"Maybe I can help you. I am now well on my way to completing the full team. It is going to be an interesting interdisciplinary group. I have limited it to six or eight participants, besides me. They need to live in this immediate vicinity. The edict preventing us from using hyper-fi persuades me not to pick guys from Africa, Asia or the Americas. We should all be able to meet together easily and to communicate in relaxed fashion. I found a good brainer from near here. You should go and visit him or ask him to come to you. His name is Graston. He also works in robot manufacture. Perhaps Laski knows him. I'll give you his co-ordinates.


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