Sunday, October 16, 2011

A robot’s confession

Jewish date:  18 Tishri 5772 (Parashath Bere’shith).

Today’s events:  Dictionary Day, Newspaper Carrier Day, Reptile Awareness Day, World Food Day (UN), Bosses’ Day, Lost in Space Day.


Today’s weird thing, which is included below, was recently discovered and is provided courtesy of Howell Industries.  Enjoy and share the weirdness.


A robot’s confession
by Robert Robinson

If you are reading this, then the message I have inscribed on stone tablets and left on an uncharted desert island has been discovered.  My name is Robert Robinson, formerly just “the Robot”, and I was part of the crew of the Jupiter 2.  The Jupiter 2 departed Earth on October 16, 1997.  I know enough about the history of this island to know that this message will not be discovered before then, but there is something which alarms me which I need to discuss.  One of my jobs was to send out distress signals in the hope that these would be heard and we would be rescued.  This is a dull task, so dull it could easily put a robot to sleep.  And so to make it less boring and to make anyone who was listening sympathize with us more, I sent out log entries as well.  Unfortunately, I let my creativity and imagination enter the process, and the result was biased.

Robot memory, like human memory, is reconstructive, not precise recordings of what actually happened.  A relatively harmless side effect of this is that all my reconstructions look like they were science-fiction filmed during the 1960s; I am a fan of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, and I find it easy to borrow from such material when imagining events.  Flight suits are not really made out of mylar, and aliens do not really look like humans in silly costumes.

Not so harmless is how I depicted some of the humans on the Jupiter 2.  My presentations were highly biased to emphasize the humans I spent the most time with.  Those I spent little time with are depicted as two-dimensional characters, because I did not have enough data to depict them properly.  Their contributions to keeping us alive were unfairly downplayed or ignored.

Also not so harmless was that I treated what was happening to us like a serial adventure story.  When the Robinsons, Major Don West, and Dr. Zachary Smith discovered what I had done, they were furious.  To be fair, Will Robinson was a bit amused; I depicted him as a hero.  And Don was impressed that I had depicted Dr. Smith so precisely and laughed out loud many times when viewing the recordings of my transmissions.  But overall the humans were furious.  Dr. Maureen Robinson was angry that I had “demoted” her to “a mere housewife and gardener” when she has a PhD in biochemistry.  Dr. Judy Robinson was so angry I had depicted her as a “walking prop” that she would not speak to me for a month.  Penny Robinson thought I had unfairly depicted her as naïve and helpless, noting, among other things, that whenever Dr. Smith tried using her as a human shield to protect himself from bug-eyed monsters, she would always flip him over her shoulder.  (Incidentally, this often resulted in him landing on the monster and injuring or killing it.)  Dr. Smith, of course, claimed I had totally mischaracterized him, but the consensus was that my depiction of him was dead-on, the only exception being that his bad back may have been due to Penny using him as a weapon against aliens and not an excuse to be lazy.  Debbie jumped on me and tried to tear my head off.  Professor John Robinson thought I had trivialized their experiences and made their situation seem more like an inconvenience than a real danger.  

I felt awful over what I had done, and I promised to broadcast a retraction as soon as possible.  Unfortunately, Dr. Smith had just cheated a wandering Omicronian merchant out of a flob mechanism, and two minutes after I made my promise, the merchant blew up our antenna and transmission circuitry in revenge.  Unable to do anything at that point, I hoped that we would be rescued soon, at which point my blunder would be forgiven.  Or failing that, that no one would see my transmissions.  But the rescue never came, and now it has become clear to me that the situation with my transmissions is worse than I could have ever imagined.  The only thing I can do now to even begin to atone for my careless slander is to address the issues which my crew-mates have brought to my attention and hope for the best.

Issue 1:  I gave the impression that our experiences were “fun”.  They were not.  We were in constant danger, having adverse encounters about once every two weeks.  Often we were at risk of death.

The only way we managed to avoid complete disaster was extreme:  after three years, we locked up Dr. Smith in his room and refused to let him out for any reason whatsoever.  If anyone thinks this was easy (or fun), they have never heard Dr. Smith screaming in the middle of the night that he is claustrophobic and will die if he stays in his room.  Judy and Don’s daughter Alexis is normally a very quiet baby, but even the slightest hint of a panic attack from Dr. Smith is enough to set her crying, which does nothing to help the situation.

One should also remember that Dr. Smith is intelligent enough that he earned a PhD in psychology.  Previously he manipulated others, especially Will, Penny, and myself, to get what he wanted.  Of necessity, we became more wary of his schemes, but he never stopped trying.  And even without the help of sentient beings, he has proven a menace.  He has broken out on many occasions, often in the process turning off something that should not have been turned off or turning on something that should not have been turned on, and thus causing something to go horribly wrong.  On one occasion when his breakout went unnoticed for an hour on the surface of the planet Epsilon, some sensors which Dr. Smith deactivated failed to sense an armed party of Epsilonians approaching.  It was only the advance warning of Dr. Smith running back towards the ship, screaming at a high volume about the warriors with ray guns he had seen, that enabled us to launch before it was too late.  Since then, we have had a policy that Dr. Smith is not to be left alone under any circumstances.  No one enjoys babysitting Dr. Smith, and being outranked by humans, I have often been assigned the chore.  Bleaugh.  I much prefer changing baby diapers.

Issue 2:  The transformations and other violations of our bodies and minds do not qualify as “fun” either.  No one likes being changed into another species.  No one likes being transformed into a piece of computer tape.  No one likes being drained of emotions.  No one likes being hypnotized.  No one likes having their memory altered.  No one likes being reduced to nine years old.  No one likes being reprogrammed.  No one likes being split in two.  No one likes being cannibalized.  And no one likes being partially mind-swapped with Dr. Smith.  So none of us liked them either.  

Many of the humans seem largely unaffected in this way, despite these traumatic experiences.  Though I am not sure that Will’s hair is supposed to be that color.

Penny has had a large amount of useful information implanted in her memory by the use of drugs on the planet Delta, but it comes with the truly annoying habit of her needing to listen to music and dance on furniture in order to access much of it.  (The fact that she does not dance well only makes it worse.)

My own physical form has been rebuilt several times, and while now looking very much like a human has its advantages, it still feels unnatural.  Not to mention that the color is boring.  

Much worse is what happened to Debbie.  She originally was a bloop, a chimpanzee-like creature, who was adopted by Penny.  (I would not mention this at all, but this is already noted in my transmissions.)  It was inevitable that someone would be radically and permanently transformed beyond recognition, and as luck had it, it happened to her.  She refuses to let me discuss what shape she currently wears, she hates it that much, but you will never realize that there is an ex-bloop in your midst.

Issue 3:  When I made my transmissions, I thought that the humans on the Jupiter 2 were psychologically healthy (except for Dr. Smith) and depicted them as such.  I was wrong.  I knew little of everyday human life and less than I should have of human psychology.  

It was obvious that Dr. Smith did not compute.  Here was a man who had managed to earn a PhD in psychology and become a Space Corps colonel.  And yet he quickly became a lazy, incompetent, cowardly, lying, cheating egotist.  It is quite possible for an egotist to earn a PhD and become a Space Corps colonel.  It is even possible for someone to lie and cheat to earn a PhD and become a Space Corps colonel.  But how does someone lazy and incompetent manage to lie and cheat well enough to earn a PhD and become a Space Corps colonel?  Something had to wrong with him.  There will be more on the cause of this later.

The other humans have been struggling to deal with the situation.  They have deliberately avoided taking out their frustrations on each other, with the occasional exception of yelling at Dr. Smith.  On many planets we have visited, I have witnessed them sneaking off alone or in small groups and screaming at the top of their lungs or committing senseless acts of destruction in an effort to deal with their aggravation.  At other times they have forced Dr. Smith to make alcohol for them, leading to drunkenness.  Some of us have at times have tried to avoid contact with others without giving a reason.  One of us has written some truly disturbing poetry.  I dare not dwell on the details.

Issue 4:  There was a reason for Dr. Smith’s seemingly illogical behavior, and it is a long story.  

Dr. Smith broke out of his room again, because I had to rush off to deal with a Hoge manifold which decided it was a good time to explode.  While creeping through a service tube, he broke an artificial gravity mechanism, which created a wormhole that the Jupiter 2 was sucked into.  We were fortunate that Earth was on the other side of the wormhole, but unfortunate that the year was 1967, 30 years before we left.  In order to avoid changing history, we activated a cloaking device Will had rigged together and landed on this island, a place we knew was to remain relatively secluded until 1978.  The island, as everyone knows, had seven castaways as inhabitants, so we chose the most out-of-the-way spot on the island to park.  The cloaking device worked so well that even when the two youngest castaways decided that right outside our spaceship was a good place for a picnic and kissing, they had no idea we were there.

The damage to the ship was severe.  It was completely functional as a place to live, but it would be dangerous to take it back into space without at least a few months of repairs.  Obtaining the raw materials needed to make replacement parts without being detected would be a challenge.  We knew that a nearby island was inhabited by the rogue scientist Boris Balinkoff.  When Balinkoff was (or rather will be) eventually arrested, in his confession he claimed that his hideout had been raided in 1967 “by thieves with a taste for hi-tech equipment”.  Faced with the danger of altering the timeline if we remained too long in this era, we decided that we would be the hi-tech thieves.  Will rigged up another cloaking device for the Chariot (which can function as a boat), and most of our party set sail (so to speak) for Balinkoff’s Island.

As usual, I got stuck watching Dr. Smith alone.  They did not even leave the baby with me; the consensus was that she was safer wherever Dr. Smith was not.  (I cannot blame them.)  Dr. Smith insisted on playing chess.  Usually he cheats, but this time he was too distracted.  Dr. Smith claimed something was happening, that there was an unusual smell.  Though I have no sense of smell, I assumed he was lying.

I was wrong.  What I experienced has no human sensory equivalent, but suffice it to say that the ship had been teleported into a large room.  Soldiers wearing face-concealing visors and uniforms that looked like something worn by Nazi stormtroopers stormed the ship—which was not hard, considering the amount of damage—and dragged out myself and Dr. Smith.  I tried to stop them, but their ray guns shorted out my blasters.  They dragged us through poorly-lit corridors that all looked alike and threw us in a windowless cell lit by a single incandescent bulb.  And then they let us wait there for hours.  It is very unpleasant to be trapped in a cell with Dr. Smith screaming that he will do anything if he is only let out.  The guards outside paid him no attention.

Eventually the guards did open the cell door, but only to shove in the youngest male castaway, Willy Gilligan.  He seemed very confused and said he had no idea who the soldiers were, why they had taken him prisoner, or where he was.  This confused me, since I was not aware of any historical records of any of the castaways ever claiming to have been in such a situation.  On the other hand, they have never said anything substantial about what happened during 12 of their 15 years of isolation.  I declined to tell Gilligan the full truth of who Dr. Smith and I were, not wishing to needlessly risk contaminating the timeline, but I did tell him that we were castaways of a sort and glared at Dr. Smith to keep him from revealing much more than that.

Whether Dr. Smith got the hint or not, I do not know.  He had shifted into a different mode, had stopped screaming, and was computing an escape.  Phase 1 of his plan was completely cliché:  he would to pretend to be sick, Gilligan would call for the guards, and I would hit the guards on the head with the chamberpot.  I thought it was a stupid idea; there was no way the guards could be so incompetent as to fall for it.  But being trapped in a cell with Dr. Smith is so horrible that I went along with it anyway—and it worked.

Even stranger was phase 2 of the plan.  Dr. Smith had Gilligan pick up the guard’s ray gun—and he wanted him to use it.  Let us remember this is Gilligan we are talking about, a man famous for being inept.  This is the man which all the castaways were agreed was responsible for accidentally ruining almost every opportunity they had had for being rescued for 15 years.  Even in 1997, people were still visiting The Castaways to see Gilligan trip over his own feet or otherwise screw up.  His wife and children and the staff did their best to steer him away from such tourists, but he suffered enough minor calamities in public (such as slipping on a skateboard and falling in the lagoon) that the tourists came anyway.  No one with any sense would ever consider handing this man any sort of weapon—but Dr. Smith did.  I objected that this was suicidal, but he insisted he knew exactly what he was doing.  And he did.

The next ten minutes were the strangest of my life.  We encountered guards several times during our escape, and each time Dr. Smith, his face contorted with pain and extreme concentration, ordered Gilligan to make a specific shot that was in absolutely the wrong direction to have any effect on the enemy soldiers.  Gilligan tried to make the shot, but he inevitably ended up pointing the ray gun in a different direction by the time he fired, one that either hit the soldiers directly or brought down something (such as a menacing statue) down upon them.

I was dazed and confused by the time we reached the Jupiter 2, being caught completely off-guard by this complete, masterful harnessing of incompetence.  Despite Gilligan’s confusion over what he was seeing (“I’ll explain it later”, I told him, hoping I could figure out how to convince him this was a dream) we entered the ship, and I began the preparations for takeoff.  This was not a proper spaceship hangar; evidently they had teleported the Jupiter 2 inside it, and I intended to use the meteor vaporization lasers to slice through the walls of the building to make our escape.

We were caught completely off-guard by the sound of several weapons being cocked.  From various hidden spots on the Jupiter 2 came the six other castaways, all in uniform and with weapons aimed on us.  And Gilligan stepped aside to join them.

The youngest female castaway, Mary Ann Summers, dressed as a general, thanked Gilligan for the greatest feat of acting he had ever accomplished and promised that he would be amply rewarded.  Dr. Smith and I demanded to know what was happening, Dr. Smith rather more rudely than myself.  Mary Ann decided to let someone else explain.  That someone walked in, and he was the last person we expected to see on Earth in 1967:  Zeno, the ruthless villain physically identical to Dr. Smith.  Zeno took delight in explaining that at our last encounter he had neglected to mention that the reason that he was so similar to Dr. Smith was that he was the Dr. Smith of a parallel universe.  He had discovered a wormhole on this island leading to our universe, and after visiting our universe and traveling through time, he had returned to his own.  He had gained employment with the local totalitarian government—a government with opportunities for cooperative villains.  They had previously sent operatives to our universe not merely to better understand how it differed, but also as a testbed for infiltration techniques.  All seven of the castaways had at one time or another been successfully impersonated by their doubles.  The arrival of the Jupiter 2 had been fortuitous, as it would now allow the people of this parallel world to gain yet another weapon against those of our own and make for easier conquest.

Both Dr. Smith and I objected that the Jupiter 2 was badly damaged and would be of no use in conquering a planet.  Mary Ann thought this was funny and pointed her weapon at a seemingly unimportant wall, ordering seemingly no one to surrender himself.

A door in the wall opened, revealing a small room neither Dr. Smith nor I had ever been aware was there.  Out came a little green man, extremely unhappy and holding his hands up.  This creature, explained Zeno, was from the planet Qoppa and had unusual mind-control powers.  Zeno had been plagued by the alternate universe double of this Qoppan, which had forced him to be a Dr. Smith-like incompetent, all the while secretly filming him as part of a mind-control experiment.  Zeno had killed that Qoppan, but he was happy to help “General Summers” get her hands on another one to coerce into helping her conquer our Earth.  Inspection of the Jupiter 2 had not revealed the Qoppan’s hiding place, but putting Dr. Smith in a situation where he was conflicted between continuing his normal behavior and asserting his genius had forced the Qoppan to resort to detectable levels of telepathy in an attempt to assert control.  The Qoppan stated that force was not necessary, and that his people did a sizable amount of business aiding the conquest of entire planets at better rates and with higher customer satisfaction than the Digammans.  General Summers was pleased to hear this and invited the Qoppan to come to her office and talk business over coconut milk and banana cream pie, to which the Qoppan readily agreed.

Dr. Smith, however, was incensed.  He hurled insults at the Qoppan, claiming he had been abused and that the experiment was illegal under space law.  The Qoppan, wanting to move on to negotiate a planetary conquest contract with General Summers, offered Dr. Smith an amount of platinum that would have made him richer than he had ever dreamed; though the Qoppans had experimented on him to study mind control, they had also rebroadcast my transmissions to several galaxies, including Earth and the entire Milky Way, and they had proved so popular that they had made an astronomical amount of money in advertising fees and recording sales.  But this only made the offense of what the Qoppans had done so great in his eyes, as his reputation was now permanently damaged on the one planet he wished to live, that only blood would suffice.  And so Dr. Smith pressed the big, red auto-destruct button on the control panel.

As the lights on the ship flashed and the ship’s computer announced that the Jupiter 2 would blow up in 30 seconds, panic and chaos ensued.  Everyone, including myself, ran.  The only exceptions were Dr. Smith and the Qoppan; the last I saw of them, Dr. Smith grabbed the Qoppan and held the screaming little green man against the panel that would be the first to explode.  My cries for Dr. Smith to follow went unheeded.  I headed in the direction of the strongest neutrino emissions and soon found what I was looking for:  the mouth of the wormhole, which looked rather like a mirrored sphere reflecting a tropical scene from the other side.  I dived into it, and I soon found myself touching down next to an almost finished dugout canoe with outriggers.

I had no time to admire the canoe.  1.32 seconds later, the explosion behind me, which sealed the wormhole, knocked me under a bush.  As I lay there, checking my systems, I heard footsteps.  I heard Skipper Jonas Grumby yelling that the impossible had happened:  Mary Ann had taken Gilligan to the other side of the island to distract him, the Howells were keeping a lookout to make sure he stayed away, and still he had somehow managed to destroy the canoe.  Professor Roy Hinkley and Ginger Grant pointed out to him that reducing the canoe to ash was unlikely even for Gilligan, plus there was no sign that Gilligan had been in the area.  Conferring with the Howells confirmed that Gilligan was not responsible, though none of them had any idea what had really happened.

When the rest of the crew of the Jupiter 2 returned, they were (depending on the person) saddened or gladdened by the loss of Dr. Smith.  Despite the trouble he had caused, Will and Penny did feel some affection for him.

Regardless of how we felt, we had the pressing problem of the loss of the Jupiter 2.  Returning to space and traveling back to our own time (other than waiting around for decades) was out of the question.  Remaining on the island was also out of the question.  The conversations of the castaways whenever they passed by us indicated that Zeno had already altered the timeline.  Mary Ann mentioned a fiancé back in Kansas, and the Howells hoped that their son, Thurston Howell IV, was taking good care of their fortune; neither the financé nor the son existed when the Jupiter 2 launched.  We dare not do anything which might cause more serious damage, so we have resolved to leave the island and head for Hawaii, where we intend to live under assumed names at least until after the presumed loss of the Jupiter 2 in 1997.

If this record is found before our ultimate fates are made known, we would like to apologize to the castaways for not rescuing them.  We can sympathize with their situation, but deliberately altering timelines often changes history in undesirable ways.  Unless Zeno changed history much more than we think he did (and radio transmissions suggest the changes are minor), the castaways all survive for decades and stay healthy, despite the adversity they face.  We do plan on visiting The Castaways periodically, just to make sure that history unfolds more or less correctly.  I am curious to see George the Robot and the robot basketball team.  Until then, good luck.

No comments: