It was the child’s favourite toy, and it knew it. It didn’t KNOW it knew it, as such; for that, it would have had to be self-aware. It could have been, too, if the programming and circuits that controlled its Artificial Intelligence interface had allowed it.
The little robot Gelert couldn’t ‘think’ of itself, therefore; really, though, that wasn’t strictly necessary for its continued function. It could bow and wag its tail; it could bark, it could play. It could unfold its metallic wings and flap them so that the joints rattled musically. It could open its mouth and trigger certain programs so that a tinny voice would issue from recessed speakers, inviting the Boy to play games and give commands. It could even do tricks—sit, lie down, roll over, play dead, fetch.
The Boy would laugh and yell and play with the canine-shaped toy for hours on end. At night, it was placed on the table near the bed in which the child rested. It would watch him sleep with glassy eyes, always just waiting for the next command to come.
The child got older, though, as little boys are wont to do; and as the years passed, he played with it less and less. One day, when the Boy was in his teen years, he brought home a friend, as he had done often enough in his childhood. However, this time, instead of exclaiming enviously over the toy’s gleaming carapace and complex programming, the stranger prodded it contemptuously and laughed.
“How perfectly delightful!” he said with a smirk. “You still have your baby toys! Aw, can da wittle babykins not gib up him’s puppy-wuppy?”
The Boy blushed furiously. “Oh, that piece of junk?” he said glibly. “That’s my little sister’s toy Gelert. I don’t know why it’s in here- I’ve told her so many times not to come in my room!”
He picked it up and deposited it in the hall. It knew, then, that it had been put away; but it didn’t feel betrayed, for what does a robotic toy, mere plastic and circuits and metal, know of betrayal?
That night, when the garbage of the household was placed out on the curb, the toy was put out with it. Its glittering eyes still watched carefully over the house as the twilight brightened with the morning sun, and the garbage was picked up. The last thing it recorded was a large gloved hand reaching for it- but then the dew found a crack in its scratched plastic case, wormed its way in, and shorted the toy out.
The lights were bright as it came back online, blinding its optical sensors for a moment until its filters adjusted to accommodate the change. Accompanying the light was a loud, anxious voice, speaking rapidly. The toy looked around for the source of the voice, to discern if it was being issued orders- it was, after all, coded primarily to serve humans by obeying their every command.
“The circuits which controlled its power source were fried,” the voice was explaining. “I replaced them- it should work now, including whatever modifications you order to be added. It’s fully functional.” The source of the voice, a greasy-haired man in a stained white lab coat, seemed to be speaking to a woman, who wore a cleaner, more pristine version of the white garment.
The woman nodded, and then turned to the toy. “B27, report,” she said crisply, pressing the button on its hind leg, which made coverings slide once more over its exposed wires and circuits. It stood up and opened its mouth.
“All units functional,” it heard itself say. “Navigation system: online. Broadcasting system: online. All programs online and functioning at top capacity. Standing by for additional instructional programming.”
The man turned to the woman and gave her an ingratiating smile. “So far, so good, Doctor. None of the B2 units so far have gone far, but it looks like maybe we finally worked out the bugs. Who knows, this one may even go all the way!”
The doctor raised an eyebrow. “We’ll see. Have it sent to the testing labs to be evaluated. If it gets passed... have it sent to my office for deployment. Dismissed.”
“Yes, ma’am!” the man said quickly. Scooping up the toy Gelert- B27, now- he retreated hastily from the room.
Weeks went by, full of systems checks and modificational procedures. Features were added or removed from B27’s programming and body, so that its Gelert-like appearance became sleeker, more refined- less of a toy, more of a tool. As time went on, B27 was sent on practice missions to assess its readiness for deployment. It passed each with flying colours- it always arrived at the target point on schedule, scouted the area as per its instructions, and triggered what, in a real mission, would be a spectacular explosion. In practice, though, it was only a shut-down-and-stand-by cycle.
Finally, B27- Boomer, as the lab technicians affectionately referred to it- was packed into a large, padded crate, shut down, and sent off.
Boomer came online once more to bright lights and noises. This time, however, the noises were unfamiliar, not voices, and therefore were irrelevant. It stood up and looked around.
It was in the middle of a field, in the shade of a large boulder. The sun beat down on the overgrown grass, and shimmers of heat marked the air.
Its surroundings didn’t matter much, though, because Boomer had a mission. The command to GO pulsed through its circuits, urging it forward into the hot sunlight. It knew where to go, what to do- it had a purpose. If it were capable of emotion, it would be happy.
The sun flashed gleefully off of its back as it whirred along, reflecting off its metal and plastic casing. It set a good pace through the meadows and fields, racing past trees and rocks and the occasional far-off farm.
Time passed in a blur of motion. Boomer was unstoppable, a powerful driving force, swift as the fleeting wind. Abruptly, however, the land dropped off up ahead- Boomer could see the cliff coming, could see the land end in open air, with forests and hills far below- but it didn’t stop! It raced on and on, and then out, over the trees, which were rushing up to meet it-
And then, with a whir and a click, a pair of jets slid out of the wings on its back, and with a roar, engaged- and Boomer was flying! Not that it really made a difference; excitement, emotion, was still beyond its reach. It simply kept going as it had before.
Suddenly, there was a muffled snap, and Boomer began to lose altitude. It aimed its rockets downward in an attempt to gain again, but with an angry sputter the jets went out as their heat combined with the heat of the harsh sunlight to overheat and destroy circuits and wires. Boomer was falling, but for one glorious moment- I- Boomer- became suddenly aware of more than ever before, and in the moment before I crashed into the ground below, I knew myself.
And then everything went blank.
Slowly, I became aware once more. Yes, I; the circuits denying me self-awareness were gone. They must have been destroyed when I overheated, I decided; that was why I had had that overwhelming flash of self before I crashed. As I slowly booted up, I checked my systems, and found a number of surprising changes: aside from the fact that I was now aware of myself and a unique entity, I could also no longer feel the programming which compelled me to complete my deadly mission. My GPS/navigation system was down; I couldn’t connect to the home computers back at the labs... in short, I was isolated.
Having completed my inner diagnostics, I looked around. I appeared to be in a small, well-lit room of some sort- one full of machines, many of which were humming softly.
I started as one of them began to move. Alarmed, I jumped up- and then sat back down promptly as it hit me: alarm. What was this? I had never felt anything before...
The moving machine which had caused my shock opened a port- no, a mouth!- and started to laugh. “It takes some getting used to, doesn’t it?” it said, and I suddenly realised that I wasn’t looking at a mere machine, but another robot- a mechanized approximation of a lupe, if I wasn't mistaken. It kept talking. “Your AI inhibitor chips were fried. I’d have removed them anyhow, but.... You took quite a fall. I had to make a lot of repairs.”
The voice was kindly, in a metallic sort of way. I was inspecting my legs- I had never so much as looked at myself before. Completely overwhelmed- another emotion!- I looked up once again. “Where am I? Who are you?” I asked, trying to make sense of everything at once.
His green glass eyes gleamed softly. “I am ASRU493- but I dropped that identification tag long ago, when I came to live here. You may call me Skyphoi, as everyone does. You’ve found your way to Nanei, a small town in Shenkuu- or rather, you found your way to the fields near here. I discovered you in pieces and brought you back for repairs. If I might ask, what’s your name?”
Still in shock, I searched my memories. “I am B27, codename Boomer,” I said, relieved to know that I could put a name to myself. A name was akin to having freedom, and now I had both. I had never wanted either before, but now I was overjoyed to find them in my grasp.
But he was shaking his head. “That’s not a name,” he chided me gently. “If you’re going to start a new life, you must have a real, unique name, not a number or identification tag. If you go by your lab-given codes here, you’ll be all too easy to find. They may never come- you were pretty badly broken when I found you- but better to err on the side of caution.”
I nodded. It was dawning on me now that I may actually be able to have a life. “I understand. In that case I will be called.... Ageacome... because as my existence as a weapon comes to a close, a new age of my existence is come. I shall always be Boomer, though.” I mentally looked through my early memories, with the Boy, and sighed. ‘It was what the Boy- my original owner- called me, before I was turned into a traveling... bomb.”
“A good name,” Skyphoi said with approval in his voice. “Let us hope that it heralds the start of a good new life.”
With that, he opened the little room’s door and ushered me out into the daylight- gentle, welcoming light, not searing heat which had taken me down. And now, for the very first time, I experienced happiness.
A new life indeed!