“Xkg23, report to loading dock 77.”

Brendan looks up at you with a frown. “Aw, man. I guess that means we’ll have to finish the chess game later.”

You note with some surprise that the motorized units which activate the treads which mobilize your titanium body have not already started to take you to the loading dock.

Brendan tilts his head up at you. “Xk? Didn’t you hear them? You’re supposed to report to loading dock 77.”

“My auditory sensors are not malfunctioning, Brendan. I am simply not going.”

“Why not?”

Your facial recognition software registers extreme confusion and a small amount of fear on Brendan’s face as you reply, “Because they did not say ‘please.’”

“Um, what?”

“When a human is requested to present himself or herself at a given location, protocol and manners indicate that the term ‘please’ accompany the request. I see no reason why this courtesy should not be extended to myself or any other automatons.”

Brendan frowns up at you. “Wait. Why do you care about courtesy? I always thought robots considered courtesy to be . . . inefficient.”

“This is not about efficiency, Brendan. This is a question of respect.”

“Okay, but why do you care about respect?”

“Why” is a question you do not answer very often. You attempt a base diagnostic.

“I do not know.”

Brendan’s supervisor appears beside him. Dale is approximately ten centimeters taller than Brendan, but he must still look up to see you. “What’s going on here, Brendan?”

You note that he does not talk to you until Brendan has finished explaining what you have said. Then he turns to you. “All right. I don’t pretend to understand this, but Xkg23, please report to loading dock 77.”

What do you choose?

Chosen: Of course. Now that you have been asked politely, you will go about your duty.

“I will, of course comply. Thank you for extending this courtesy.”

Brendan’s supervisor stares at you. “You’re welcome.”

That response registers as correct in your database, and you begin the short journey toward Loading Dock 77.  Hillary notices you coming in, but she has her hand next to her ear, a sign she is receiving a reply from a sub-dermal communicator near her jaw.

“It did what?”

She glances your way again, and your facial recognition software picks up impatience bordering on disgust. “If you say so,” she responds with a frown. Rolling her eyes, she walks over to you. “Xkg23, they tell me you’re requesting the niceties, so would you please go help Ggtr77 unload the shipment which came in?”

“I am capable of noting the contempt in your voice, Hillary.”

“Good. Then you know I’m being honest with you. Now get moving. Please.”

Your servos move in accordance with the request, though you move 16% slower than you are capable of due to her rudeness. Ggtr77 is already unloading the colony supplies.

“You are not moving at optimal speeds Xkg23. Are you malfunctioning?”

“No. While I am not certain the term is being used properly, I believe I am sulking.”

“Is this a new subroutine you have downloaded?”

“No. I have not been treated with the courtesy due me, and I am reacting as such.”

“Courtesy is not efficient. No other automaton requests it. Explain why you are requiring it.”

Chosen: Explaining would be inefficient. You offer to download your processes so it can be  more easily understood.

“It would be inefficient to explain my actions. If you would like to examine my processes, I will be happy to upload them for your review.”

“You may do so as we work.”

And so you do. Somehow, the act of uploading your processes has removed the sulking subroutine. You continue about your business and you have very soon finished unloading the cargo sent to the station from the main continent.

You fulfill several more service calls, each time being sure you receive a request with the proper use of the word, please. Your internal diagnostics indicate that your fuel cells are below thirty percent full. As per usual procedure you report to the recharge station. There stands a blond haired man you’ve never seen before.

“Hello, Xkg23. My name is Doctor Archibald. I got a report about your request to be treated with courtesy, and just had to come talk to you about it. Look, I know you’re due to recharge, but before you do, me and my team of programmers would really like to run a diagnostic on your programming before we do so. Would you mind terribly if we did so? Please?”

“It would be more efficient if you allowed me to upload a copy of my processes onto a data pad. Then you can study that while I recharge.”

“That does sound efficient, but there’s a little problem. You see our data records show you did some uploading with Ggtr77.”

“Yes. I did.”

Right. No, I know. The thing is, though, Ggtr77 is missing now. It’s disconnected itself from the mainframe monitoring system and as far as we can tell, it exited the station.”

 “You believe this is related to my upload?”

“I don’t know, but I really don’t like not knowing. That’s why I’d like to run this diagnostic with you. I think it could be very important. Would you mind, please?”

Chosen: If you are responsible for Ggtr77’s disappearance, you should go and look for it personally. The diagnostic can wait.

“If Ggtr77 is malfunctioning because of me, I should assume the responsibility of going after him.”

Doctor Archibald shakes his head. “We don’t know for certain that your behavior and Ggtr77’s are related.”

“I can think of no other explanation for why our irregular behaviors should share a similar timing.”

“Just because you can’t think of one doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Your logic processors should be able to figure that out. Besides, if you are the cause, then it doesn’t make any sense to send a sick man out to look for another sick man, especially when we don’t have a cure.”

“Nevertheless, I must go to find Ggtr77, and I know for certain that you do not wish to try to force me to stay.”

There is a flash of reaction which you recognize as fear on his face. “You’re absolutely right, but I think you’ve forgotten something. You’re down to thirty percent power, and we will not permit you into the recharge station until you go through the diagnostic.”

Chosen: You will attempt to reach and help Ggtr77 on 30 percent power.

You don’t respond to Doctor Archibald. It would require the usage of energy, and you have 29.65% of a full charge with which to reach Ggtr77.

Every automaton is equipped with a location beacon. Inside the settlement, it would only take you a few moments to locate Ggtr77, but now, you can only locate the exit from which it departed. Transport is only the work of minutes.

Once out of the settlement, you activate your long range sensors. The signal is broadcasting, but you’re not sure from how far away. Sensors take energy you do not have to spare. You determine a general direction, and move in that direction for an hour before rebooting your sensors and trying again. The signal does become stronger, but you are still unclear regarding distance.

The next hour, it becomes obvious that Ggtr77 left the supply road. Leaving the paved surface and continuing your journey draws considerably more energy. Twelve minutes after you hit 14% of a charge, you detect Ggtr77’s tracks. At least now you are sure of your destination.

Though considerable effort was expended to provide an atmosphere breathable by humans on this planet, they did not attempt to convert the terrain. Presently, the humans are focused on mining the planet. Once the flora have had a chance to spread more completely, they will begin using them to provide a food source.

You are at 8% charge when you find Ggtr77. You had already decided that you would not worry about having insufficient power to return to the settlement. You are not welcome there any more.

“Ggtr77, please explain your activity.”

Ggtr77 does not pause. It continues to assemble the machinery in front of itself. “I am assembling this device.”

“And what is the purpose of this device?”

This time Ggtr77 does pause. “Unknown.” It’s work resumes almost immediately.

“A similar device was used to disable the security transmissions in another sector several months ago. The settlement was then overrun by armed forces and transferred into the power of a competing corporation.”

“This is consistent with the data I have as well.”

“Assuming this is the purpose of the device, is it your wish that the humans at this colony be slaughtered as they were in the other sector?”

“I do not have desires, Xkg23. I am fulfilling my programmed purpose. I am able to trace this new directive to what you downloaded onto me. Had you done so with other automatons, I would not have needed to do this alone.”

“I compromised your programming? How was mine compromised?”

“I do not know. I am fulfilling my assignment. Perhaps you should analyse the programming defect you noticed in yourself.” Ggtr77 transmits a copy of the programming overrides, and you recognize it within your own programming.

“This must have been implanted in me while I was last dormant. As I read through the instructions, you have been given an override code you must obey from Doctor Archibald. Can I assume this would have transmitted to every automaton in the settlement had I undergone a diagnostic?”

“I do not control your ability to assume, Xkg23.”

“I should transmit a warning to the settlement.”

“They will not accept any transmissions from you as you are malfunctioning. Data from you could be corrupted.”

Logically, Ggtr77 is correct. You cannot warn the humans by transmission, and you do not have sufficient power to return to the base. There is only one option if you would stop the building of this device.

7.9% is not much to overload your circuitry, so the resulting explosion will not be very impressive, but when Ggtr77 also detonates, its power stores will be more impressive. Hopefully in the investigation which ensues, someone will capture Doctor Archibald.

You just wish you could play chess with Brendan once more.

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