The most fantastic thing in the universe! Circulation: 184,867,923 Issue: 483 | 25th day of Awakening, Y13
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by thorndove


“So, 201. Yesterday you tested the sadness program?”

     The speaker was a slim split Grundo, with a purple birthmark on her left cheek. As she spoke, she consulted a clipboard.


     “Were there any problems?”


     A sleek silver robot, his metallic body gleaming from that morning’s polishing, faced the Grundo and waited for instructions. He was version 3, #201: a robot designed to trial programmes, and built in the shape of a Kyrii. For much of that past moth, he had been part of a group used to trial the new emotion programmes. So far, all was going well.

     At last, the Grundo looked up and spoke again. Her voice had taken on a more professional tone.

     “Have you had any viruses lately?”


     “When was your last update?”

     “6th day, month of running, 2:06pm.”

     “Good. 201, I am going to trial the happiness program. Prepare for installation.”

     “Preparing for installation.”

     His eyes dimmed. The Grundo, lowering her clipboard, reached for something inside her pocket. It was a small disc, as silver as the robot, and labelled “Bv3”.

     She only had to wait a few moments, before 201’s eyes suddenly brightened.

     “Prepared,” he buzzed.

     She nodded, coming to stand behind him. On the back of his head there was a button, which she pushed. Beside it, a tray sprang open.

     She removed the disc from its case with the utmost care. Then, having checked both it and the tray for traces of dust or dirt, she placed the disc gently in the tray and closed it.

     Something whirred. “Installing.”

     The Grundo stepped back. She knew that, once the happiness program was installed, 201 would reboot. It could be anything up to an hour before he was ready for the tests.

     She took her keys from her pocket and left the room, locking the door behind her. It was about time she had lunch, anyway.


     “How do you feel, 201?”


     He blinked, slowly, as robots tend to do. She knew that such a motion meant he was processing something.

     So the Grundo waited a moment, her clipboard in one hand and a pen in the other, until the whirs and clicks coming from the robot fell back into some sort of rhythm. Then, she continued with her questioning.

     “Is that glass half full, or half empty?” she asked, gesturing to a nearby beaker with one gloved hand.

     “Half full.”

     The Grundo wrote this down. “Do you have a desire to harm me in any way?”


     “Any desire to harm anyone else?”


     The Grundo nodded, her brown eyes falling to the paper once more. 201 just continued to stare, his own eyes as blank and expressionless as ever. Once, she had found this characteristic of robots unnerving. But when you came to realise that they viewed things with absolutely no emotion at all, it became easier to bear. Even the happiness program only simulated the emotion. When it came down to it, for all the advancements in technology, 201 was merely a machine.

     She asked him several further questions, all of which triggered satisfactory answers, except for one. When she had asked the robot if he wanted to hear a joke, 201 replied that he did not. With a slight frown, the Grundo had noted this down. It appeared as though the program was not yet perfected, after all.

     With the conclusion of the interrogation, the Grundo activated her microphone and tapped it once.

     “Aro?... It’s Sara. I’ve finished with the trial. The happiness program seems to only have a small flaw. I’ll send the results down now.”

     She deactivated it then, and turned back to 201. She removed the disc from his disc drive and replaced it in its case. There would be no further need for him that day.

     “Thank you, 201. Shut down.”

     “Shutting down.”

     His blue eyes slowly dimmed, as the bulbs behind them powered off like everything else. The mechanical noises coming from within his metal casing started to fade. It wasn’t long before all signs of life, artificial though it was, had faded.

     The Grundo left the room. The techies would come by later to make sure that the program hadn’t damaged the robot in any way, and return him to storage. But that wasn’t any of her concern. All she had to do now was get the trial’s results to Aro.


     “How did the last set of trials go?”

     “Amazingly, we think. A, C, D, E, F and G had no problems. There was a small fault with B, but we’ll soon have it fixed.”

     “Good. I want work to start immediately on the personality program. We begin experiments in a month.”

     “Sir! We ca...”

     “I don’t care. Put your best men on the job. We’re about to make history here. If you don’t wish to be involved, I’m sure there are plenty more who do.”


     The next day was a holiday on the Space Station. 201 remained in storage room four, with forty nine robots filling the space around him. If his sound wave interpreters had been switched on, they would have been able to detect the sounds of joy and celebration coming from the upper decks. But they weren’t, and the robots remained in a state of indefinite slumber, to wake only when someone came and flicked the right switch.

     When 201 was at last activated, the day after that celebration, the first thing he did was run a scan of his memory banks and check his system for viruses. Everything seemed normal.

     After a few moments, the components of his ears and eyes started up. His touch sensors followed. His mouth opened and shut a few times, his fingers flexing, as the robot tested his body. Everything seemed normal there, too.

     His gaze honed in on a stocky green Grundo, who stood opposite him with a clipboard in his right hand. The Grundo wore a red lab coat, the sleeves of which had been rolled back, leaving his forearms bare. Around his right wrist he wore a watch on a silver strap.

     “Are you 201?” he asked, carefully pronouncing each syllable.

     “Affirmative,” the robot intoned.

     “201; two days ago you were used to trial the happiness program. Is this correct?”


     “Were there any problems?”


     The Grundo glanced at his clipboard. “A fault with the adaptation mechanism, correct?”


     “Have you had any viruses lately?”


     “When was your last update?”

     “6th day, month of running, 2:06pm.”

     “Need to update soon, then. I’m going to trial the anger program. Prepare for installation.”

     “Preparing for installation.”

     As usual, the blue eyes dimmed to a pale gleam. The Grundo was already at 201’s side, opening the disc tray, when they returned to normal.

     “Prepared,” the robot droned, turning his head to address the Grundo.

     The green Neopet gave a short hiss of annoyance, as the disc drive was now too far away to reach.

     “Stay still,” he growled, moving around the robot Kyrii in order to reach it.


     A few seconds later, there was a whirring sound.



     The anger program was even more successful than the previous one, if you can call anger success. If 201 had been a war robot, he would have opened fire on the Grundo, so intense was the emotion. As it was, he was attempting to choke the man when he called for him to shut down.

     Leaving the disc tray open, the Grundo dragged himself to his feet and coughed, struggling to breathe for a moment. He then replaced the anger program in its case, winced as he rubbed at his neck, which was beginning to bruise; and switched on his microphone.

     “Aro, it’s me... Yes, the anger program worked as intended... No, I’m fine... Oh, and could you please send one of the techies to look at 164? We can’t change the language setting. It seems to be broken.”


     After that, 201 was no longer used for emotion trials. It wasn’t that he was unfit for the task, or otherwise faulty. In fact, he was one of the best trial robots on the Space Station. It was simply that most of the emotion programs had been perfected.

     The first robots with a built-in emotion were already being produced, and up on the design deck could be seen three or four kookith robots programmed to be excited. For two weeks, 201 was left in storage. There was just nothing for him to do.

     In the third week, though, 201 was activated once more. Even in that short amount of time he had collected a lot of dust, and a few young Grundos had been given the task of cleaning and polishing him. It was tedious work, but children can be bought far more easily than adults. Ten neopoints each was all it took to make them take on the task.

     When 201 was activated, the blue Grundo that had switched him on told him to prepare for installation of a happiness file. Unquestioningly, the robot obeyed. Two hours later, after he had rebooted (and checked to make sure all his systems were functioning at full capacity), 201 was taken to the recreation deck.

     There, he was informed of his duties for the next week. He was to entertain the children, who often got bored during school holidays. A few games, jokes and songs were added to his memory, to make this easier, and he was dressed in a long blue jacket and oversized hat. As the hat kept obscuring his vision, however, it was quickly abandoned.

     201 easily adapted to his new role, and the younger children especially seemed to love him. The happiness program lent warmth to his voice, which somehow made him all the more appealing. Children would crowd around him, bright eyed, and listen eagerly to what he said. Sometimes they would ask for a story. During his time among them, 201 recorded many stories in his memory.

     There was one little Grundo girl, Valya, who came to see him every day during the holidays. She was a fragile little thing: fair skinned, with huge blue eyes and many freckles. But she taught 201 more than any of the others.

     From her, his sound wave interpreter translated many stories of school life, home life, and all that was a child’s life. He learned about the bully who was always picking on her, the brave brother who tried to defend her, and the pet kookith she had been given for her birthday.

     Eventually, though, the last day of the holidays arrived. Valya was in tears as she said goodbye to “Owen”, which was her nickname for 201. The happiness program he possessed prevented him from feeling the same way, but he allowed the child to bury her head in his coat while he gently stroked her head.

     Later that afternoon, as 201 waited for someone to tell him what to do next, he felt something that he couldn’t understand. It wasn’t his virus checker, or any of his other defences, that noticed it. In fact, he couldn’t seem to tell which part of him had.

     He had been processing his memories of that past week, making sure they were all in order and uncorrupted, when he’d felt it. The happiness program had been uninstalled over an hour ago and yet, as he came to the memory of a joke Valya had told him, 201 felt what seemed to be a twinge of happiness. But when he scanned his data banks, there was no trace of the file. It wasn’t normal.

     Perhaps it was a virus that he’d somehow missed. 201 activated his virus checker and began the long process of thoroughly scanning all his files. He wasn’t even halfway through when a Grundo entered the room, eating a sundae, and ordered him to shut down.


     “Are you sure you want this one, Aro?”

     “Yes. Why?”

     “Look at his memory banks! They’re full to bursting with... unimportance.”

     “Well, delete the unimportance. It doesn’t matter if he forgets how to entertain children, does it?”

     “So... what do I delete?”

     “Any video, audio... just any file he obtained immediately prior to and while working with those kids in the holidays! That clear?”

     “Yes, sir.”


     So it was all removed. Songs, games, stories, Valya... all deleted. 201 was almost exactly as he had been before he worked with children.

     The following day, he stood opposite a split Grundo with a purple birthmark on her orange cheek. He was back to trialling programs and, from the amount of tests they had put him through, it would seem that the current one was very important.

     It was called project PRPEv1. The Grundo held it now in one gloved hand, inside a translucent blue plastic case. The robot’s gaze, as emotionless as ever, gazed blankly at her. Somewhere within 201’s metal casing, something whirred.

     The Grundo looked up at him and nodded.

     “Right, 201. Today, I’ve been asked to trial PRPEv1. Were you updated this morning?”

     “Affirmative,” the robot replied, blinking.

     The split Grundo waited a moment before the next question.

     “And you’ve already prepared for the installation?”


     “Alright. Let’s do this.”

     He watched her come closer, knowing full well what the disc contained. It was like the emotion programs, but bigger. It consisted of two emotions: sadness and excitement, combined into one file. If it was successful, he’d been told, those who had created it would be famous all over Neopia. Never before had a robot had a complete personality, but that was what they were working towards.

     The Grundo opened 201’s disc drive. There was a soft click as it slid out of hiding, and she placed the disc inside. She stepped back as the robot whirred, moved its head, and began to shut down.

     She waited. Aro had assured her that the process would not take as long as usual, for he had added a few things to the last update that he believed would quicken this reboot. As usual, he was right. After less than ten minutes there was a whirring sound, and 201 started back up.

     His eyes glowed blue, and in a few moments he was fully operational. When she was certain of this, the Grundo spoke.

     “How do you feel, 201?”

     “Sad,” he replied, dully.

     She nodded, and jolted something down. Then 201 blinked and refocused, as excitement hit.

     Excitement. He couldn’t wait to see how the trial went, and to get a chance to again see his friends in storage room four.

     But how could he be sad, and excited about seeing someone, at the same time? How could he be miserable, and yet happy at the thought of what interesting discoveries the trial might yield? These two emotions weren’t compatible...

     “Error,” he beeped suddenly, as he struggled to maintain both sensations at once.

     “What is it? 201, what’s the error?”

     His sound wave interpreters had shut off, as more power went to handling the emotions. The bulbs of his eyes dimmed, but his speakers were still functioning at full capacity.

     “Error. Error. Error. 45602, 10624.”

     “201, respond. What’s the error?”

     The glass was half empty, but he wanted it to be half full. How could he want both, at the same time? It was necessary to fix the problem.

     “Error. Error. Reconfiguring.”

     She tapped her microphone frantically, all the while glancing wildly at the robot. The lights in his eyes were now blinking, on and off, and then suddenly turned red. A high pitched wail began to emit from the speakers in his mouth, and those on the side of his head. Wincing, the Grundo instinctively clamped her hands over her ears.

     “Virus detected. 990935701045611...”

     “What? Aro, can you hear that? What do I do?”

     “... unable to identify source. Emergency power down.”

     “201, listen to me! There is no virus.”

     But 201 was, when it came down to it, a machine. Emotions could be simulated, but he could not be made to understand them, or to portray multiple ones at the same time. When something this strange and conflicting was thrust upon him, he could only do what machines are made to do in such circumstances. Since he wasn’t able to eliminate the problem, as the exact source of conflict couldn’t be pinpointed, 201 shut down.

     His eyes changed back to their typical blue, before going out altogether. The split Grundo, clipboard now resting on the table beside her, had finally calmed enough to talk with Aro rationally.

     “He shut himself down... No, I’m not sure... I’ll send you a full report as soon as I can... Fine. I’ll wait until they get here... Yes, Aro. But, for a moment, I was worried that it would get too far out of hand. It’s just as well we weren’t using a v2.”


     “The robot is fine,” said a techie, looking up from the open panel. A large, green computer chip could be seen beyond his screwdriver, glittering slightly in the artificial light.

     Aro bit his lip. “What do I tell the boss?”

     The techie took a moment to reply. He handed the screwdriver to one of his companions, before scratching the base of one antenna and getting unhurriedly to his feet.

     “The truth, sir. One month was far too short a time to develop this program. To avoid rejection, we need to figure out how to smoothly integrate the components.”

     “I know!” Aro pressed the heels of his palms to his temples, grimacing slightly. “And we have no idea how to begin.”

     The techie hesitated. “Well, sir, I can’t help you there. But maybe Sara’s report will tell you something useful.”


     The cover of the panel on 201’s back was replaced, and he was loaded onto a trolley to be taken back to storage. Within that metal suit, there was no heart, and there was no personality. But just once he had felt a twinge of happiness, though he had not believed it himself. Nor would anyone else have believed that a robot, left to its own devices, could have felt something at the memory of a little girl.

     With 201, the techies left the room. Aro, alone once again, did nothing for several moments. Then, taking a deep breath, he went over to his desk with agonising slowness and sat down.

     A few minutes passed. Then the Grundo took up a pen and began to write.

The End

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