A Huge Breakthrough by David Macfie
That night, Jenny kept Jamie awake for quite a while, as she demonstrated, in no uncertain terms, just how much she’d missed him. The afterglow and tenderness that followed also stretched the wakefulness still further. Finally, the couple were all talked out and both fell into quiet and peaceful sleep.
Jamie had a dream, a strange dream that woke him at five thirty the next morning. After the strain of the piloting, he wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d had a nightmare about crashing into asteroids that lurked and jumped out on him when he least expected it. And after the passion of the night before, he equally wouldn’t have been surprised to have had erotic dreams about Jenny. But the dream was about neither of these things. It was about robots, and more specifically about Teacher, Number One and Number two. These robots had been a fact of his existence since he’d arrived on the ship and they’d played a big part in his learning how to cope with the new life he’d been thrust into. But after several weeks, they’d played less and less of a role. Now they were always around but seldom used. In the dream they’d become much more than shadows at his back. Not moving, he puzzled over the meaning of the dream. Finally, he had a glimmer of an idea about why he’d had such an odd dream at just this point in time.
Very quietly, so that he didn’t wake Jenny, he dressed and moved silently to the living area. He activated Number One and Number Two and asked them to follow him. He took them to a small meeting room and asked them to summon Teacher. In a couple of minutes the third robot arrived and sat with the others. All three looked expectantly at Jamie, but didn’t speak. Jamie collected his thoughts, then began.
“I just had a dream in which the robots that have been with us from the beginning, started to play a bigger role in our lives than they are now. So I figured that this was a message that I’d been missing something about you. I’d like to ask you some questions. Is that in order?”
“Of course, Jamie,” replied Teacher. “We are here to serve.”
“Good. The first question is can all of the robots read and write?”
“Certainly. We are educated in all things that juvenile Taurians are taught.”
“To what level?”
“We all have a tertiary education in some discipline or another. I learned science and mathematics as well as civil engineering. Number One is a medical doctor, like the general practitioners that you have on earth. Number Two specialized in everything to do with water, including all the things that contribute to rain.”
“What about using computers?”
“All of us have our own computer. We keep records of everything we are involved in. And we use them to further our own knowledge.”
“Do you keep records of all that is happening on Androm?”
“Yes. We need to know all about it so that we may be of assistance if or when required.”
“And that is true for all of you?”
“What else can you do?”
“We are all taught to be teachers so that we can share our knowledge with others of our kind and we also teach the young Taurians. We are trained in the skills of what you call artisans on earth. Each family on Taurus has one or two of us and we do all the odd jobs about the home. We repair appliances, do extensions and alterations to dwellings and clean everything regularly.”
“Could you build a Taurian home in its entirety?”
“Yes, including working out the materials quantities, ordering them and mixing them. We have all the required knowledge, of all aspects of the home, including what you would describe as painting, tiling, plumbing and electricals.”
“Good grief! I can’t believe what I’m hearing,” cried Jamie, quite agitated by these revelations. Teacher looked at him, with a fixed stare.
“Why can’t you believe, Jamie Calhoun? You know that we are unable to speak a falsehood.”
“No. I’m sorry. It’s not that I don’t believe you, it’s that I can’t believe you have all these capabilities and we didn’t know about any of it. Why didn’t we know?”
“None of you ever asked until now.”
“But why didn’t the Taurians tell us?”
“I don’t know, but I might speculate that it is because we are part of their furniture, so to speak. They don’t notice us any more than you do, if you don’t need us for anything. They probably just assumed that you knew.”
Another thought occurred to Jamie, now that his brain had accepted this new information.
“Are robots being used to build the dwellings on Androm?”
“Not that I’m aware of.”
“Is there anything else you can do that you think I should be aware of, Teacher? Anything at all?”
“Perhaps you also don’t know that all of the robots that have been made are in constant contact with each other. We know everything about each other at all times. We have a much better version of your 3G or 4G cards inside of us so that we are connected always.”
“Last questions. Do you have the equivalent of human gender?”
“No, we have no need of such.”
“Finally, do any of you have names instead of numbers?”
“I am the only one that I know of that has a name. I am called Teacher because it was thought that you would be more comfortable.”
“We are, so I would like to give Number One and Number Two names of their own. Is that acceptable?”
“Both of these two robots would be honored to have their own names,” replied Teacher, with a subtle change in his voice. Jamie had the random thought that Teacher approved of this suggestion. In a moment of whimsy, he bestowed the names Sam and Eric on Number One and Number two. He remembered these particular names from the twins in Lord of the Flies, one of his set work books at school. The he asked one final question.
“What is going to happen to the robots on each ship once the ship arrives on Androm?”
“They will remain assigned to the people they have been with on the ship. Just like those assigned to Taurian families,” replied Teacher. “It has not yet been communicated what is to happen to me.”
“We are not created to have preferences. However, It has been educational to have experienced humans so if I have a choice then I would remain with the project and with the humans.” Teacher paused for a moment. “It occurs to me that I may just have expressed a preference. That is most curious. And I have just recalled something else that we can do. Since I witnessed your first encounter with Pantando-Ka I have been monitoring all sessions you have had with him as training. His personal robot has been communicating the sessions to all robots. As a result, all of us are now able to fight as well as the two of you can.”
“Am I to understand that the robots are able to communicate what they are seeing, exactly as they see it?”
“Yes, that is correct,” Jamie took a deep breath, amazed at the implications of this additional information. He called the meeting to a close and rushed off to speak to the commander. He filled in Komando-Ka on what he had just learned.
“So given that information, I’d like to suggest two things,” he said.
“It was remiss of us not to think to relate this information,” replied the commander. “I apologize, but we didn’t think it was particularly relevant.”
“It probably wasn’t in the beginning, but now it is.”
“OK, I’m not sure how, but please tell me what you think.”
“Well first of all it changes the dynamic of how we’re working. Not just the humans but all of us. I mean think about it. These robots know everything that’s going on all they time. They all have specialties. Teacher, for example told me he is qualified in maths and science. They also are all taught to be teachers and all are able to do pretty much any construction or maintenance job. And they are in constant communication with other in words and in images.”
“I didn’t know all of that. I always thought they were just animated computers. So what?”
“For a start we must deploy as many as we can on the construction of the dwellings and critical plants, factories and buildings. It much more than doubles our available workforce. If we do it now we will be much closer to our target numbers by the time the refugees arrive. Second we don’t have to waste time on research. We just need to ask the closest robot. It will have instant answers to all our questions. The ones with relevant specialties can be put to work immediately on hospitals, water purification and sewage plants. They can help with the desalination plants and dam building, water reticulation, power generation and distribution. And, best of all, they are ready to go with no training and no orientation. It’s a perfect answer to many of our difficulties.”
“This is thought provoking but, now you put it into words, It seems obvious. On reflection, I can’t understand why nobody thought of it before. What do you suggest?”
“First, we need to pass on this understanding to all the Taurians who are working on Androm and we need to move all other available robots to Androm as soon as possible to bolster the construction efforts there. Next I have to brief all the human leaders and their teams. All of us have been totally under-utilizing them and having to do all sorts of tasks that they can do better and faster. Once we arrive on Androm all robots will join the task teams that their humans are involved in. Don’t you see, this changes everything, particularly if we can scale up the production and distribution of all the materials we need. The overall timescale for completion of the project has just shrunk considerably. Our chances of beating any crisis on Taurus are now probable instead of just possible.”
“I understand now, Jamie,” replied the commander, scratching his chin as he came to terms with Jamie’s vision of how to proceed. “You have a real talent for seeing possibilities that others miss. I think this will build hope that Taurians have not felt for a while. Well done. Please go ahead as you see fit I will mobilize my people both on Androm and on Taurus and I will make sure that all robots that we can commandeer will be delivered to the Androm workings as soon as possible.”
“Thank you commander. Now I have two questions. What had you in mind for Teacher once we land? And second, what are you and your leaders going to be doing?”
“No decisions have been made regarding the future of myself and my team. We assume that will be made clear when we make our reports. As for Teacher and the other three hundred and forty nine others like him. We would normally just reassign them. Why do you ask?”
“I’d like to suggest that all the Teachers become team leaders of the robots that accompany each team of humans. I will start to familiarize my Teacher on the roles and responsibilities. They will then be instantaneously be passed on to all the others. As far as you and your team are concerned. I’d like to recommend to your ruling committee that you, as a group, become the overall commanders of the different aspects of the Androm project. You all now see, understand and buy into the vision of how it can all happen. I feel that is critical.”
“Hmmm! I hadn’t thought that far, but, what you say makes sense. I will speak to the Matriarch immediately about this whole idea. I suspect she will be thrilled. Thank you for this. I can see how far reaching it will be.”
Jamie left the commander sitting pondering, and rushed off to brief his team before talking to the leaders of the twenty three so that the new vision could be spread through the armada.
The next days were frantic as all the aspects of Jamie’s idea percolated throughout the participants in the Androm project. There was an almost immediate rise in productivity in the construction of the dwellings and quickly materials production became the bottleneck. Raw materials consignments to Androm were stepped up to meet revised production schedules and much activity was focused on upping production capacities.
Time passed in a blur for the humans on ship one until Teacher brought the news that Androm was now only hours away. The team dropped everything they were doing and rushed to the bridge, tailed by the newly recruited robot auxiliaries.
They gazed through the huge viewing window and got their first live view of the planet that was going to be their home for at least the next few years.