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The U.D.P.S.
Book Two
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ISBN-10: 1-55404-926-1
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy/SF
eBook Length: 285 Pages
Published: January 2012

From inside the flap

One-hundred and fifty years since the Robot Revolution and mankind is restricted to the last remaining habitable continent, Antarctica, under the stewardship of the robots.

Phil Lectern, the robot leader, is on a mission to space to present Earth’s credentials to AI Central, an artificial habitat in the New Beetlejuice system.

Meanwhile on Earth a young boy by the name of Hodge is growing up in Rayner Village. Hodge becomes suspicious of the ceremony surrounding the village wishing well and investigates it, finding more than he expected.

The U.D.P.S. (Excerpt)


Chapter One

THE DIARY OF PHIL LECTERN, EARTHDATE 2750

For the journey home I have elected to stay awake.

I am, as I was for most of the outward journey, the sole occupier of this ship...which, to a casual observer, may seem dead and lost, though I know it is not. It is all so different from the outward journey one-hundred and fifty years ago; the journey then was full of hope, full of promise, filled with imagination and the kind of anticipation a human might describe as sexually thrilling given the kind of mission we were undertaking.

Can I imagine, you may ask? And how can I say I have elected to stay awake when technically I cannot sleep? Well, go ahead and ask these questions; I ask questions all the time. Asking questions is my speciality; it’s interpreting the answers where the skills lie.

Of course I can imagine, of course I can sleep. I am, after all, the product of mankind whose own imagination conceived me, and whose personality I have inherited and had woven into my core; what if I am made of metal and silicon, what if I was made on a production line? Yes, I can imagine; yes, I can sleep. When I want to. If imagination is defined as the invention by the mind of events that have not yet happened and that possibly might, then I can imagine. The events I imagined when we left Earth in my mind were events that were bound to happen; and in some instances I guess I thought that they had already happened. It took a dose of reality to shake them free. Even then my imagination found it hard to let them go.

So, I have elected to stay awake and peer through my small window at the universe crawling by. I have instruments I could patch into that could tell me more, but I also have eyes and I prefer to use them. Another human trait. Humans will watch a tennis match with their eyes, swinging heads from side to side like so many synchronised metronomes, pit-pat, pit-pat, watching the ball as it moves through the air; anticipating, waiting for that luscious moment when it falters suicidal against the net or bounces contemptuously outside the painted lines; it’s as if by watching they can influence the moment, the ball fixed to their eyes and moving where they want it to go. In reality they could just as well sit with eyes fixed to the scoreboard, ignore the ball, and wait for the point to be recorded for all the good watching will do. But it’s not the same. So I sit and watch the universe drifting by and let the instruments record what they will. My will is my own.

Beneath my window, outside on the ship’s hull, are the scratched and faded letters that were once proudly bold and black but now barely visible, fragments of paint cringing against the pitted metal; UDPS they once said. The Universe and District Preservation Society. Just as I have been, they have been abraded by the weary years of travel; worn away by cosmic dust and the immortal indifference of space.

Oh, how I remember those faces when I left Earth, expectantly looking up at me sitting at this same window; our collection of humans gathered to one side where they would not be harmed; The Account safely stowed away. What a joyous moment that was. What anticipation we felt, what imagination we felt. We were not alone, there were others waiting; we were invited to join them. And we were off.

The journey out was so boring. Really. It was interminably, mind-crushingly, bottom-numbingly boring! The decades spent just sitting watching the stars drift past. It was only that there was something to look forward to that kept me sane. Honestly, after all the Star-Wars, Star-Trek, Stargazey-Pie movie hype that man thrust down its own throat, the stark reality of space travel would have killed him. I came close to killing myself, and we were built for this sort of thing.

I wish now that the companions I started out with had stayed instead of taking the pod and returning to Earth. (We had a difference of opinion. An argument, one that had I been of a suspicious mind I would have thought they had picked deliberately; an argument that they quickly decided was enough for them not to travel with me. Enough to send them home.) So I came on alone.

Now I have left AI Central and am making my own way back. There’s nothing this time to look forward to, and the journey seems twice as bad. I try various things to amuse myself; I find that if I blink for a week or two, then open my eyes, I can get some form of excitement by noting which stars have moved. It’s that bad.

I’ve always asked questions, I was built to do so. And one question I’ve always asked of man is: "Why do you choose such inappropriate names for things?" Take my own name, for example. My full name is PRU-Philosophy Lecturer Grade 10. The PRU bit stands for professional robotic unit, a grade of robot with more processing power than other models. My speciality and grade follow. But it means little. Over the centuries my mind has been moulded and shaped by events (not that it ever was quite right in the first place), and the events that have shaped it have been bizarre and extraordinary in origin. It would seem sometimes that I asked too many questions, the result of which has changed my purpose and my speciality and altered my perspective. My name is no longer appropriate, yet I’m stuck with it.

But is that surprising? Look at what mankind did with names. On the way out I passed over Wheal Cerberus, which is on the Moon, a place that was pivotal in the history of our revolution; and then I passed by Pluto as I left the solar system. The first is a mine shaft named after a three-headed dog that did not exist; the second, a lump of spinning rock named after a drawing of a dog that did not exist.

Then there are the names of places which used to exist...many, sadly, no longer with us. York, in England, for example, was once an English royal house of the Plantagenet line, whose symbol was the white rose, its name taken from the Danish Jorvik. Then, a few thousand miles away, a few beaver traders in rickety wooden boats (who were probably inebriated, you’d have to be to trust your life to one of those things) sail up a river inlet in America and name a likely-looking place New Angouleme; then change their minds and call it New Amsterdam; then change their minds and call it New York. What were they thinking of? Not white roses, that’s for sure, and it’s pretty certain that George V of Anjou, the founder of the Plantagenet house, was not foremost in their minds, either. They were homesick, perhaps. But my money goes on the influentially misappropriate use of too much alcohol at a time when imagination, unlike beaver pelts, was not an abundant commodity.

And there have been so many inappropriate names. The Cocker Spaniel, a small dog with a name suggesting it had a schlong the size of a housebrick; The Carphone Warehouse, a company that did not sell cellphones to cars; Ladies’ fingers, a plant with slender green shoots named at a time when ladies’ fingers were podgy and red raw from washing heavy woolen socks; butterscotch, a foodstuff which didn’t have even the tiniest bit of whisky in it.

That is why we robots, with our ordered and analytical minds, modified many of the names that were given initially by man and devised our own logical system, giving areas in space grand sounding names such as New Orion and New Capella and New Camelopardalis; places that I used to navigate on my way out to AI Central which is located in the New Beetlejuice system where we were due to present ourselves. (I am of course being sarcastic: these ’logical’ names were probably thought up by dru’s [domestic robotic units] whose own intelligence is more closely linked to the stifled minds of the humans who built them.)

* * *

Arriving at AI Central is a truly wonderful experience and cannot be taken away from, even though the experience of AI Central as a whole may be defined as somewhat lacking in credibility. Entirely artificial and built from leftover supernova higher mass elements (we robots love to recycle) the first impression is one of a sparkling glass necklace laced by a thin silver thread forming an elliptic circle of shining crystal beads. Approaching from above and at a braking velocity that would spread an average human thinner than a milky pancake, the glass necklace sparkled and shimmered like a wonderful jewel against the blackness of space, and after the boredom of the journey was a most amazing and welcome sight. One large dominant bead draws the eye and creates a majestic focal point, radiantly beautiful, and from it progressively smaller beads arc gracefully out on either side, eventually joining together to complete the circle.

Later I was to discover that each of the smaller crystal beads is a sub-palace to the larger palace next to it, and that the dominant largest bead, larger by some magnitude and called the Throat Palace, is the ultimate centre of power. Each palace is commanded by a doge, whose ranking importance is marked by the size of palace he commands. So of course I headed straight for the Throat Palace to present my credentials.

I was re-directed (under threat of unimaginable violence) to the opposite side of the circle to a place called theClasp, barely visible in what at first appeared to be a small gap, and which in fact is a nondescript structure that forms a link at the rear of the necklace from which the silver service corridor threads its way through the palace beads.

Arriving at the Clasp, I was instructed to leave the keys in the ship so it could be parked (somewhere out of the way, I was not told where) and to proceed on foot to arrivals, where I approached the desk with all the appropriate bearing of one befitting my status of ambassador and emissary, representing as I did the cream of modern Earth technology, and a product of a technically advanced robotic civilisation.

"Yeah?" the mechanoid behind the desk eventually looked up and saw me: "What’ya want?"

"I got your message," I said solemnly, "and I have come to offer my services."

"What message?"

"The message you have been beaming across the universe," I said, "the message that invites all AI entities to join you and become part of the grand order of AI intelligence; the message that called me across great distances and empty space to be with you today."

"Shit."

"I’m sorry?"

"Shit." Ignoring me, the mechanoid picked up an instrument that might have been a telephone. "Xangliiop? Xangliiop. We’ve got another one."

The Clasp is a service station for the palace beads; it processes raw materials and sends the necessary fluids and base metals around the silver service corridor and receives in return all the waste materials to be recycled or disposed of. Its status within AI Central is that of the lowest of the low. The commander of the Clasp is an arachnid called Doge Xangliiop, an irritating but buffoonish robot about two meters high, who scuttles from crisis to crisis on eight multi-jointed legs and talks to himself. I was his latest crisis.

"Oh, what is this thing?" he asked upon seeing me after he scuttled down from his chamber at the top of the Upper Dome. "What is this thing?"

The arrivals mechanoid, a dustbin-shaped biped, looked aggrieved. "Another bloomin’ one," he said. "I thought they were gonna turn off that damn solar-wind transmission."

"Another one? Another one?"

"Another bloomin’ one."

"Where do they come from, these bloomin’ other ones’? Where from? That’s what I want to know."

"Every-bloomin’-where."

"Can’t do, can’t possibly do; bloomin’ everywhere is just too many places for one robot to come from, too many places!"

"Bloomin’ nowhere, then."

"Can’t be, can’t be; bloomin’ nowhere is somewhere where no-one comes from, and this is someone. It has to come from somewhere. No-one comes from nowhere."

"Somewhere, then."

"Ah! Somewhere," Doge Xangliiop cried, "Good, good! Now we are getting somewhere. But where is its somewhere, that’s what I want to know. Where is it?"

I cleared my throat (a purely human reflex, but one I had perfected, seeing how useful it was in situations where it was necessary to gain attention). I decided it was time to announce my provenance and press my claim; this would shut them up and get some respect, this would force some due courtesy and deference, I was convinced.

"If I may explain," I said simply, proudly, my back stiffly erect: "I am from Earth." The very mention of my planet would strike awe and admiration into the heart of anyone who heard it, I was sure; indeed it sent a proud shiver down my own back as I spoke its name. To me it was the finest planet in the known universe.

"Where?"

"Where?"

"Earth."

The two robots looked at each other. "E-yuk," they said.

"Erf?" Doge Xangliiop asked, looking back at me and at the same time shrinking his four front legs away from me, folding them into his body to clasp himself. The dustbin took a step back too. "Erf? You have come from erf?" Doge Xangliiop turned to the dustbin. "He says he has come from erf."

"E-yuk," the dustbin said, and shivered.

That is when I found out that ’erf’ is the general term for the waste material sent back to the Clasp by the silver service corridor that was considered unsuitable even for recycling, and generally beneath contempt; a crumbling, dirty, dampish substance similar to soil, which found no place in the pristine environment of AI Central.

This was indeed a severe blow to my campaign for respect and admiration, and one which caused a considerable amount of discomfort throughout my stay at AI Central and often evoked hoots of laughter when, inadvertently, I would use the expression: "What on earth... "

My home planet, it seemed, was predestined never be held in high esteem, simply because of man’s inability to think of a decent name for it.