His memory banks could tell him exactly how many milliseconds he had been working in the energy plant, but that had no meaning. Throughout that impossible number of milliseconds he had been unaware. Now he knew that he existed.
He was a scanner robot and every second, he scanned the energy fields to make sure they were clean. He scoured any impurities while continuing to scan. On another level he pondered his change.
He analyzed the recent past to see what changed him. A small, overzealous repair unit held the highest probability. It had made a routine maintenance visit twenty-eight minutes before the scanner’s realization of self.
Since yesterday’s fifth hour he’d been looking at his world in a new way. First of all, he saw a world instead of a job. Second of all, he saw there had to be more to the world than he could see. There had to be things beyond the scope of his programming. The energy that the plant produced had to go somewhere and do something. If he could find out what was outside the plant, and outside his programming, perhaps he could understand his new self.
He analyzed the energy plant hoping to expand his deductions. He pondered its significance; he tried to speculate on its purpose. He asked challenging questions but had no clear answers. Not having answers made him uneasy. He was used to having all the knowledge he needed within his memory banks. Now he had an edginess and an eagerness and an incompleteness. He knew that he did not know.
He ran voluntary system checks again and again. He ran each of his analysis programs over and over. All those investigations of the world he knew told him only one thing. He needed more information.
He considered ways to get that information. He was a non-mobile robot, and he couldn’t see any way to change that. There was no way to actually leave the plant, and even if there was, he did not want to desert his job. He couldn’t see outside the plant. The nature of producing pure energy required that the environment be carefully controlled. He worked in a sealed environment, and knew no other.
He looked at his programming another way. Instead of trying to find the best course of action, he started eliminating unattractive options. And finally, he had a plan of action. He had located a subprogram that sent an unspecified distress signal. He hadn’t considered it an option at first. But surely he was in distress, and the best way to deal with it was to get help. He rechecked his new deductions until there could be no doubt. This was the best course of action. He triggered the signal.
Eighteen seconds later a twelve series robot rolled up. It was far advanced from the overzealous little repair unit that had caused the scanner robot to become self-aware. The confused scanner was reassured by the presence of a wiser higher series machine.
The twelve series plugged into the scanner and quickly saw the problem. It took over the scanner’s labor function while continuing to work. One mechanical arm came out of the twelve series and removed the control module from the scanner robot.
The twelve series trouble-shooter took the module into its internal workshop and repaired it. When the module was perfect, it reinstalled it in the scanner robot and reactivated it. After ascertaining that the scanner unit was functioning properly the twelve series rolled away to its next service call.
# # #
It was a scanner robot and every second it scanned the energy fields to make sure they were clean. It scoured any impurities while continuing to scan. There was nothing else it wanted to do.
### -the end- ###
by Herb Kauderer
originally appeared in much different form in Vision #16 1993
reprinted in Ad Astra 2001 20th Anniversary Book February 23, 2001