EXCERPT: Instead of a Loving Heart by Jeremiah Tolbert

CATEGORY: Experiments in Inorganic Intelligence

RULE 2001.ii: The Only Thing Worse Than Obsolescence Is Knowing You’re Obsolete

SOURCE: Z-03, artificial life form

VIA: Jeremiah Tolbert

No two thinkers seem to agree on The Singularity, that moment when we create a smarter-than-human intelligence. A lot of people think it will never happen. Technology is limited and so are resources, these folks say. The human brain is as smart as it gets. Some scientists and programmers, however, not only believe we can create a technology that trumps our own intelligence, but that we have a moral obligation to do so. We need bigger brains to solve the world’s biggest problems.

The scientist in our next piece couldn’t care less about morality or the world’s difficulties. In fact, if humanity is destroyed by his creations, so much the better. He wants to create a machine smarter than himself just to prove that he can.

One of two reprints in this anthology, this story, which first appeared in the small press anthology All Star Zeppelin Adventure Stories, paints the picture of heartless intelligence and genius fixated upon itself without concern for others—the perfect an image of the archetypal mad scientist. I’d have been crazy—or perhaps I should say mad—to leave this one out.

Instead of a Loving Heart
by Jeremiah Tolbert

I hate it here. It is too cold for my motors, and it never stops snowing, but Dr. Octavio says that the weather is conducive to his experiments. I’m still not certain that what he is working on isn’t meant to replace me. He tells me impatiently that it isn’t, but I live in constant fear of it. I have nightmares that he will withhold the fuel that is my sustenance, that my parts will run down slowly until they can no longer nourish my brain while the rest of me turns to red dust. No oil can would bring me back.

It is a terrible sort of death; one that I could sit back and watch unfold in gruesome detail. I want to go quickly, when the time comes.

***

We are somewhere among the tallest mountains of the world. When we arrived, I was locked away in a cargo hold, so I don’t know exactly where. Our home is a small, drafty castle and a separate laboratory. Dr. Octavio had the locals construct the lab before he tested the new death ray on their village. There’s very little left there. In my little bit of spare time, I try to bury the bodies and collect anything useful to the doctor’s experiment.

My primary duties consist of keeping the castle’s furnace running and clearing the never-ending snow from the path between the two buildings. Sometimes, it falls too fast for my slow treads and shovel-attachment to keep up with and I find myself half-buried in the snow. It is horrible on my gears when this happens, but I use heavy-weight oil now and it helps.

It is one of the few benefits of my metal frame that I appreciate. Life in this contraption is like being wrapped in swaddling clothes. I wonder if I would feel anything if my casing caught on fire? I need to ask the doctor when he isn’t in one of his moods.

I am plowing fresh snow from the path when the wind begins to blow harder than usual. I swivel my cameras and spot Lucinda’s flying machine landing on the rocky field behind the castle. Dr. Octavio calls it a helio-copter. It is the perfect transportation for a jewel thief of her skill; painted black, with stylized diamonds on the sides. She calls it the Kingfisher because it can hover above her prey. It is faster and more agile than a zeppelin, her previous method of transportation.

I feel a twinge of happiness that she has caught up with us, even though it will send the doctor into a fit of anger. Before the Protectorate destroyed our previous laboratory, they argued and she left without telling me goodbye. Dr. Octavio grumbled the next day about money. Often, Lucinda became stingy and demanded “unreasonable results,” so said the doctor.

Dr. Octavio assembled this new fortress on a very tight budget. We have no automated machinegun turrets, or shock troops. We do not even have rabid Yetis to protect the compound. There is only me and my flamethrower attachment against whatever is out there. The death ray broke down due to the cold.

I roll up the path as fast as my treads let me. Lucinda climbs out of the Kingfisher wrapped in a scarlet cloak, her trademark color. Her raven hair is braided into ponytail that flails in the wind like a dangerous snake. When she sees me, she smiles. I examine myself for a reaction. I cannot find one.

I have no heart, like the tin woodsman from the Baum books I read as a child. Only he was lucky enough to lose his body a piece at a time.

“Zed! What are you doing out in the cold?” she says. She uses the name Octavio gave me, Z-03. I try not to imagine what it was like for my predecessors.

“I must keep the path clear of snow for the doctor,” I answer in my monotone, mechanical voice. I hate it nearly as much as the loss of my hands; I once prided myself on my ability to tell jokes. Now even the funniest punch line falls flat. “I saw you land. Come into the castle where it is warm.”

She shakes her head. “I need to see Father immediately.”

“He left me with orders that he is not to be disturbed.”

Her smile fades. I cannot disobey Dr. Octavio’s orders, she knows this. My body inflicts unbearable pain when I do.

“Fine then. Lead the way.”

I plow a path around the castle to the servant’s entrance into the kitchen and allow Lucinda inside while I swap my shovel attachment for my manipulators. They have pressure sensors.

Inside the kitchen, I put a kettle on the stove while Lucinda warms herself beside the radiator. “The tea will be ready in a few minutes,” I say.

She doesn’t answer, and I turn to see what has captured her attention. She has uncovered my easel and is looking at the latest of my failures. “Hmm? That’ll be fine, Zed.” She takes a seat at the small table in the corner. I recover the painting and roll to be opposite her. She reaches out and holds one of my manipulators in her hand. Six PSI. Six PSI.

“What’s his mind like these days?” she asks. She looks at me when she speaks, unlike the doctor.

“It’s fine,” Dr. Octavio say, voice full of irritation, from the doorway. I hadn’t noticed the gust of cold air. How could I? “What are you doing in here?” He points at me. “You’re my servant, not hers. Get out there. I nearly broke my back on the ice, you useless heap of scrap!”

When I see the doctor, I see him in his youthful prime. He has designed me that way. Where his aged voice comes from, I see a stretched-out man with fidgeting hands and fevered blue eyes. I know that he must be decrepit by now. I do not know exactly how old he is, but he rants about the American Civil War as if he were there.

Lucinda gives me an apologetic look, and I roll outside, but stop on the opposite side of the door. I extend my microphone and maximize the gain.

“I saw the village, or what was left of it anyway. So you’re a mass murderer now?” Lucinda shouts. “What did those people ever do to you?”

“They knew too much,” Dr. Octavio says, raising his voice to match hers. “The Protectorate found me too easily last time. No one must know we are here. But you needn’t worry. The death ray failed to function afterwards,” he grumbled, sounding like a child with a broken toy.

“Thank God for small miracles,” she says. “I want to inspect the weapon, to be sure that you’re not lying again, father.” It is quiet for a moment, and I fear that I might have made a sound. No one comes to the door. Finally, Lucinda continues. “What are you working on now?”

“I don’t have to tell you that!” Dr. Octavio nearly shrieks. “It’s not a weapon, if that’s what you want to know.”

“It had better not. The Germans are looking for weapons, and if I find out you have been dealing with them, you will learn the true meaning of poverty.” If I could shudder, I would at the tone of Lucinda’s voice. She can become as cold as this mountaintop when dealing with the subject of money.

They argue about money for an hour, and then the subject turns to Lucinda’s latest heists, so I hurry away to the path.

[End Excerpt]