Pygmalion was as close to an artist as a Quintesson could be. Efficiency wasn’t enough for it, it also prided itself on distinctiveness and the unexpected. Unlike many Quintessons, it was aware that playing against the odds promoted change, evolution, and that was often for the good.
Pygmalion had worked on the very successful alpha model of service robot, and therefore this presentation of its latest prototype, one that it had worked on alone, had attracted a great deal of reserved curiosity. Several Quintessons had assembled in the presentation chamber to see the result, including some of the five-faced Judges.
It stood before them, alone on the stage barring its own personal alpha and the case for the new prototype. The alpha was next to the case, ready to open it at the predetermined signal. Pygmalion was at the forefront. It was not afraid because it had already estimated the most likely reaction and was prepared for that. It expected that the other Quintessons would not have guessed successfully what the basis of the prototype was, and therefore they were the ones at a disadvantage.
“My fellow Quintessons,” it began. “We have progressed far since we first began our creation of robot slaves. We are generally agreed that the alpha robots have had unprecedented success. Now I present to you the next step in their development. Behold the beta prototype… a female robot.”
Obedient to the pre-coded cues, the alpha opened the case. Beta stepped out and looked silently at the beings who ordained her role in society.
They paused for a moment, looking at each other in tacit
consultation on how they should react. Finally, quietly, they sniggered at her.
Gender had interested Pygmalion from early in its career when it first studied organisms. At the time, Pygmalion had been part of the team creating the Transorganics, an experiment in organic life that went vastly wrong. A group of Quintesson scientists had chosen lifeforms from across the universe and merged them with machinery, creating fantastical beings each designed for a particular function. It should have been a step forward in technology for them. Unfortunately, they could not discipline the minds of the original creatures, which proved unable to cope with the mechanical upgrade. The Transorganics went out of control, and the project was shut down, a setback for all concerned.
Except for Pygmalion. During the course of its research on the Transorganics, it studied organic life-forms in detail and developed a fascination for them. It was inevitable that this would eventually influence its work, although its idea of using gender in robots was not one that would have occurred to its peers. The trait was clearly tied to procreation, and therefore the other Quintessons had dismissed it as soon as they turned to mechanics. Production, not reproduction, was all that was needed for beings that they fabricated from materials at hand. They had calculated that each robot could last for millennia, if not longer, so a self-sustaining population wasn’t a priority. Furthermore, reproduction could be dangerous since it could not be controlled completely. No, the ability for their servants to reproduce themselves without Quintesson authorisation was not a desired one.
Not all organic lifeforms had gender, true. Some would reproduce asexually. Some lifeforms had more than two genders—although the more genders they had, the harder it was to procreate and therefore the greater the chance of rapid extinction. The Quintessons had appreciated the logic behind different genders: the offspring would combine genetic qualities of both parents, experimenting with what worked best with the environment. However, the Quintessons also agreed that a pool of minds deciding the physical design was both swifter and less random than evolution. Thus, gender was cast aside along with reproduction.
Pygmalion had found itself unable to let the concept of gender rest, however. In its study of organic life, it had noticed how often the social structure was mapped around the sexes. Simplifying things down to two roles, there was the male and the female. Traditionally the females acted as incubators, although there was enough variety in the universe to ensure more than a few species worked their way around this rule. However, it was this female trait that had struck Pygmalion and the way the animal’s culture would form around it.
It divided its observations into three categories: hive, partnership and pack. The hive mentality would have one dominant female. Usually, she alone would reproduce while the rest of the hive would live to preserve her. Without her, they would not exist and thus she governed them. Pygmalion was not without a sense of irony. It noted that, according to such a design, the Quintessons were a female race creating a horde of robot drones to serve them in order that their own kind would flourish.
This, however, was not of any practical use. The Quintessons did not need a single robot to govern their slaves. The slaves already obeyed them. The point of study was to see if the robots could be improved.
Partnership and pack sustained Pygmalion’s interest for
longer. In many species, males and females would create a safe place for their
offspring and work together to nourish them. This led to teams working
independently but with each other, sometimes only temporarily, sometimes until
expiration. And that mutual contract and adaptability was something that
Pygmalion felt their robots could benefit from.
“You seek to make mechanical beings organic?” one of the Judges asked.
Beta stood before them, a figure of metal for all she was painted in shades of green. She was constructed to approximate a humanoid, but beyond this purely functional form were the aesthetic liberties that could be taken with a robot. Both torso and limbs were fully rounded, and her face was curved at brows and jaw, creating an almost whimsical impression of softness. This alone would have been a slavish imitation of organic lifeforms, but the remaining features of her body were sculpted to repeat and complement the curving theme, from the crest on her headpiece to the plating on her lower legs. As a robot, she made a striking contrast to the dusky pink and angular alpha, who was standing to one side, yet colour and decoration were superficial variations. Pygmalion had distinguished her utterly with the organic word ‘female’.
Pygmalion had only a single face, and it knew a taste of envy in its desire for the expressiveness of the full five that were set in the Judges’ massive pods. However on this occasion, all the Judges present displayed the same, slightly derogatory visage. It was a calculated insult since Pygmalion’s research should rate another face, one that gave weight to its credentials.
Pygmalion had anticipated such and was unaffected. If they sought to put it off guard, then that meant that it had caught them by surprise in the first place. Calmly, it inclined its pod towards Tiresias, the Judge who had spoken. “I seek to learn from organic lifeforms so that we may benefit from the increased knowledge.”
“Did you not learn from our experiments with the Transorganics?” snapped a tri-faced Quintesson, rotating its own faces to present one that had been ravaged to the point that it was no longer functional.
Pygmalion knew this scientist and was prepared for its reaction also: “The Transorganics were a failure, but the research was invaluable! Have you forgotten that we ourselves have an organic base, if one elevated to a higher lifeform through mechanics? Do you not believe that other organic species may have potential if we but mine it?”
The tri-faced scientist, Prometheus, switched one of its intact faces back to stare at Pygmalion uncompromisingly. It had led the Transorganic project, on which they had worked closely together, but while Pygmalion had kept its distance when the creatures had broken from control, Prometheus had attempted to subdue one personally and had been lucky to escape with its life.
“I believe that it is dangerous to try and mix organic traits with machine,” it answered. “We have learned that the results are unpredictable, and we would be fools to experiment blindly.”
Pygmalion turned to Beta who had stood silently through all of this, her gaze never wavering from the audience. “Open yourself.”
Beta removed her breastplate which protected most of her vital workings. A delicate, complex array of wires and machinery were revealed to the audience.
“Very good, Beta,” Pygmalion said, making sure its voice carried to the audience. “Now indicate which of your components is organic.”
Exposed like this, Beta was completely vulnerable. A stray tentacle from any of the audience could have ruptured her inner circuitry, possibly irreparably. Her programming would recognise this, but her hands were held low and her gaze remained coolly trained on the Quintesson audience. “None are. I am purely mechanical in construction.” Her voice was slightly higher pitched than the alphas, another superficial difference.
“Indeed,” Pygmalion agreed. “Therefore, the mistake made with the Transorganics has not been repeated nor have I allowed any emotion from that mistake to cloud my judgement.”
Prometheus continued to stare bitterly but it did not respond.
Instead another voice took up the argument. “Ahh, emotions, the purpose of the alpha prototypes.”
“Emotions were part of the alphas’ design,” Pygmalion agreed carefully. “Inasmuch as they are a necessary part of an independent personality, and that was the purpose of the alpha line. As these are artificial emotions, both betas and alphas can be emotional without being volatile. I need not remind you that alphas are by far the most favoured line for personal assistants.”
“Indeed, who would not want these robots with a sense of self… these Autobots?” The speaker deliberately used the term occasionally given to the alphas. At their introduction, the first alphas had at one point been referred to as Autos Robots, in an attempt to express that this machine perceived itself as an individual and had an awareness of its own self. The introduction had been near-universally mocked and the Autos Robot tag had been contracted—thus insulting the very word by Quintesson terms—to Autobot.
However, here and now that had been too obvious an insult and Pygmalion permitted itself a supercilious smile. The alphas may have been mocked initially, but their intelligence, anticipation of problems and initiative had soon proved their worth, and their dissidents were now few and usually derided themselves. By mocking the alphas along with the new prototype, the speaker had just influenced the room marginally in favour of Beta. Prometheus alone seemed to agree; the rest of the audience had adopted postures of irritation with this old complaint.
“If you can find no use for Alpha,” Pygmalion addressed the speaker with obvious amusement, “Then by all means boycott Beta.”
The Judge, Tiresias, cut in, voice firm. “And what is the purpose of this? If we have Alpha, why need Beta?”
“A3,” Pygmalion called the alpha on stage.
He—that pronoun defined now—had remained unresponsive since Beta had been revealed, but when addressed he walked to the front of the stage alongside Beta and removed his own breastplate. He had been one of the original four experimental alphas, and Pygmalion had kept him for its own personal use and with a view towards the Beta Project.
“You will have noticed that they are of similar design. Visually, their workings are intended to be identical, barring perhaps in the future the odd specialised component for some assigned task.” Pygmalion explained. “The key is their identity. ‘Female’ and ‘Male’ are words, nothing more. Here they are used to designate the two halves of a pairing. While Beta demonstrates a more sophisticated version of Vector Sigma, she has been programmed to complement an alpha either from the original template or from the updated one. The two will function together more competently than alone, and more competently than two alphas or an alpha and another brand of robot. They have been built as a team.”
Tiresias changed faces. The one it now presented still failed to accord respect to the demonstration, but it was a more personal face, and when it spoke, Pygmalion felt relief at hearing amusement but no mockery in its tone. “So the beta and alpha are a team. Tell us, when did you conceive the idea for a beta?”
Pygmalion smiled again. “While I was working on the alpha. I designed the variables for the alpha’s personality, and I programmed Vector Sigma according to this idea.”
“In other words, you ensured that the alpha would be released with a built-in potential that could only be tapped with the as yet nonexistent beta?”
Pygmalion inclined its pod forwards in deference. “The alphas are at the level that they were designed for. I foresaw early on an opportunity to increase that potential further.”
“And you also foresaw the greater personal gain if you implemented your idea yourself,” the Judge observed.
Pygmalion did not react, knowing that it had done nothing that any other Quintesson would not have done. Selfishness was as necessary to advance a career as intelligence.
Tiresias changed faces again, now looking on Pygmalion with true, if amused, respect. “I commend such foresight, and I shall be pleased to have betas among my own assistants.”
There were no further arguments. Sentence had been passed
on Beta, although she was too newly made to understand how favourable it was.
Cybertron was an artificial world, a small, fractured asteroid that had been augmented and reinforced with layer after layer of machinery. In this, it was patterned after the Quintessons themselves: an artificial lifeform that had been built upon a natural species by a long forgotten race. Cybertron had been constructed not so much as a homeworld but as an immense factory and laboratory to further their knowledge and skills. As their civilisation progressed, so did their ideas, but technology was fast outstripping their personal range of capabilities. A new ranking needed to be developed: one of self-operative tools.
With the Transorganics, they had gone back to the idea of building upon organic components with mechanical ones. After that failure, the Quintessons turned to robotic designs in order to create a truly artificial workforce. These robot slaves had been successfully introduced to Cybertron, while the Quintessons remained the master race. Robots had limitations, true, chiefly in intelligence, but gradually they hoped to produce increasingly sophisticated intelligence programmes and more broadly adaptable physical designs. Vector Sigma was Pygmalion’s own design. It had set itself to creating a programme that would produce actual personalities for robot bodies. These were essentially random, although specific traits could be requested. The Vector Sigma programme had been made for the alphas, and as Pygmalion had been planning the original personality variables, it had perceived the possibilities that eventually led to the beta prototype.
It had begun, admittedly, with an observation from another Quintesson on the Alpha Project. A concern was expressed that beings with self-awareness and independence of personality could prove unpredictable and therefore dangerous. The answer had been to instil a preference for co-operation. An alpha could work independently at a given task, but they would choose to work together. Pygmalion was given the directive to incorporate this into an alpha’s personality.
When it came to do this, it struck Pygmalion that they were creating society. They were actually designing robots to have a preference for each other’s company. This was something that had never been done before—had never needed to be done before, since Vector Sigma was by far the most complex artificial intelligence programme ever created. Realising its own ignorance in this field, Pygmalion resolved to parallel existing behavioural patterns, prevalent in other lifeforms, wherever possible. If creating society, far better to use real ones as a starting point (and then adapt as necessary once some expertise had been gained) than to experiment blindly.
A concept of gender had been its immediate thought on how to introduce the theme of partnership and teamwork, but it had soon realised that that would be inappropriate for a trial run of robots. Diversity within a line could be introduced later; all the alphas should be identical in programming and purpose so that their advantages were clear to the Judges who had to pass sentence on them. Instead Pygmalion had programmed the alphas to make a distinction between themselves and other designs of robot—ones that had not been programmed via Vector Sigma—and to prefer its own kind. Within that template it had left room for a second prototype or more, following similar design. Those would be the other members of the team, the other half of the pair.
This was how the partnership and pack mentality of organic species had intrigued Pygmalion. The terms were gross simplifications, but it only required the concepts. Pack had provided a more immediate use. It was the survival instinct of safety in numbers where members of the same group would co-exist, working together to preserve themselves. This was exactly the sort of mentality that could be used in a workforce.
Pygmalion noted that often a pack would consist nearly
entirely of females and their young, with perhaps one male to act as stud.
Accordingly when it entered the variables for the individual’s preference for
company, it programmed Vector Sigma to weight them for females. A male
personality was more likely to be a loner, while female/female friendships would
generally be closer than male/male ones. Of course, it had long since been
decided that individual personalities had to be unique. How could one identify
oneself as an individual if one perceived a duplicate personality? Therefore,
the variables were just that: variable—and overlapping. This element of
randomness (within accepted guidelines) meant that it would be possible for a
particular male personality to exhibit more of the ‘female’ characteristics than
a particular female one. Pygmalion did not consider that this would be a
problem, although it did ensure that each personality came with a sense of
identity, which included awareness of his or her own gender.
Subsequently, Pygmalion was kept busy with producing the beta line, and therefore Beta and A3 were also kept busy, both with demonstrations and general assistance.
“First they laugh at me, now they respect me…” Beta wondered.
The two robots were in the workroom, finishing up the paintwork of the first of the new female models, Beta Mia, who was already promised to Judge Tiresias. She was the first of many such orders, as further demonstrations had convinced more and more Quintessons of a beta’s value. This abrupt change in her reputation was what currently nonplussed the original Beta.
“They didn’t laugh at you, they laughed at the idea of you,” A3 murmured absently.
Beta shrugged, working her spray gun carefully over the joints of the fingers. “What’s the difference?”
“They don’t see you as an actual entity.”
“Isn’t that the point of us? That we are programmed to be self-aware?”
“We think therefore we are? Or we think we think, therefore we possibly might be?” A3 seemed unconcerned with the answer.
Beta worked her neurons around that concept and broke into a grin. “I’m not going to philosophise myself out of existence. I’m alive because I know I am.”
The alpha looked surprised, as he often did when she smiled, but he also quirked the corners of his own mouth upwards. “Fair enough.” He moved on to work on the trademark of robots programmed with Vector Sigma: a stylised face in red tones inscribed on the chest. “Just remember that the Quintessons don’t see you like that.”
“Most Quintessons,” Beta corrected loyally.
A3 gave a shrug in concession. “Possibly. I’ve yet to meet a Quintesson who doesn’t think of us as extremely elaborate and useful machines, but I suppose some might concede that our metal bodies house a soul.”
Beta flicked off the spray of purple paint and stared at him. “What about Pygmalion?”
A3 returned the look with equal bemusement. “It doesn’t think we’re alive in a spiritual sense any more than in a biological sense.”
“It must do. Ever since I was created, it’s been standing up for me. It’s done the same for you…. It takes care of us.”
“I told you…. The Quintessons don’t laugh at you, they laugh at the idea of you. Pygmalion’s idea. It’s only been standing up for itself.”
Beta’s head jerked back as she stifled a retort. The whole movement so clearly expressed her frustration and annoyance that A3 paused in his work and spoke again, more gently than before. “I didn’t say it was a bad person. It just… doesn’t understand us. We think in different ways to the Quintessons, even if we do co-exist.”
“But they programmed us. How can they not understand? Why make us different?” she persisted.
“Because we’re not Quintessons, Beta,” A3 said simply. “We’re slaves. A different race altogether… Having us think like Quintessons could have been detrimental, I suppose. So they gave us an alternative mindset—to see what would happen and if there was anything to learn from it.” This time, it was he who smiled if only wryly.
Yet Beta did not return the expression, although she again bent over her work on the lifeless Beta Mia. “Slaves,” she murmured. “Beings whose only function is to serve another race. But if we’re not alive, we’re not even that to them, are we? All we are is tools.”
“That’s all we were designed for,” A3 replied. “There’s a difference.” His words and expression were quelling, but not without sympathy, and they smoothed the petulance from Beta’s face. Nevertheless, a certain pensiveness remained that could not be entirely attributed to her focus on her work.
They continued in silence for a time, and presently Pygmalion entered the room. It paused at the doorway for several moments, watching the two work. With pleasurable satisfaction, it noted that they were completely synchronised, anticipating each other’s movements and adjusting their own accordingly. With other tasks, it had been the same. More complex ones would require the two to communicate more, but Pygmalion had never noticed a lack of understanding in their work. The greatest joy was that they would evaluate the job together. Other kinds of robot would usually require instruction on their first performance of a given task. The alphas and betas were supposed to be able to figure it out for themselves with minimal guidance—and with each other.
In a way, this painting had been a test. It was hardly an advanced job, and A3 had experience, having done most of Beta’s paintwork. The activity was completely new to Beta however, and A3 had no experience of it as anything other than a solo effort. Pygmalion had wanted to know how they would manage if simply given a colour scheme and told to apply it to the new beta with no indication of who should perform which element. With interest it noted that A3 had taken on the most difficult part: that of the trademark symbol.
“Purple is indeed most pleasing,” Pygmalion finally said aloud. “I still prefer your green, Beta, but Judge Tiresias expressly requested an alternate colour. I suppose I should be grateful that I wasn’t rebuked for my audacity.”
Beta looked at it in confusion, but it didn’t elaborate. A3 should not have understood either, however he did not turn his attention to the Quintesson.
Pygmalion moved towards a console at the back of the room, and accessed Vector Sigma. “The Judge also requested less confidence than you possess, Beta,” it chuckled. “I think you made quite an impression. However it requested that Beta Mia be more diffident—yes… Let me see now.” It began tapping out personality requests with its tentacles.
“What’s wrong with being confident?” Beta asked.
“There is no accounting for taste,” Pygmalion replied absently, still amused. “I like the personality I gave you, but if Judge Tiresias wishes for its slave to be boring, that is its own preference.”
Beta’s optics intensified although she turned back to her painting, rather than look at Pygmalion directly. “She will be a slave, won’t she? Not a tool.”
That question did give the Quintesson pause. “As a tool, she is—as indeed you are—remarkably complex. Hmm… Perhaps, yes… perhaps that is not an appropriate word. After all, you have a mind of your own and a tool requires complete control. Slaves rather than tools indeed.”
Pygmalion went on with its work, but A3 stared hard at Beta, frowning at her venture. She looked back at him, acknowledging the frown but not agreeing with it.
No more was said for the moment.
Visually, it was also possible to reinforce the idea of gender. Although the outward appearance of a robot usually said nothing about its programming, the artist in Pygmalion wished to have a physical difference between male and female, however superficial.
It had been decided very early on that the robots would not resemble the Quintessons in any way. Since the robots were destined to be slaves, they would rank lower than all Quintessons, and it would have been pure insult to create them in their likeness. The complex mechanical pods that housed the organic base of each Quintesson varied according to the individual’s rank and function—which were one and the same thing—but they all served to elevate the Quintessons to a fully sentient race with vast technological capabilities. Their origins were usually visible in the tentacles, although higher-ranking Quintessons, such as the five-faced Judges, were entitled to artificial replacements of these also. Quintesson pods were constructed to hover above the floor with an energy beam, and the naturally occurring feature of their tentacles had been retained since they served to guide and propel them, as well as to operate the assorted machinery that consumed their planet. Such tentacles and any central pod with one or more faces inset was to be avoided in a slave.
Contrast was one necessity for their slaves; the other was practicality. They selected a humanoid form, built to an appropriate scale: four limbs, the lower pair used for walking and the upper pair for grasping and manipulating; a torso shielding most of the inner workings; a head, above the rest, which contained several sensory receptors in a flat face. The slender build was agile, and the hands on the upper limbs were very useful—more so than tentacles in many cases, although the overall form was not particularly strong. Such weakness could be an advantage naturally—the Quintessons themselves were not designed for physical strength and had had difficulty in coping with the immense Transorganics when these had turned against them. Should anything go wrong with this workforce, they wanted something more controllable.
The rest of the appearance was purely aesthetic and largely irrelevant. Pygmalion had had little to do with that side of construction for the alphas, so it relished the opportunity to design the exterior of Beta. Observations of actual humanoids had shown that the females tended to be of a slighter build, and curved at the torso. This was due to their role in reproduction and also subsequent nourishment of the child. Such requirements were superfluous to Beta’s design, but Pygmalion was pleased to have such an obvious gender distinction be made possible. Even in silhouette, it was clearly possible to identify male from female. The artist in Pygmalion followed the shape meticulously and made arcs a theme in her ornamentation. She was to be the first of her kind and its own slave; her appearance should not be lacking.
In colour, Pygmalion made a nod towards anarchy,
although that was initially unintentional. When painting her, it had used
shades of green for what it personally considered to be a most pleasing effect.
Halfway through the procedure, it had realised that no alpha was green—A3 was a
dark pink with purple features, a popular colour scheme for robots. On
Cybertron, green was more often seen on the Quintessons themselves than anywhere
else, and the use of it on the new prototype could be viewed as a calculated
jibe. Pygmalion had briefly considered instructing A3 to begin painting again,
with a less controversial colour, but in the end, it had chosen to continue.
This beta would be for its own personal use. Future betas could be coloured
according to their prospective buyer’s wishes. Should some dissenters make an
issue of it, Pygmalion could always mock them for their own paranoia over a
As time passed, the market for robot assistants was thoroughly monopolised by those programmed with Vector Sigma. The alpha and beta lines were both successful, and were presently followed by others. The difference was that gamma and subsequent designs featured both genders, and the buyer could request the sex of their purchase as easily as colour and personality traits. Instead, the changes to the various models were necessitated by function. The Quintessons were consolidating their sprawling society into a single disciplined city, and required first robots capable of construction work and then ones designed specifically to maintain certain features of their metropolis. Thus a place for robot slaves was created in what had once been exclusively Quintesson classes.
At a time when a zeta prototype was in the design stages, Pygmalion went alone to observe a series of experiments. The Quintessons maintained a detached awareness of other lifeforms and civilisations in the universe. They also followed patterns of behaviour and development. One of the topics that had absorbed them for a long time was war. Violence as a means of gaining power seemed to be little more than a conceit to them. After all, strength may gain and keep control, but alone it could not make use of power on any but the most banal level. Intelligence was needed to maximise the potential of whatever governing system was in place. Of course, consistency of government was more efficient than constant upheavals, and peace was imperative for that.
No other civilisation was currently a threat to the Quintessons. Their technology far exceeded that of any other lifeform they had discovered. However it was acknowledged that this may not always be the case, and therefore experiments such as the ones Pygmalion was now attending were carried out on a regular basis. They were also made public. Knowledge was desperately important to all ranks of Quintessons, and the seats that ringed the trial grounds were full. The faces that were turned towards the action varied—some even belonged to robot slaves that had come with their Quintesson owners—but for the most part, they accorded the procedures clear respect.
It was death that they were watching. Although the Quintessons had no ambitions to war, they saw the need to practise destruction for defensive purposes. An alien creature darted around an arena while mechanical weapons targeted it automatically. A rattle of machinery, a squeal, and one experimental weapon had proved competent. Yet Pygmalion gave this little consideration. It was not an architect to be responsible for establishing defences within the city’s walls.
“Pygmalion,” a voice sneered. Tri-faced Prometheus placed itself in the neighbouring seat. “Are any of these your work then? Are you displaying living, thinking weapons now?”
“I have come to watch only,” Pygmalion returned, privately regretting that its peace had been disturbed but preparing itself for what was likely to be a lesson in restrained offensive. “Death is of course an interesting concept, and I feel that there is much to be learned.”
“It is a reality,” Prometheus said with its customary bitterness. “We know it, accept it and do not let it rule us. But perhaps you fear death and that is why you wish to know more.”
In answer to its sneer, Pygmalion smiled, aware that the patronising expression would infuriate the scientist who technically still out-ranked it. “For creatures who supposedly know and accept death, it is interesting to see our reactions.”
Prometheus remained impassive, although Pygmalion perceived the slight dimming of the optics that indicated another face was being used—and the only other functional one was at a good angle to look down the ranks of seats.
Pygmalion described a negligent circle with one tentacle, indicating the audience. “We watch placidly, and yet we collectively relax after a weapon has proved effective.”
“And this indicates our feelings on death?”
“If we relax once the moment of destruction has passed, then surely we knew some tension during it.”
“Ridiculous!” Prometheus all but snapped. “Death is simply termination, a cessation of existence. We understand this, and to a large extent we have learned to control death: both in preventing it and dealing it. Is that not what these experiments are about?”
“And you feel no apprehension of your own death?”
“That is what sets us apart from other lifeforms in the universe. We know of our own mortality. But I have no fear of my annihilation, whether it be tomorrow or aeons from this moment. I shall accept it when it comes.”
“Such equanimity impresses me,” Pygmalion informed the other scientist. “I also know what my state of mind will be when I meet my death: frustration. There is so much to learn and to discover, that I doubt my work will meet its end ahead of my own. After death, all further opportunities are lost.”
“We have brought ourselves to the brink of immortality. There is not a Quintesson here who has not enjoyed a lifespan extended far beyond its organic roots. We create life and we annul it. Your sentiments about oblivion only demean you. If you must fear something, fear life.”
This change of tack caught Pygmalion off guard, and it turned towards the other scientist warily. “Fear life? In what regard?”
“The lives you have created. These slaves that you experiment with. We have already proved that it is dangerous to attempt to co-exist with other lifeforms. Now you play with a new race, openly seeking to increase their independence and intelligence.”
“We do not co-exist with other lifeforms. They are machines. Machines of wonderful complexity, but machines. They do not live.”
“They live because we gave them life!”
“Machines cannot live. It is accepted that that requires some organic element,” Pygmalion pointed out, although its defence was here based on prevalent belief rather than proven fact.
“Ah, yes…. We are after all alive by virtue of our organic base. And intelligent by virtue of our mechanical shell and components.” Prometheus repeated the dogma sardonically. “And yet what reason do we have to believe that life requires organic matter? Why could life-force not be contained in a machine?”
Pygmalion resumed its impassive stance. It now knew where the tri-faced scientist was going and the arguments would hold no water with it. “Ah, so not ‘soul’ but ‘life-force’? Do you believe life and awareness to be nothing more than a pattern of energy? It is a pleasing idea that sentience can be narrowed down to something so tangible, but I do not subscribe to it. Life is not something to be replicated and mass-produced.”
“Nature has been doing it for millennia upon millennia! Look at reproduction! Not only do the parents create a new body but also a new awareness.”
“The parents ‘create’ very little. They simply adapt what is already present. They donate their own genetic information and by this the body is formed. That body is made from matter which they have provided. Do you disbelieve that life could be passed on in the same way? A portion of the parents’ spirits combined within their progeny?”
“I disbelieve nothing of the sort. If life is passed on, then there needs to be something to pass—why not a pattern of energy? Tell me, by what qualities do you define a soul if you disbelieve the theory of life-force? I have yet to hear a satisfactory answer to that.”
“Enough.” Pygmalion forced itself to draw back from the current topic of conversation. “I shall not presume to define what the scientists in that field have not. But whatever our beliefs about this so-called ‘life-force’, I am intimately familiar with every stage of production of our workforce, and I can assure you that at no point do we instil life.”
“Since we have not yet isolated a life-force, I scarcely imagined that you did such a thing deliberately. And yet you have created robots that can feel, that believe themselves to be independent entities.”
“‘Believe’ is indeed the correct term,” Pygmalion said calmly. The tri-faced scientist was arguing against its own case now.
“The distinction between ‘belief’ and ‘actuality’ may be too small. Why do you think the Transorganics turned against us who created them?”
Again, Pygmalion was put off guard. It had never previously heard the other Quintesson invite a direct analysis of the Transorganic incident. “We were unable to control them.”
“That is not what I asked. Why did the Transorganics attack us? If we could not control them, they could have chosen to do nothing. Instead, they chose to attack us.”
“They perceived us as a threat in some way. They feared us. Or it may be that we had something they wanted. Perhaps you should be attending a different set of experiments… these ones are in the interests of defending ourselves, not in learning how to forestall any desire to attack.”
“They feared us. Simply put… they did not like us.”
Pygmalion began to wonder if the other was insane, a condition which preceded termination once the Judges had confirmed it. Then again, it was a Judge who had decreed that Prometheus should keep its ruined face in the first place, denying it a fully functional replacement. Perhaps they felt that any subsequent state of mind was merely further penance for its original mistake. Pygmalion was not a Judge and had no wish to be provoked into anything by Prometheus’ words, so it ignored them, turning back to the experiments.
The other scientist continued its rambling. “Likes and dislikes. That is the key feature of our current workforce. And what happens if they take a dislike to us? Or if they like something we deny them? Will they too protest? Will they break from our control?”
Its faces spun erratically for a moment, so that Pygmalion, turning reluctantly to its unwanted companion, found itself staring into the warped cavity that housed the remains of the third face, before a new face slid into position.
Pygmalion did not react, disassociating itself with the knowledge that Prometheus’ arguments were nonsense. There was enough reasoning behind them perhaps to negate true insanity, but the reasoning was fallacious. “You forget that we have dictated their wishes, as we could not do with the Transorganics. They are programmed to accept our orders and carry them out willingly. A malfunction will most likely lead to a general inability to operate, rather than a sudden urge to attack. We have created them to be docile.”
Below, a machine efficiently disposed of numerous small lifeforms that had briefly formed a battle line against it. Both Pygmalion and Prometheus looked at the reaction of the crowd: generally one of satisfaction. The tri-faced Quintesson frowned, and Pygmalion realised that it was looking at the slaves among the audience.
“But do we teach them to be docile?” it asked so quietly that Pygmalion was uncertain to whom, if anybody, the question had been addressed.
Regardless, it answered. “We teach them methods of
violence as we teach ourselves, but docility is built into them. Short of
reprogramming, that cannot be changed.”
Beta’s slight form suited the paranoia of the Quintesson buyers after the Transorganic incident. The current market preferred a workforce with no ability for revolution—or better yet, one which would never think of rebelling. Emotions had been deemed necessary for individual identity during the Alpha Project. The scientists on that project had hoped that this would encourage the initiative of their workforce, so that they would work zealously to make life easier and happier for themselves and their Quintesson masters. However, Quintesson philosophy popularly advised restraint of emotions, so that logic would prevail. Using calm reason instead of reacting to essentially selfish instinct was the hallmark of true sentience. Therefore it was appropriate that a programme which emulated sentience should only induce muted sentiment and serendipitous that this should ensure that the alphas would avoid the type of passions that might inspire rebellion.
Passive, the alphas were obedient, considerate—and boring. Now that Pygmalion was working alone on Beta, it was free to indulge its various creative whims. It despised the way that the alphas had simply bowed their heads before the criticism levelled at them, assuming the words to be true because they were spoken by Quintessons. If nothing else, this trait had proved awkward when the alphas were given conflicting information by the Quintessons they had been programmed to place such trust in.
Therefore, self-confidence became a greater concern. An alpha could be convinced that a circle was square; he would rationalise away the apparent discrepancy by deciding that his own sensors were malfunctioning. In one experiment, Alpha Duon warped his own optics irreparably by trying to fix them so that they perceived a cube instead of a ball. The betas should set a new standard for future robots by placing greater weight on what they knew to be true even if a Quintesson disputed it. Instead they would put down the inconsistency to some other error or misunderstanding. Certainly the first Beta, Pygmalion’s Beta, should have her own confidence and pride. She should be able to stand up to ridicule, to understand humour and to ignore it as appropriate—Pygmalion predicted that she would have plenty of chances to prove her abilities in this.
In his capacity as assistant, A3 was fully aware of the
reasoning behind each change and improvement to the personality-design during
Beta’s manufacture. Knowing that A3 was not programmed to be able to
incorporate such changes in himself, Pygmalion did not make a study of his
reactions to the information that he was asked to enter into Vector Sigma. The
alpha could learn new manual or technological tasks, but the personality was
down to programming and was therefore set. Pygmalion was busy enough returning
to and redefining its original programme without taking on a new task.
One unexpected difference between Beta and A3 that Pygmalion noticed was curiosity. Beta readily asked questions about all aspects of their work, while A3 simply waited to be told. Pygmalion assumed this was down to the difference in confidence levels. The greater self-confidence that Beta had been programmed with made her feel equal to asking her master a question, but A3 was reluctant to put himself forward.
In this conclusion, Pygmalion was only partly right. What it had never taken into consideration was its own attitude to the two robots. It naturally took more interest in Beta, its brainchild. It was less fond of A3, the third of a line in whose creation it had only assisted. Beta found in Pygmalion an attentive listener if she had a question, one who was interested in what she did and didn’t comprehend and also in how quickly she could grasp a formerly elusive concept. By contrast, A3’s relationship with the Quintesson scientist was purely that of assistant. He had always been told what to do, and while Pygmalion was patient with his mistakes, it took his achievements for granted.
And so A3 had adapted to his circumstances, by training himself to learn by his own observations, and in this, he showed the very initiative that he was designed for. The advent of Beta made it easier, since she continued to ask questions as they occurred to her, and if A3 was not there to hear the answer, she would frequently ask his opinion later.
“Why Omega? Kappa should come next.”
The query was not a dispute, for Beta keyed in the name of the design as she spoke. She stood before a console in a room decorated by nothing more organised than brainstorming. An array of weapons were set out on any available surface in varying stages of construction, while the numerous monitors depicted 3D diagrams of further weapons that had yet to reach tangibility. Pygmalion glided among this haphazard filing of ideas, directing Beta as she worked on the latest model.
“Indeed, but we are not simply building more slaves. Omega is a convenient working title for something that may not really come under the slavebrand,” it responded, returning to study her screen.
The display showed the blueprints for a simple humanoid robot, the same starting point as for all the robots built now. Apart from the prototype’s name, Beta had only entered the dimensions. By the current scale, Omega would be a hundred times larger than any other robot yet built. One corner of the screen gently noted the problems with this design and Cybertron’s gravity.
“Military hardware in consumer good form,” Beta commented dryly, adjusting the proportions to increase stability. “Except it’s not going to be able to move easily—or safely.” She finished the adjustments and frowned at the bulky shape on her screen. “Not particularly stable for standing still either. It’s not an efficient weapon.”
“Not in terms of firepower, no,” Pygmalion agreed. “But we do not need more firepower. There is a ninety-seven percent probability that our defences will prove effective against an attack. This, however, will prove a deterrent as much as anything else.”
“A monster for a guardian. Will it be independent?”
“No. Something that large with that much potential destruction will be left to the control of Quintesson commanders.”
“So it won’t have a mind,” Beta said quietly, glancing up at Pygmalion.
“We are considering the possibilities of an army that has been programmed by Vector Sigma, but that will require much experimentation,” the scientist replied vaguely. “Violence is an interesting trait, but a dangerous one. Meanwhile, we wish to have an obvious army that we can control. Try giving it vestigial wings. We want it to look as big as possible.”
“Then the most effective weapon is no longer one that doesn’t look like a threat?”
“Prevention, not cure. It lacks the element of surprise, but if any hostile parties believe that they have no chance of defeating us before they make an attempt, that will save us a great deal of time and effort.”
Beta surveyed her handiwork. In lieu of functional wings (impractical in a creature that size), she had traced out arcs from the omega’s shoulders. “We can use a light metal for those arches to keep the centre of gravity low. The shape should still give an illusion of much greater mass—not that we’re bluffing. It’s not the tidiest thing in our arsenal, but as long as we get it stable enough, I can’t see many lifeforms being able to overcome one of these.”
“Ostentation and competency are not mutually exclusive.” Pygmalion waved her away from the console, taking her place.
Dismissed, Beta ran light fingers over the arsenal laid out over the table. “Strange to think these things could destroy our lives, and yet they are built to save them.”
Pygmalion felt a tickle of artistic pride. For all its tinkering with her confidence, she still had the utmost respect for life—or her perception of life. In the faint reflection on its screen it could see her beginning to check over the weapons, testing their mechanisms carefully. “Termination comes for us all,” it replied non-committally. “But preferably at an appropriate moment.”
Beta was turning a crossbow over in her hands, running her optics over it critically. At Pygmalion’s words, she looked up, half-quizzical. “For us all,” she repeated gently.
Slightly bemused by her expression, it tilted its pod towards her curiously. “You are several centuries at least from obsolescence,” it told her, wondering if concern for her own end was manifesting itself.
Her characteristic poise reasserted itself, and she straightened, the crossbow held carelessly in her right hand. “I will not be easily found lacking in any task I set myself to, if I can help it,” she averred. “I keep pace with our society’s progress, much as you do. It will be as long before you are found to be redundant.”
Pygmalion returned to the screen, privately satisfied that her anxiety seemed to be as much for its death as hers. “I hope to increase my prestige on Cybertron still further. Certainly as long as you and your kind flourish, I shall have honour among the Quintessons.”
Beta raised the crossbow and fired it at a designated target on the far side of the room. A bolt was discharged smoothly and flew unerringly to the target’s centre, puncturing the thin sheet of metal to be collected in the more thickly plated receptacle on the other side.
“We make a good team, the three of us,” Beta said, setting the bow down, its prowess tested. “You, A3 and I. I… am glad that I live here.”
“The quality of life has indeed been much improved from our origins,” replied the Quintesson absently.
Beta retrieved the bolt, studying Pygmalion. The scientist was once more absorbed in its work and did not notice her gaze nor the pensiveness of her expression.
“Our origins?” Beta said too quietly for it to hear either
word, let alone the wondering emphasis on the first. Then she smoothed the
near-frown from her face with a slight smile, her tone continuing soft. “So
they’re shared now.”
There was the usual controlled controversy over the production of a new line of weapons. The omega robots were approved on the basis that they would not be given cybernetic personalities but would remain entirely under Quintesson control. As Hive City was firmly established on Cybertron (Pygmalion was not the only Quintesson to look to organic models, nor was the parallel between the Quintesson civilisation and an insect-like hive entirely coincidental), the gargantuan robots were stationed around it, and were spoken of as ‘Dark Guardians’. The term was trite, but foreboding enough for lesser races who may come to hear of them.
Then came the official proposal for artificial soldiers programmed by Vector Sigma. Using robots for an army as well as a workforce had long been in the offing, as the Quintessons grew accustomed to seeing their robotic slaves around. Indeed, the slave population now far outweighed the Quintesson one. In the millennia since the alphas had been introduced, no Vector Sigma robot had shown a greater sign of disobedience than reluctance or confusion. Certainly, no robot had ever shown hostility towards a Quintesson, and the paranoia caused by the Transorganics had subsided to a prudent caution.
Of course, as Pygmalion and several other leading scientists pointed out, a new personality template would be needed as the current robots were specifically designed not to be violent. They may be able to operate weapons, but they were not programmed to have the fortitude required of soldiers, and certainly they lacked the aggressiveness. How to instil an aptitude for violence while keeping the robots from indiscriminate hostility produced a considerable amount of discussion and drove Pygmalion back to its old notes on the alphas and betas (the personality variables had changed little since Beta’s creation). Letting restlessness override placidity was agreed by a majority for the first time, and greed was also given serious consideration. The proviso for these and other suggested character traits was that each robot must hold the viewpoint that their fate was tied securely to that of all residents of Cybertron—robot and Quintesson. When they fought, they fought for the collective city.
Both Beta and A3 were fascinated by the proceedings. Nor did Beta need to ask many questions since they were present at numerous debates on the topic. There were some misgivings, but generally the Quintessons had faith in the experience of the scientists who would be attached to the project. A small minority protested such an experiment vehemently, but this was the same minority that had been speaking against any robot programmed with Vector Sigma, and Prometheus was not the only one among them who was generally discredited. Their arguments had so far failed to persuade the populace and they seemed unlikely to start now.
However, the planning for a new army galvanised this
minority. These Quintessons were not fools by any stretch of the imagination,
and they knew that their concerns would be paid no more heed now than before.
This did not lessen their belief that an army of robots endowed with independent
minds and weapons could only result in disaster. The search for hard proof of
their fears continued with new zeal, and they adopted a more organised approach
to recruiting individuals to their cause.
Beta’s very self-confidence did conflict with the original reasons for making the alphas so diffident. Her design was far from rebellious, yet Pygmalion battled conscience against logic over the change. Although millennia later it would still be at a loss as to how to answer the question, Pygmalion often tried to understand why the Transorganics revolted so violently. What drove creatures to violence? Studies of other lifeforms saw them fight for territory, food, a mate or for no more discernible reason than practice. Occasionally killing would be a simple case of fighting for survival; occasionally it would be a case of enhancing their lifestyle—fighting due to greed.
Pygmalion considered this effect of covetousness at some length, aware that this was simply an extension of wanting something, seeing it as necessary for happiness. However, Vector Sigma did not incorporate such intense desire into the personality design due to the Quintesson preference for restrained emotions. Thus Pygmalion was reassured, although it recorded greed as a key motivation in aggression.
In so doing, it came across some notes it had made during the original Alpha-Project: that another common reason for fighting was in defence. Its attention caught, it studied this aspect in detail, observing many cases of a female quite readily sacrificing herself to save her young—although usually in vain. Selfless concern for the welfare of others was an admirable quality in a slave, and this was entered into Vector Sigma. Pygmalion chose to weight it for the female side, although the males were also protective, particularly of females—again, paralleling naturally occurring societies. For both genders however, the main object of care should be the Quintessons.
Nevertheless, fear of death overrode selflessness: the Quintesson Judges should ordain when a slave should die, not the slave. Suicide
should not be a possibility. After considered discussion on this very issue,
the Alphas had been given an awareness of death and a fear of their own
termination. With an understanding of death came an understanding of life, and
Vector Sigma was designed to provide robots with an unequivocal respect and
desire for the latter concept. This would not conflict with their desire to
serve the Quintessons, since they were programmed to recognise the Quintessons
as alive. They held life in high regard, and the life that formed part of their
society was accorded even more respect. Killing was not something they could
willingly undertake, although obedience should compel them to kill under
order—if only indirectly, by constructing a weapon that could kill. Still, life
and preservation of life was all-important; preservation of Quintesson life took
priority even over a slave’s own existence.
When Prometheus invited Pygmalion with Beta and A3 to a meeting, both robots were familiar enough with the relationship between the two Quintessons to wonder. Pygmalion itself accepted the invitation with wariness but undeniable curiosity.
“It no doubt will be making a fool out of itself in endeavouring to have the same effect on me,” was its only reply when Beta asked if it knew what this was about.
A3 and Beta were used to being displayed and surmised that this would be more of the same. They also knew better than to hold any expectations as to the nature of the demonstration. Such things varied wildly, and the only thing that they could be certain of was that they would emerge unscathed, since Pygmalion would never consent to having its personal assistants damaged.
They were not to see the tri-faced Quintesson however. Upon arrival at Prometheus’ unit, Pygmalion left them in a small chamber where a blue robot with an odd finish to his paintwork was waiting. He bore the same brand they did and quietly returned Beta’s greeting.
“You are of the mu line?” A3 asked, looking over him. One of his duties was to stay familiar with all the designs of consumer robots. “We have not yet encountered one.”
“Yes,” the mu confirmed. “I take it that you perceived the patina of my alloy. I see from your designs that you are an alpha and a beta, the original line and the original female line.”
“The mus are designed to endure extreme temperatures, aren’t they?” Beta queried, more to make small-talk than out of any real curiosity. She was a sociable type and frequently struck up conversations with the other slaves that she and A3 came across. A3 had gradually caught on to the habit himself, and both now enjoyed getting to know new robots.
As the Mu opened his mouth to reply, the door opened, and a white and gold robot with a peaked headpiece entered, her small size clearly distinguishing her as an iota. The Mu ignored the new entrant for the time being, replying to Beta: “Mus are coated with the experimental alloy that enables us to function well in heat that would melt rock. Our tolerance of cold has not yet been fully tested.” His piece said, he turned to the iota who gave them all a careless grin.
“Is this the waiting room then?”
“Waiting for what?” Beta all but pounced on her words, still wanting to know why they were there. “We weren’t told.”
“For our beloved masters while they have their meeting,” the Iota suggested irreverently.
A3 and Beta looked at each other and then to Mu, who gazed blankly back.
“We understood that this was an experiment—Pygmalion would not have brought us otherwise,” A3 told them.
The Iota shrugged. “Epimetheus takes me everywhere with it. I’m supposed to observe for structural flaws or damage, in case it misses something.”
“I am resident in this unit,” the Mu put in. “Sometimes I am taken to other places for tests; the rest of the time I wait in this room.”
He stopped there, giving them the same almost-expectant look as before. Beta wondered how long he had been online. There was something about his behaviour that suggested he wasn’t used to other slaves.
“The Mu line is very new still,” she gently advised him. “For the first few years you will largely be involved in experiments and demonstrating your capabilities. A3 and I went through the same thing. What number are you?”
Beta was fairly sure that the mus were still in the experimental stages. 12 was an unusual number for an experimental model, since more than six were rarely needed, depending on the new features to be tested. She had been the only experimental prototype for the betas, being little different from the alphas in any physical sense. Of course, trials for temperature endurance would naturally have a lot of casualties and would therefore require more subjects. She blocked her thoughts from that. Perhaps she would talk to A3 about it later.
“Well, my code is I209, and the iotas were long past their experimental stage by the time I was built,” the Iota said airily, plainly free from such concerns as Beta’s. “Don’t call me that though… I hate being known by a number.” She glanced to A3 in belated realisation of how Beta had referred to him. “No offence.”
“None taken,” A3 replied with a slight smile. “For my part, I had preferred to be known as a number rather than a letter. After all, we were all alphas when I was created. A3 at least distinguished me from the others.”
“Well, nobody has ever denied us the right to choose our own name!” the Iota declared blithely. “If I wish to call myself Iota, so be it!”
“I would have thought that that would get confusing,” Beta commented in as light a tone. Iota’s cheer was contagious. “I understand the iotas were built for factory use in teams.”
“We were designed for that,” Iota replied, smiling up at her. “I don’t work in a factory though. I’m just an ordinary slave—my master wanted one that saved space. So, since there are no other iotas around my sector, I think I’m justified in using the name for my own.”
“She’s right,” A3 agreed. “We don’t know any other iotas—we know plenty of betas though, and I don’t see you changing your name.”
Beta threw him a mock scowl. “I’m the original Beta. I have a right to it!”
“A name is merely a designation,” Mu said. “It exists for purposes of distinction. If confusion is avoided, the name has served its function.”
Iota giggled. “Well, we’re all different here and now, so I suppose our names serve. But I agree with Beta. After all, we get precious few rights as slaves, so we ought to make the most of them. If I think I’m too short to bear the title of iota-diakosiai-ennea, then I’ll call myself Iota. Or Io.”
“Or I?” A3 challenged her, deadpan.
The Iota burst out laughing. “It would provide the ultimate alibi for any crime, wouldn’t it? ‘Who did this?’ ‘I did.’”
Both A3 and Beta chuckled, at which the Mu smiled, adding: “It would create confusion though. ‘I’ is not a good name.”
The diminutive robot spread her arms negligently. “Iota works.”
There was a pause, and Beta looked consideringly around the room. “Mu? You live here, don’t you?”
“Yes. Where do you live?” Mu asked.
“A3 and I belong to Pygmalion, another scientist… It was told to bring us today—which usually means that we are here to carry out some sort of demonstration.”
“Are we being monitored?” A3 added.
His tone was unconcerned, but the words made Iota glance from wall to wall. “Do they do that? I’ve never been involved in an experiment—you think the Quints are watching us?”
“I don’t know,” Mu replied.
Beta’s attention was caught by the golden female. “The Quints?”
“Well, why not? What do they call us? Autobots? I call them Quints. Quintessons takes too long to say.”
“There aren’t many who refer to us as Autobots.” Beta defended the superior race, but she chuckled. “Quints—I like that!”
“I doubt they will,” the ever-conservative A3 commented.
“Contracting words is often considered offensive,” Mu reminded them.
“That was the point with ‘Autobots’,” Beta pointed out, grinning. “Whichever of the Quintessons came up with that… I’d like to hear its thoughts on ‘Quint’.”
“I figure we have as much right to insult them as they do to insult us—those that do insult us.” Iota glanced to the walls again. “Can they hear us as well?”
“I would suspect so,” A3 told her, and he chuckled sympathetically at her grimace.
“What does your master do then, if you’ve never been used for an experiment?” Beta asked her.
“It’s an architect. That’s why it has me. It approves of my efficiency when it comes to volume.” Her chagrin already forgotten, Iota’s expression and tone were light once more.
“There is that,” A3 conceded. He turned back to Mu. “Are you involved in many experiments?”
“My abilities are tested at intervals.”
“Do you know if this is an experiment?” Beta pressed.
“I have not been told.” The Mu sounded utterly uninterested.
“You’re owned by the tri-faced scientist, aren’t you? Prometheus?” The Mu nodded in confirmation, but to Beta’s exasperation, he didn’t volunteer anything more.
“I don’t get it!” the Iota exclaimed abruptly. “If this is an experiment, why haven’t we been given anything to do? We’ve just been stuck in an empty room!”
“No, we haven’t.”
A3 spoke quietly, but he won everybody’s attention all the same. “We’ve been put in a room with each other,” he continued.
“What kind of experiment is that? Don’t tell me the Quints are interested in gossip!”
“Our social interaction demonstrates the results of our programming,” Beta mused. “But that sort of experiment hasn’t been done since the gamma line. It hasn’t been needed—unless they wish to note any changes over time?”
She glanced to A3 who shook his head. “The Quintessons know that time can have no effect on our programming.”
There was an ironic touch to his tone that would have caught her attention even without the wording, and she gave him a piercing look that he didn’t meet.
Iota, less familiar with the old robot, didn’t catch it and only grinned. “Well, maybe they’re testing out how some of you original robots match up to the latest models!”
“Iotas would not really be considered the ‘latest models’,” Mu observed—he seemed to be the literal type. “Including the mus there have been three lines since then. Also, we have been set no task for comparison, which would be pointless anyway when we have each of us been built with a different purpose in mind—with the possible exception of A3 and Beta. I do not understand what reasons you have to believe that this is an experiment.”
“To recount our observations on Quintesson social interaction,” Beta began dryly. “Our master and your master dislike each other. They normally only meet in order to prove something. Moreover, Pygmalion doesn’t usually take us anywhere if we are not required. We would be better off continuing our work at its laboratory during its absence.”
Iota considered the Mu. “Your master set this up in the first place—have you met other robots here before?”
The Mu nodded. “Yes. Intermittently, other robots will spend some time here. The exact duration varies, but it is never for long. No requirements are ever made of us either during, before or after. I have also been taken to other places where I have met with robots in similar conditions.”
“Sounds like a series of social experiments to me,” Beta murmured. “But that doesn’t make sense for the mus—the only change made to them was their heat endurance. Vector Sigma was given no qualifiers for them, was it?”
“No,” A3 replied. “But that’s not the only thing that doesn’t make sense—Beta, you remember the tri-face’s attitude to the Vector Sigma programme and robots created with it? The day you were publicised and approved?”
“It was suspicious of robots with independent minds—it thought we were too close to being organic,” Beta answered, adding with a sly look at Mu: “It seems to have changed its mind since then.”
“That’s my point—it hasn’t. Pygmalion and I encountered it recently when taking down the personality requirements for that commander who ordered the quiet theta. The Tri-face was advising the commander that the best requirement was no personality.”
Iota made a derisive sound, but Beta was watching the Mu and saw that he made no reaction at all.
“You’re not programmed with Vector Sigma, are you?” A3 asked him.
“Yes, I am,” the Mu assured him, gesturing towards his slavebrand.
“Paint and secondhand information,” A3 sighed. “I don’t suppose there’s any way that any of us could really know for ourselves where our personality template had come from, but you don’t exhibit the range of emotions that a Vector Sigma robot would. Another AI programme perhaps… one not complex enough to concern your master.”
“We are all built to the specifications of our masters,” was the Mu’s placid response.
“How do you feel about your master?” Beta asked him quietly.
“I serve my master.”
“That’s not the same thing. How do you feel about it?”
There was the slightest of pauses, before the Mu replied. “I do as my master wishes.”
“That’s creepy,” Iota muttered, stepping back from the Mu. “It’s like he doesn’t have a mind of his own.”
“He doesn’t,” Beta said. “He’s not alive.”
“You see?” Prometheus demanded.
An audience of three had watched the proceedings within the robots’ room in silence up until now.
“I see that the three subjects successfully worked out the nature of your experiment which therefore makes the findings from it worthless,” Pygmalion observed aloud. To itself, it wondered when the other Scientist would learn to handle its preferred tactic of calm amusement.
Apparently not yet. “Worthless? Their reaction is most telling!”
“I agree that their reactions are fascinating,” said the third Quintesson, Iota’s architect master, Epimetheus. “But I fail to see your point.”
“Indeed, what is your objective since you have failed to trick them into accepting your own robot?” Pygmalion enquired.
“Ah, but there I succeeded in my objective. The beta herself said it. ‘He is not alive’, while they are.”
“They are programmed to think of themselves that way,” Pygmalion pointed out with genuine weariness. “The word ‘alive’ in itself does not convey life.”
“Life or simulation of life—perhaps the difference is not important! But they disassociated themselves from the mu. You have created independent minds with a sense of collective identity. Is not that all that is needed for rebellion? These robots are ubiquitous! Already they outnumber us three to one, and still more are proposed. They have access to every part of our civilisation and are trusted with all but the most decisive tasks. What happens when they decide that we are not of their kind?”
“They have perceived from the start that we are not of their kind, and I have not noticed any revolt.” Epimetheus had no more patience with this demonstration than Pygmalion.
“This was addressed at their inception. This was the reason for their creation,” Pygmalion reminded them. “An independent workforce that would not turn against us. Their programming contains specific characteristics to ensure that they will not think of rebellion. I cannot give such a guarantee for your mu.”
“The iota insulted us freely.”
“With no malice,” qualified Pygmalion. “And although they believed we could hear them, they did not make any attempt to censor their terminology. They have no inclination for subterfuge.”
“I find it interesting that she can create, even though that creation may be an insult,” the architect added. “That in itself lends weight to your claim that they are alive, although if they have somehow found life, I do not see why it endangers us.”
“They can learn deceit,” Prometheus said morosely, seeming to lose heart in its argument as the other two remained resolutely unconvinced. “Were they not granted independent minds to that they could take the initiative? So that they could train themselves from their own observations?”
“They can be taught how to lie, but they will still be programmed to prefer honesty. Ability and personality are two different things.” Pygmalion deliberately threw tact aside for its next comment. “We can change due to our experiences—become embittered from failure, for example—but their characters are inalterable.”
There was a silence, awkwardly broken by Epimetheus. “There was a joke at one point—Iota playing on the word ‘I’.”
“Yes, from Beta onwards, Vector Sigma has incorporated humour into the personality template,” Pygmalion told them. “Did you note that the mu reacted to the reactions of the others rather than the joke itself? A common catchall in more primitive AI programmes is to encourage imitative behaviour in order to simulate adeptness in a social situation. That was a feature of the very first version of Vector Sigma, although I believe that the current robots are sophisticated enough to need it only rarely.”
“Which is what interested me about the joke,” Epimetheus explained. “The original alpha version of Vector Sigma was probably not significantly more advanced than the programme used for the mu.”
“A3 displays more emotion and a greater initiative,” Pygmalion said, a little defensive. “But Beta and the iota are indeed vastly more complex in personality than either of them.”
“And yet as soon as the joke was told, the alpha laughed.”
“It responded to Beta’s reaction.”
“The original purpose of gendered robots was to incorporate a partnership into their design. A3 and Beta have worked together for a long time, and A3 frequently imitates Beta’s more sophisticated behaviour. Beta understood the humour of the joke; A3 knows her well enough to anticipate her behaviour when facing a play on words. He laughed because he accurately predicted that she would.”
Epimetheus was not convinced. “The alpha cued Iota to make the pun. Creation surely is a mark of something more than mere programming. Like Iota’s preference for the term ‘Quint’.”
Prometheus spoke again with renewed determination. “Then you see there is a danger here? Personal preference is something that must develop outside the original programming! And see our example of this: a word designed to demean us, their masters!”
The two single-faced Quintessons exchanged a look before choosing to chuckle softly.
“Perhaps there is something to your theory of life developing, fantastical as it may seem,” Epimetheus allowed. “But these robots are frail and passive. If they are to overthrow us, why did they not do it millennia ago?”
“That is the flaw in all your arguments,” Pygmalion added.
“Although I must disagree with Epimetheus also on the matter of life. The
iota’s tastes show nothing more than a result of what we designed these robots
for. She said herself that you chose an iota because you preferred efficiency
in volume. Vector Sigma programmes all robots to wish to please their masters.
From your motivations in purchasing her, she has interpreted a preference of
your own for compactness and conciseness, which she has adopted for herself. It
is fascinating, but there is nothing you can show me that does not further
reassure me of the complete security of our slaves.”
One point that had always struck Pygmalion was that no naturally-occurring organic society had one species willingly put another’s welfare before that of their own kind. No slave-race could view itself as the same species as the Quintessons, because that would be tantamount to blasphemy. However, in all its studies, Pygmalion could only find differing creatures co-habitating peacefully when on equal terms. This could hardly be said of the Quintessons and the robots. The other Quintessons saw no problem with this, and the alphas were marketed with a firm grasp of their own place in the caste system: at the bottom. Organic slaves did after all cope with years of servitude, simply because they accepted that that was how it was.
Even so, Pygmalion was bothered about a slave’s attitude to its master. They were a separate race even if not truly alive, and were designed to identify themselves as such. Technically, only the Vector Sigma robots thought of themselves as a species, but already they were monopolising the slave market, and Pygmalion doubted much time would pass before all slaves could view themselves as a collective whole. This naturally fit in with their original intention: independent slaves who were designed to prefer the company of other slaves, particularly in a male-female pairing but also as larger teams. Beta and A3, for example, would work together, but they would also be ready to collaborate with other robots as part of a larger project, if required.
The affinity with robots of the same programming was not just a marketing strategy. Pygmalion was objective enough to realise that the individual ambition that the Quintessons displayed, albeit more restrained than that of many other lifeforms, was not always beneficial for society as a whole. The slaves could take pride in their work certainly, but need not have personal ambitions. Instead the strong social urge came through with a desire to see each other be successful.
Which returned Pygmalion to the point of the master’s relationship with the slave. Installing an over-ride so that the slave would automatically place first priority on its master was easy enough for the alphas, but it felt like a poor cheat in such a complex programme, and Pygmalion could not be happy with it. It desired an emotional reason befitting the intricacy of the mind installed within Beta. It wished for her to ‘naturally’ cherish her Quintesson master.
While comparing the Quintessons collectively to the dominant female of a hive society might be a truer analogy in terms of their function, as far as the robots were concerned, the Quintessons filled the role of progeny—they were to be nurtured and preserved. The young of a great many organic species governed its parents with one highly primitive order: to provide food. Often, the parents would do anything to ensure the welfare of their young as it would carry their genes on to further generations. Granted, the creatures concerned did not think of it in those words, but certainly their offspring was their only chance to leave their mark on the world. This motivation for care satisfied Pygmalion. Just as a parent identified itself with its progeny, so should a robot identify itself with its master, and live to serve it.
If pushed, Beta and all slaves after her should place
their master’s wishes before their own.
The green robot was supervising the unloading of some wire outside Pygmalion’s unit, when she heard her name. She swung around to see a slight, burnished form heading towards her.
“Iota! How are you? What brings you here?” she greeted in delighted surprise. She had not seen the tiny slave since the incident with the false Mu, some time ago now. Various lines of soldier-robots had already been produced and were being tested, and Pygmalion (and therefore Beta’s) work had moved on from designing ‘safely’ violent personalities to refining and improving physical elements of the developing army.
“I’ve been doing damage reports in this sector—after that idiot generator went haywire. We’re checking what needs cleanup.” Iota nodded to the courier robots, a heavy-lifting delta pair, as they took further coils of wire from the transit vehicle. “You two’ll be kept busy today.”
“And you’ll be making your own time again, Iota?” the male asked her placidly before carrying his load inside. He was followed by the female who only flashed Iota a good-humoured grimace.
“Well, why not?” she called after them, grinning impishly. Chuckling at Beta’s quizzical expression, she explained: “Because of my size, and because I have access to all the maps of all the workings of Cybertron, let alone Hive City, I can usually take a more direct route than the public one. Which means that I finish my given task long before Epimetheus expects me. So I consider that time my own—D8’n’42 have seen me taking my breaks before.”
“You’ve got life down to a fine art, haven’t you?” Beta teased. “Well, some of us are being responsible and trying to refit everything that blew in the surge.”
“Got time to chat while you refit? I could even lend a hand.” Iota tipped her face up at the taller robot winningly.
Beta shook her head and chuckled. “Actually, A3 is running
checks to see what needs fixing and that will take him another hour at least.
D42 just took the last coil of wire through, so I’m done and heading to
recharge—that’s on its own generator, thank Cybertron. You can keep me company
while I wait for A3 to finish.”
Iota not only accepted Beta’s invitation, but she took the opportunity to recharge herself while she was there, perching on the workbench next to the recharge port as if she owned it. Beta settled herself at the other end, eyeing her companion with some amusement.
“So you know the city inside-out then?” she queried. “How many other places do you go to for a free recharge, and does your master put you up to it?”
“Oh, Epimetheus is no scrounge! Although it must think I’m incredibly energy-efficient if it hasn’t figured out what I’m doing—I just don’t always see the point in going home to charge. If I can do it while I’m out, I will. It’s not like much energy is needed to get me up and running anyway.”
“And all for free time? To visit friends?” Beta had never really thought of it that way. She interacted with others only through the course of her duties when they took her outside. Pygmalion was efficient enough to make sure its two slaves were kept busy most of the time—nor was it any more leisurely on itself. What little free time Beta had was either spent recharging or undertaking some other task of her own accord.
“Or to spend by myself.”
This was an unexpected reply from the gregarious little robot, and Beta’s surprise must have been evident on her face for Iota added: “Don’t you ever want time just to think things over and get them clear in your mind? And knowing that nobody’s going to find you to ask any questions…. There are some little nooks in the city where I know I won’t get found for that.”
“I talk things over with A3 or Pygmalion to get them clear… My own private thoughts I can do while recharging or working.” Beta smiled hesitantly, unable to relate, before changing the subject. “What about outside the city? Anything going on there?”
“No. Some old mine shafts, but Cybertron’s own ores were used up long ago. The lands outside Hive City are empty now. The city was designed to be a self-contained civilisation—if we need to expand, we can, but the object is maximum efficiency for current population and resources.” Iota’s face became droll again as she chanted the last line, and Beta suspected that she was repeating words she’d heard often.
The taller robot fiddled idly with the recharging wire, face pensive. “I never really thought outside the city before—or much outside this unit, to tell you the truth. A3 and I don’t need to leave here very much. We’ve seen the growth of the civilisation through the various robots that have been required for it. But we’ve not seen it for ourselves.”
“You know so much that way though,” Iota argued. “I have to wander around it, maybe, but buildings are one thing—you know people! Who we are; why we’re here.”
Beta was surprised into a laugh. “I wouldn’t go that far! It’s all different ways of viewing the same thing, I think. You know Cybertron through structure; I know it through population.”
“You’re older though… in fact, shouldn’t you know what’s outside the city better than I do? I’ve only seen old maps. You must have seen it for yourself at one point—I thought betas predated Hive City.”
“Well, we do—the deltas were originally built to do the heavy construction work for it, so most alphas, betas and gammas are older than the city. But at that time, robots were not considered to be much more than complex tools. There weren’t as many of us back then, and non-sentient machines were still used for a lot of functions. So you rarely saw slaves outside or without their master. We’re much more independent today.”
“If this is independence, I’m glad I wasn’t around back then!” Iota declared, before her mouth twitched into an unaccustomed frown. “How come there aren’t more deltas around then? You’d need more than I’ve seen to build a city.”
Beta hesitated for a long moment. When she did speak, the words came slowly. “Most of them were no longer needed once Hive City was completed. Obviously, other uses could be found for several, but the rest were terminated and the materials recycled.”
Iota winced, but her tone remained flippant. “That’s Quints for you. Recycle robots and hoard maps. I suppose maps at least don’t take up physical space.”
“Our components can be reused too,” Beta added, keeping her mind firmly on practical lines. “What do they need old maps for though?”
“Well, we need to know the area immediately surrounding Hive City for expansion purposes obviously,” Iota said airily. “And you never know, the Quints might want to do something with another part of Cybertron sometime. Not that they show much—out there’s a mishmash of warrens all leading nowhere these days—but the stars forbid that we delete any of them!”
“You speak from experience?” Beta teased.
Iota gave a mock shudder. “No, although Epimetheus made it abundantly clear the first time it showed me where they were on the system that I was not under any circumstances to delete them. As if I was programmed to dispose of anything without the permission of a ranking Quint!”
“Better safe than sorry.”
“You’d think they’d trust somebody programmed to their own specifications though.”
“It’s a hypocritical attitude,” Beta agreed, but she was smiling. “Logically, most Quintessons are fully aware that we are machines built for our purpose. However, on instinct they tend to treat us as if we need experience. As if we’re living slaves who must be trained from scratch.”
“Tools or slaves… we fulfil the same purpose.” Iota dismissed Beta’s distinction. “I don’t think Epimetheus cares if I’m alive or not, as long as I do what it wants of me. I don’t care what it cares either—I’m happy enough with my life.”
“One day, we’ll prove to them that we are alive,” Beta vowed, lifting her face proudly.
“And that scientist with the torn-up face will have that remedied, post haste.”
“After so many millennia of peaceful co-existence? No…” Beta paused and glanced towards the entrance as she detected a sound.
It had been the soft rustle of Pygmalion’s tentacles on the floor, and the scientist itself presently entered the room. “Beta, the—” It paused, surprised at the sight of Iota who cringed guiltily before its gaze.
Beta hastily got up, gesturing in vaguely explanatory fashion. “Iota came by just as I was about to recharge and I invited her to join me—to keep me company, while A3 was finishing the system checks.”
“The inclination for social interaction has drawbacks, I see,” Pygmalion observed wryly. “Beta, you are not to invite anyone, whether Quintesson or robot, inside the unit. That is for me to do.” Its tentacles twitched in vexation, but its voice remained wearily resigned. “I had supposed that you and A3 would have been able to deduce this for yourselves, but it seems your initiative has met a limitation here. You now have my express instruction on this. Remember it.”
Beta nodded, chagrined at this slight on herself and A3. She had been fairly sure that Pygmalion would not like her inviting Iota in but had gone ahead, relying on the technicality that it had never specifically forbidden guests.
“This is Epimetheus’ iota, yes? The architect’s?” Pygmalion asked, beckoning to her to approach.
“Yes,” Beta affirmed quietly, as the Iota slid off the bench with utter meekness. Beta wondered if that was a display or genuine. For all she knew, Iota may be caught in similar misdeeds on a regular basis.
Pygmalion hmmed as it surveyed the little robot. “While perhaps Epimetheus has no need to deliberately set a spy on our work, I feel that we would best see that it can gain no information from her. Resetting her memory back two hours should do it.”
Iota winced, but Beta was stunned. “No!”
Her protest was involuntary, and she was almost as taken aback by it as Pygmalion looked.
“Why not?” it asked her, clearly perturbed by her unprecedented intransigence.
“She was out taking records of the damage caused by the generator,” Beta said swiftly, thankful to find a logical excuse. “Resetting her memory would wipe those records.”
“True,” Pygmalion conceded, and it moved to a console, calling up a log of the energy output at the recharge port. “In that case I will reset it to a few minutes prior to recharging.”
Behind it, Iota made a grimace, but she was relieved, and the look she sent Beta was one of wry appreciation.
Beta didn’t share Iota’s resignation to her fate. “She hasn’t seen or heard anything that is not public,” she persisted, skimming her own memory banks to confirm her statement. “There is no need to take any action.”
“I will decide the value of the privacy of my own work,” Pygmalion pointed out, and it gave Beta an inscrutable look.
If Beta took no heed of its expression, Iota picked up on the Quintesson’s tone and posture, and she shook her head surreptitiously at the other robot to no avail.
“It was my fault. I invited her in here. She should not suffer for my mistakes—it isn’t fair.”
“This issue concerns a slave-error; it is not a matter of justice. I am simply rectifying the situation.”
“Beta, it’s alright… It won’t hurt me,” Iota ventured, face anxious on the other robot’s behalf.
Beta could not have logically said why it mattered so much to her that Iota should remember the conversation they had had. She had enjoyed it and wanted to remember it, and she instinctively wanted Iota to cherish the memory similarly. She knew that far worse things had happened to slaves and Quintessons who had erred or reached the end of their usefulness, but never before had Quintesson judgment touched her so personally.
“Please,” she implored. “For me. All my life, I have never asked you for anything. This once, please trust me. Don’t tamper with her memory—swear her to silence, if you like, just don’t… edit her life.” She broke off, distress evident in her clenched fists but her face intent upon Pygmalion’s own.
The scientist stared at her for a long time before speaking. “An interesting if unwelcome reaction,” it murmured, and Beta realised with gradual despair that it wasn’t talking to her at all, no matter the pronouns it used. “I wonder what facet of your personality caused this? If you are truly unable to allow me to do as I wish, then I may need to consider an alternative programming. You are dismissed, Beta. I want you to make sure that the fan in the work room is operational. I will handle the iota.”
Beta felt as if her equilibrium chips were malfunctioning. Reprogramming was tantamount to death. Her own life would be written over by Vector Sigma as it installed a new personality in her body. Voice, appearance, name, perhaps even most characteristics would be the same, but she would be a different person. The original Beta would be no more.
That in itself was frightening enough, but the worst part was that it wasn’t a threat—merely an observation. Pygmalion was irritated, perhaps even a little regretful, at the prospect but for the time and effort wasted, not for the loss of a living being. To it, she as Beta, a fully aware individual, did not exist.
Iota looked utterly petrified, her gaze desperately willing Beta to stand down. Behind her, Beta saw A3 in the doorway and wondered how long he’d been standing there. Catching her optics, he beckoned silently, and her legs finally found impetus.
She was obliged to leave Iota to Pygmalion’s
administrations—her life wasn’t worth the few memories that Iota would lose—but
Beta blindly gripped onto one private promise. As she passed the small robot,
she whispered, “I will remember.”
Studying the familial structure of organic societies led Pygmalion to consider the dynamics between itself, its own alpha, A3, and the beta that they were designing. A3 was already Pygmalion’s assistant. Beta and A3 would be partners, that much was obvious. After all, a need for partnership had been Pygmalion’s original motivation in introducing gender to a robotic race. At the time it had wished to mirror its observations of mated organic pairs working together to achieve a mutual goal. The first version of Vector Sigma, used on the original alphas, had given them a male identity that was triggered to recognise a female as a partner. It was the sort of reasonless programming that Pygmalion preferred to avoid, but it had been unable to spend time developing its ideas without arousing the suspicions of the other Quintessons on the project. So the genders had remained as simple tags until the other scientists moved on, seeking to gain repute with new ideas. Pygmalion stayed with Vector Sigma, choosing to develop the already successful innovation.
Of course, the alphas needed to be able to work together until Beta could be publicised. The only study of organic society that remained in the official notes of the Alpha Project was that of a herd mentality—the basis of Pygmalion’s ‘pack’ concept. They recognised each other as belonging to the same race (by the same token disassociating themselves from any robot not programmed with Vector Sigma), and were predisposed to function as a team. However, while factories and institutions might require large groups of robots, these were designed for more personal use. Most Quintessons had no more than three slaves, and two was the standard. Hence Pygmalion’s trigger for pairwork in the alphas, which could only be activated later, once the betas were produced.
A3 provided the inspiration for a lot of the smaller alterations in Vector Sigma. He was technically competent as an assistant: he did what he was told to the required criterion, and he was familiar enough with Pygmalion’s work that he could anticipate problems and act on his own initiative to fix them before they came up. Like all slaves, he had come online with a vast bank of knowledge built into him. After the initial trials and demonstrations of the alphas, Pygmalion had taken him on, and A3 had adapted his knowledge to Pygmalion’s work habits and the tasks assigned him. In her first few days of existence, Beta would do much the same—aided by A3. There was no need to differentiate between them in intelligence or capability.
Personality was another story. Pygmalion wished for the robots to be yet more naturalistic, and it tackled this head on with the new personality template. Of the many changes it made, the most important was that Beta would react to coded emotions rather than the short-cuts that were responsible for so much of A3’s behaviour. The latter was to work with Beta simply because she was female and that meant he would recognise her as a partner. Beta would likewise recognise A3 as a partner because of gender, but she should want to work with him from a genuine fondness. A3 simply didn’t have the same emotional range as she would. He could feel happy or sad, and he had personal likes and dislikes, but he fell short of Pygmalion’s standard in simulation of life.
Of course, Pygmalion had no quarrel with A3 as an
assistant, and this prevented it from reprogramming him with the more advanced
template. There was no point in having a new A3 learn the ropes all over
again. It was merely a pity that Beta couldn’t train A3 to develop his emotions
as he could train her to develop her skills.
A3 silently accompanied Beta to the workroom, carrying the coil of replacement wire himself. Refitting the fan would technically only require one robot, and Beta dimly recognised A3’s presence as a gesture of moral support. Unfortunately she was in no mood to appreciate it.
“Here,” he said gently, handing her the wire before starting to remove the necessary wall panels.
Dumbly, she held the wire for a few moments, watching him. Then she seemed to come back to herself and dropped the coil with a shudder. “No! Why—why should we do this?”
A3 stopped and regarded her, sympathetic but unyielding. “It’s what we do. And in return for this co-operation, we have been granted a chance to live.”
“We live and have no control over our lives,” she retorted brokenly. “We are entirely at the Quintessons’ whim! And they will change us to suit themselves.”
“It has always been this way.” A3 looked tired suddenly, and as he turned back to his work, bitterness crept into his tone. “You have found it bearable for several millennia. Why change now?”
“Because it affects me now!” Beta spat, her reproach for herself. “I was a fool before. I thought we could get them to see that we were alive, that eventually we would win that acknowledgment. Now I know they don’t want to, but that knowledge can’t help Iota!”
“Again, nothing has changed except your own perception of the situation. What alternative do we have? Either we can find some joy in what we have been given, or we can give up and allow ourselves to be terminated.”
“No—there has to be another way!” Intent on her ideals, Beta pulled him around to face her. “We can abandon the Quintessons and start afresh. We will form our own civilisation, our own cities!”
A3’s answering stare stopped her, and she took a half-step back, unable to understand his expression.
“Think what that means,” he said finally, voice strained. “Revolution. Rebellion. The Quintessons won’t let us go that easily—you said it yourself, Beta: they don’t want us to be alive. They want tools as their slaves.”
“We outnumber them,” came her grim reply.
“So we fight our way free? To be hunted down? Or do we overthrow them and claim Cybertron as our own?” He held up his hands, warding off her response. “Oh, it may be possible, with luck… but think what it means. We turn against everything we’ve ever known. Could you kill Pygmalion, Beta?”
She threw him a bitter glare and did not answer. A3 turned back to work, but it was he who looked defeated.
For some time, she watched him, her initial outrage dying away until her reason could again put her circumstances into perspective. She found herself half-fascinated, half-appalled by A3’s submissive posture. No matter his own opinion, she had never known him to refuse Pygmalion. Nor had she, but she had always believed in her master. On the rare occasions when she did have doubts, she had asked for clarification—and sometimes, she thought candidly, she had turned a blind eye to the harsher aspects of Quintesson slavery out of devotion to Pygmalion. A3 had always simply obeyed.
“How can you endure it?” she asked suddenly. “You understand how they see us. You’ve never deluded yourself about our place in the Quintesson scheme of things… and yet you accept it. You know that they destroy us when they see fit, and you have never fought it.”
He spoke but did not turn. “I am afraid.” He paused for so long that she already had her mouth open to respond when his next words came. “I’m scared of the alternative. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life fighting. We aren’t soldiers, Beta.”
“We aren’t designed to be soldiers. There’s a difference.”
Hearing his own words adapted to her purposes startled him into turning around and studying her. “Will it make a difference?” He was still sardonic, defensive.
“I said we outnumber them. Just between the two of us we know so much about who and what is out there. Others will know more. Iota spoke of maps that detail the lands outside Hive City. The Quintessons don’t use the rest of Cybertron. We could claim a part of it for our kind.”
“And the Quintessons would hunt us down and exterminate us. As soon as we show the least sign of deviating from our programming, we become a danger to them. They fear what they don’t understand.”
“Then we hide, and we fight back!” Beta heard the words ring out, almost surprised to realise that her own resolve was so fierce. “We take copies of the information we need and sabotage their files. We can build a hidden stronghold, find who else is willing and become an army. If they will not share Cybertron with us, then we will take it from them.”
Her expression challenged him to make a moral issue out of that, but he did not take her up on it. Instead he studied her uncertainly, finally saying: “You know that this could take an eternity? That even if we ultimately succeed, you or I could die before then? Countless people will die, Beta. You’re talking of war.”
“We will die anyway, sooner or later. As soon as an improvement in artificial slaves is developed, we children of Vector Sigma will be scrapped for parts.” She leaned forward, searching his face. “Help me, A3. We can give our kind a future.”
He remained obdurate. “Do you realise that Pygmalion will be the first to die in this scheme of yours?” When she didn’t answer, he continued. “It knows too much about our behaviour and programming—too much about us. It knows our limits; it knows the Vector Sigma programme inside out. We need to secure Vector Sigma for ourselves, and we could not do that while Pygmalion lives.”
He gave her another moment to take that in before adding, “Also, just as the other Quintessons have given Pygmalion credit for us, they will give it blame. The Judges would condemn it the moment our rebellion is discovered.”
The image of Prometheus, scarred and scorned, flickered in their minds, but Beta’s optics had not left A3’s since he had begun talking.
“If needs be, I will kill Pygmalion,” she said levelly. “The Quintessons have decided our fates for long enough; it is time we decided theirs.”
“Promise me you won’t abandon reason for vengeance,” he demanded abruptly. She started to shake her head in denial, but he continued roughly: “Remember that no amount of violence can change how we were created—and nor should we be ashamed of who we are.”
“You’re saying we should be proud to be slaves?” Beta asked sceptically.
“I’m saying we should be proud of who we are—who we have defined ourselves to be.” A3 lightly tapped his chest where the red trademark was painted. “Is this a slavebrand? Or is it a symbol of freedom? Why not judge that ourselves instead of letting the Quintessons decide for us?”
She smiled tightly, almost amused. “I can’t abandon reason, if I don’t abandon you. Will you help?”
He stared back at her, and for a moment she thought he would demur again. Instead, eventually, he nodded once.
Her shoulders dropped slightly in relief. “Obviously we must make preparations first—”
“And as quickly as possible,” he advised her. “Sooner or later Pygmalion will wish to make a study of your programming. It may decide to reprogramme you anyway, just to be on the safe side.”
“No,” she said softly, and she turned her face away. “I
think it will give me a second chance.”
A3 had been programmed to be ready to please; Beta’s personality was to add compassion to that, a genuine attachment to those in her unit. Some would have called Pygmalion sentimental to include such a trait—or perhaps vain to encourage such adulation. The old insecurity over slave-loyalties was more to blame, yet this was only practical. Pygmalion was Beta’s master and A3’s, but it was also their object of care. It had already theorised that the two did not have to be mutually exclusive, through the viewpoint of Quintessons as offspring. If Pygmalion was the child, then this made Beta and A3 the parents—even if technically, the creation had worked the other way around.
Organic society was based so firmly on emotional relationships that it was important to have the slave’s attitude to the master clearly defined. The slaves were based on an organic mindset after all. As it was, such particular compassion was an option, and while Beta’s affection was a deliberate specification, it was likely that not all Quintessons would bother requesting it. They preferred efficiency to emotions, and based their society on pre-established ranks. Therefore many of them could see no point in having slaves care for them on an empathic level. Pygmalion predicted that the Vector Sigma robots with their inclination to actually like their masters would make better slaves than other robots, and so, while Beta would have an especial warmth for Pygmalion, Vector Sigma would endow all robots with sympathy for the Quintessons they served.
While Pygmalion was not as sentimental as other Quintessons would believe, it appreciated the idea of a sociable presence in its unit. Adding a sense of humour to the Vector Sigma template was typical of this: previously, alphas could identify a joke; betas and future alphas would appreciate it. Beta would naturally be happiest in the company of others, which should ensure her willing co-operation in assisting the scientist or working with A3. The latter showed little preference to working with or without Pygmalion, although he performed competently with other alphas. Beta would also be more reactive than A3—this was largely because Pygmalion wanted to be able to see the results of its personality model. A3’s impassivity may be a Quintesson-virtue, but it proved frustrating for Pygmalion’s scientific side. Since Beta was its own personal project and would be its own personal robot, it felt quite justified in limiting her levels of self-restraint slightly in order to make her a better case study. With so much of the personality optional, it wondered if any other Quintessons would experiment similarly.
Pygmalion was aware that it had inevitably produced a
range of variables in Vector Sigma based on its own tastes, and while it tried
to anticipate other popular character traits, it may well have to tweak the
programme from time to time to fulfil a specific order. It was not displeased
by this. Instead it felt a certain pride that the project it had worked so hard
on would have its personal stamp running through it. All robots of this brand
would bear some feature that Pygmalion would know and recognise.
As far as Pygmalion was concerned, Beta’s apparent behavioural glitch was temporary. She was the very model of a good slave afterwards. It did notice that she was less forthcoming than before, and it wondered if such a strong emotional outburst could have permanently affected her programming. However, it never seemed to have time to make a proper study of this—their unit went through a run of bad luck as important tools burned out, malfunctioned or otherwise broke. Fortunately, both A3 and Beta were conscientious in arranging replacements, and built up quite a rapport with the courier slaves. Pygmalion approved of this, well aware that ‘happy’ slaves performed better.
Apart from worrying about Beta’s programming, it had the military robots to worry about, specifically how to safely increase the power of weapons that were incorporated into a fully functional robot. It was absorbed in tinkering with some models in the workroom one day when Beta entered unexpectedly. A3 had been working at a console, but upon seeing Beta, he left in silence. Expecting her to take over his work, Pygmalion threw her a careless glance. The female robot was standing in the doorway, looking after A3, a crossbow held in her right hand. Pygmalion could only assume that there was something wrong with the crossbow, and it inclined its pod towards Beta quizzically.
She turned into the room, becoming aware of the scientist’s attention. She raised the bow, and it saw a bolt was fitted as if in demonstration. Then she fired.
The bolt tore through just below Pygmalion’s left eye. The Quintesson felt the sickening wrench of punctured metal and the searing agony of damaged flesh, before she fired again, this time in its forehead, and it fell. As it lay on the floor, only now forming the horrific realisation of what was happening, a third bolt ripped through its side, the impact turning its face back towards her.
She placed the bow on a nearby table, and Pygmalion felt vague relief that she would not inflict another shot upon it. It was dying, it knew that; she could only cause it further pain now.
It was dying. How often had it thought about this moment, and how it would feel? It had spoken before of frustration, calmly convinced of its own self-possession. Now, with a shock, it realised it was afraid. It should die when sentenced by the Judges. Instead it had been terminated unfairly at the whim of a slave. Justice had not been done; it was not right for Pygmalion to die at this time.
Yet its fear did not stem from that alone. These slaves were its own invention, moreso Beta than any other. How could she have committed such an act without Pygmalion’s faintest suspicion? It knew her and all her workings intimately. It knew what she was capable of—yet she had just proved its assumptions drastically wrong. It was dying, and at the hands of one programmed to nurture not harm. There was ironic justice there perhaps, it thought painfully. But what of Beta? What of the Quintessons and their slaves once her deed was discovered? What of the name ‘Pygmalion’?
Dimly it became aware that Beta had knelt down beside it, leaning over but not touching. She was there to watch it die, it thought. Focusing weakly on her face, the Quintesson scientist searched for her inevitable emotions: abhorrence for the violence she had committed; sorrow for her master’s condition. Instead her expression was ineffably gentle but quite composed. Pygmalion could not understand.
It was fading rapidly now, and it prepared itself mentally
for the final oblivion. Beta’s face disappeared into imagined shadow, until
only her optics remained, burning with vitality.
Beta, Pygmalion thought, was its masterpiece. Perhaps, more correctly, Vector Sigma should have that title, but Beta was the proof of its labours. Her personality was fully tailored to Pygmalion’s wishes; the scientist had no doubt but that she would prove equal to the circumstances it had predicted for her.
There was some momentousness in bringing the culmination of its greatest effort online for the first time, for all it happened quietly in Pygmalion’s unit with only it and A3 in attendance. At that the alpha would only be used for spot repairs if Beta proved defective in initial tests. Pygmalion permitted itself the whimsical indulgence of charging her personally, rather than having its assistant take care of it. The Quintesson’s single face would be the first she registered.
Her systems powered up without incident, and her sensors activated on cue. Pygmalion regarded her with pride that was surely justified, gently amusing itself with a private metaphor: that her newly illuminated optics were a beacon, lighting the way for this new step forward for Cybertron.
Author’s note (long story, long note… really, you can stop reading now):
I’m proud of this story. Not because I think I’ve achieved something, but because I tried something. Namely all those hideous italics, which I was determined to get parallel to the main story. Most stories take me a few weeks to write once I’ve stopped messing around with them in my head and actually started typing. This one has taken me all summer. Partly because the organisation couldn’t be done in my head—I even had to write out a plan of action ahead of time and keep notes. Normally, I’m far, far too lazy to do this, and I'm never likely to be so disciplined again, but, heck, I've done it once.
It all started as two separate projects. I had a vague wish to someday do a Pygmalion story, TF-style, and I also wanted to write down my views as to gender in the TF world in some essay. One day, I got the idea to combine the two. I blame the film Memento which, in between the scenes of main narrative, has segments where it’s just Guy Pearce sitting in a darkened room, writing on himself and doing a monologue. It occurred to me that I could turn the essay bits into an ongoing flashback interspersed throughout the story of a Quintesson and its creation. Only, I felt that to do that, I couldn’t just randomly plonk in a few paragraphs here and there. It had to be part of the story and fit in at that precise moment with the general mood, theme, etc. Memento does this beautifully, and the film is a masterpiece. Go see it.
Of course, I didn’t have the foggiest idea how to begin writing something like this, which put me off starting the story for a long time. When I did begin, I just went for my tried and tested method of Plug Away At It. I wrote the first couple of scenes, because I knew what they’d be. I also knew how it ended—Pygmalion’s death being the obvious conclusion. I defy anybody to read this story and not predict that by the end of Scene 3. I had a vague idea of maybe writing the essay part and then fitting a series of events to it—which I scrapped because the essay was the hardest part to write. Instead, I planned out a series of scenes to work through, based on what character points I needed to illustrate and when. I ploughed through this chronologically, and did the italics as I got to them. The storyline didn’t change much from that original outline, although the bit with Mu was added in after I’d already begun the story. It was odd writing from a very disciplined, serving-the-storyline attitude, instead of my usual random: Oh, that would be a cool scene and I could tie it in like this…. I can’t see myself doing it again anytime soon, which is probably just as well. There’s a lot to be said for spontaneity.
The italics started suffering after writing about Beta’s physical appearance, and I began writing the scenes first and then filling in the italics as I was inspired. The problem was that I would have needed a lot more scientific know-how to write the essay-style italics that I’d originally envisioned. Instead they became a little more narrative in style and focused a lot more on Beta and Pygmalion, which probably makes them more interesting for the average reader (and certainly easier on me). Although they remain a little muddled if read on their own, giving the narrative priority was probably just as well, since anything remotely scientific in this is me talking out of my backside. My general excuses are that it’s a few million years before the things which our scientists have studied evolved, it’s about the whole universe which is bound to contain some anomalies, Pygmalion and the other Quintessons were wrong, and it’s science fiction.
Speaking of gender, I did try to separate this story from our gender-associations by making the Quintessons all neuter. The cartoon always refers to them as male, but you never see a female Quintesson, so I bit the bullet and said there were none. Which, by default, makes them all ‘it’. Of course, I kept writing ‘he’ for Pygmalion and Co—when I finished writing the story, I had to go through and do a find on every ‘he’ ‘him’ and ‘his’ to be sure I’d kept my genders straight. I was also trying to reduce the number of ‘it’s that didn’t refer to a Quintesson. I’ve never appreciated the variety of pronouns that some languages have so much before. English is ruddy useless in that respect. It’s odd how our perception of ‘it’ doesn’t sit comfortably with applying the pronoun to a sentient creature. In the scene with the Mu, I quite happily typed Mu as ‘he’ up until the point where A3 twigs that it wasn’t a Vector Sigma product. Then I started referring to him as ‘it’. I had to go back and change that one too….
My excuse for canon inconsistencies in this story is the timeframe. It begins a million years before Beta and A3’s battle in Forever is a Long Time Coming. When it ends, there’s still a few thousand years before that happens. So I know Vector Sigma is more than an AI programme—it just isn’t yet. I am only providing theories on the origins of any canon mentioned in the story. There’s an awful lot of stuff to happen after it that will bring us up to the ‘present’ situation. I have an idea of what does happen in my continuity, but I have no plans to do another story in this timeframe—and if I do, it won’t have any bloody parallel sequences!
I subscribe to the cartoon canon rather than the comic canon, so that’s why we have lots of Quintessons and no Primus. On the other hand, I never did explain how the robots came to life—I didn’t even state they were alive, per se—so you’re quite welcome to think that the Quintessons constructed them, but Primus decided to bring them to life, perhaps as some kind of cosmic practical joke against the Quints. Certainly, I don’t think the Quintessons tried to bring them to life, although I did step out of cartoon continuity a touch by making the emotions intentional. History can be wrong, even in the Matrix.
Regarding the Quintessons—one thing I’m worried about is that people will think I’m meandering too much on them and can’t decide if they’re good guys or bad guys. I’m bad for meandering, but the Quintessons aren’t supposed to be either. This isn’t a 2001: Space Odyssey or Jurassic Park type story of the creation turning against its creator. Nor is it a Spartacus saga of slaves rising up against their oppressors. It’s got elements of both of those, but it’s really far simpler. ’Tis a cautionary tale of a Quintesson and the woman it loved! Or something like that….
The original myth of Pygmalion is Greek. Pygmalion was a sculptor who made a statue of his ideal woman and then asked the goddess Aphrodite to bring it to life. She must have a warped sense of humour, because she agreed. Pygmalion married his creation, and, against all likelihood, they lived happily ever after. Who knew Weird Science had classical roots? The idea has been imitated often enough, most obviously in Shaw’s play Pygmalion which in turn became the musical My Fair Lady, where an English professor taught a cockney flower seller how to speak and act like a lady. At any rate, it occurred to me that this would lend itself very easily to a Transformers adaptation. Only that would surely make for a very warped story—unless it became a story about the first female transformer (or non-transformer as the case would be). Then of course I got into the issue of gender, and the story took a much more ambitious turn.
In many ways, it’s not really a Transformers story. Yes, it’s in the same universe and there are a few familiar faces, but this isn’t Autobots battling Decepticons. There isn’t any action in it at all really—even the end I kept deliberately unexciting. I see it as more of a prologue, or a prequel to Forever is a Long Time Coming, which is the only time the cartoon deals with anything like this timeframe. I deliberately put in a lot of cues for that episode, although a few other bits and pieces of the cartoon get referenced—most notably Dweller in the Depths which is based on an incident which predates even this story. I worry that I may have overkilled the Transorganic bit here, considering they didn’t appear in the actual story, but they provided a useful bit of past-history.
Technically, there is nothing in the canon to suggest that A3 was one of the first four Autobots ever created or that Beta is the first female Autobot. They just fell victim to my policy of using a canon character if at all possible, and they were in Forever so were appropriate—that and the fact I always rather liked both of them. A3’s just so much the calm observer, and Beta’s probably the closest thing to a non-stereotypical female transformer we get in the cartoon—she gets out there and does stuff, and pretty much only happens to be female. I never did see her as being romantically attached to A3 (a hug does not a romance make), and I’ve stayed non-committal on that topic here, although I have given the two a relationship. I just see it as more of a family thing.
The other canon character is the Tri-faced scientist who appears in Dweller. We know it must have been alive during the time of the rebellion, so I thought I’d give it a role. For a very long time I refused to name it though. Eventually, it got too awkward referring to it as the Tri Face Scientist all the time, so I called it Prometheus. Prometheus is pretty well-known as the titan who created mankind and gave them fire in Greek mythology. However, here, I’m referencing his role in the Pandora myth. Pandora was the first human woman as far as the Ancient Greeks were concerned. The gods were worried that mankind were getting a bit too powerful, so they created woman and gave her a box—telling her never to open it (the gods knew their reverse psychology, because soon enough Pandora opened her box, and out popped all the troubles of the world). She was offered as a gift to Prometheus’ brother, Epimetheus who had built all the lesser creatures of the world. Prometheus could see into the future, and he realised that women, and this woman in particular, would bring nothing but trouble, so he advised Epimetheus and everybody else to have nothing to do with her.
Epimetheus was the opposite of his brother, and he only thought about his actions when it was too late. Rather taken with Pandora, he ignored Prometheus’ advice and married her. For the record, they got over the box incident and lived happily ever after. This doesn’t really have a great deal to do with the architect in my story, but I thought I may as well have both sides of the Pandora myth represented, and the architect needed a name.
Tiresias comes from another myth dealing with gender. Zeus and Hera, King and Queen of the gods, were arguing about which sex gets more pleasure out of the actual sex act. By chance, it happened that a mortal man, Tiresias (or Teiresias) had been a woman for seven years, so he was asked to settle the dispute. His verdict was that women enjoy lovemaking ten times as much as men (Hera wasn’t too happy with this and blinded him as punishment—although she did give him the gift of foresight to make up for it). This myth has absolutely nothing in common with this story, but Tiresias acted as a judge in a gender-orientated myth, so I figured it would do as a name for my Judge.
Iota was just a character I had in my head that I wanted to work in at the first opportunity. I wanted to have a female minibot and call her Iota. Yes, I know I have a weakness for terrible puns. She is that rare thing for me—an original TF character who is still alive at the end of the story. Normally in my stories, if you see an unfamiliar Autobot/Decepticon, they’re pretty much doomed. Of course, Iota’s long dead by the ninth pass, but she’s still alive at the end of this. So too are the deltas presumably, but they had little more than cameo appearances anyway. And, for trivia purposes, Mu was named after a friend’s cat. My friend also has a weakness for terrible puns.
Finally…. I need to give a credit list. Because this story would still be in my head awaiting the unlikely day when I could be arsed to write it, were it not for Kevona posting a little rant about females and pink on The Padded Cell messageboard, which provoked a long discussion about TF females in general. Likewise, Nightwind later posted her theories on the origins of Transformer life, which also provoked a long discussion. While the main concept of this story predates both of their posts, all the talking on the subjects inspired me to actually get writing about Beta and Pygmalion, as well as crystallising my own theories on the respective matters. Particular thanks go to Wayward, Dinogrrl and Kidu, for all their thoughts in those debates which generally had a much more solid foundation than mine—and to Nightwind again for her screencap page which has such nice pictures of Beta! My deepest gratitude is for Kidu, who went above and beyond the call of duty as a beta-reader (pun more serendipitous than deliberate) in watching all the relevant Transformer episodes for me. Added to that, she didn’t mind me inadvertently jumping on her Beta bandwagon. Do read her stories—a different take on things to me, and very good!