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II. Madness

The mission ends the day after the communicator incident, and as soon as we arrive back Home they put me in the hands of the Corps' medical service. For the following week, they put me through all kind of medical tests to find out what, exactly, has happened to me, but the only difference they manage to detect is a change in my brain activity in certain moments that coincide with the “maniatic fugue” fits I get, and in which I begin to mess up with anything on my reach, trying to turn it in something that should not work, but does.

In the end, they let me go. OK, actually, they put me under the vigilance of Joaquin, the chief of the Corps' scientific section, telling him that I can work as long as it is not something “interesting” - I believe they did not like to find out I had transformed the ECG sensor into a life detector.

However, Joaquin is a great guy, and knows that I can do things that are not in the reach of a normal person, so he sends me to 8E75A, which has one of the best labs in the entire multiverse. There, he says, I will be able to give free rein to what I do, and he also asks me that, please, could I make sure I do not destroy the laboratory? We both laugh at that, and Joaquin also gives me a few ideas which I could begin to work with, because, who knows, maybe I will be able to find the solution to one of the many questions that, even a century after the Corps were formed, remain unanswered.


8E75A is a world that would give a huge heart attack to the top brass of the National Front, those idiots that want us to “return to our roots”, and they want to do that by voting on such conservatives laws that even the folks in the nineteenth century would have balked at. 8E75A is a very modern world, where science is well respected by everyone and religion is secondly – or even thirdly - in the scale of importance. The world is more or less unified under a League of Nations that makes sure the other states do not act in detriment of the others, and they also determine the international policies, such as the construction of a sincrotron or the soon-to-come Moon travel – they are still in fhe seventies. Also, they make sure that people, no matter their origin, race, sex or sexual orientation – and many more things – is treated correctly: all the negative '-ism's of our life are completely illegal.

The League of Nations' leaders know about our existence, and we have some kind of alliance/quite profitable trading relationship. Ordinary mortals, they do not know we exist, but that's for the future. Either way, we take good advantage of they space we have in the laboratory they allowed us to build in the La Mancha plains. Joaquin puts me in charge of a new division in the research group, officially called “Group of non-conventional technology experimentation”, but we are soon nicknamed, warmly, “the wacko scientists”. The only official wacko here is me, but with the others in the team being youngsters that are just as enthusiastic about what I can do, they have also earned themselves the nickname.

First thing we work with is on a stunner gun. The idea is having a portable device that can knock out a person at a distance, without causing unduly harm – tasers do not work for that, they have caused way too many trouble because of the high voltages they use to shock their victim. The problem here is, of course, to find a way to cause an unconsciousness state in the human being in a fast and non-painful way.

Of course, actually trying to do that is hard as a rock.

Our first attempt is to block the signals the body sends to the brain for a few seconds. Tests on mice are a complete failure, because the poor guys go a bit mad when they recover consciousness. They do recover some time later, but it is obvious that we cannot use t on humans.

The second possibility we think about is to “freeze” our objectives. Well, freeze in a figurative sense. If we manage to put them into a temporal bubble where time passes much more slowly, it should be possible to stop them for long enough to arrest them or something else. The tests with the mice looks like it works, as well as with the chimpanzees. Trying it with humans is a bit harder, mostly because few people are willing to stay frozen in time. But few does not mean none, and soon we get one volunteer for the task. The gun works correctly at the beginning, but when the effects dissipate, the volunteer shouts in pain.

When he wakes up, the volunteer tells us that, to him, it was as if everything was stopping and accelerating at the same time, so it really hurt after he got out of the bubble. It is as if we have really stopped time, but what happens later is well out of the allowed parameters. No idea of why it does not affect animals in the same way, but no reason to think about it know. If it cannot be used in humans without harming them

who gives a damn

damn, it happened again, then it is not worth the effort.

It would be just a matter of making them sleep, fast and easy, and then doing experiments on them, I am sure I could begin to improve...

No, no, no, nothing about “improving”, your idea of how to do that is to start changing their internal organs with machines that have not even been tested.

Come on, we do have to test it on someone, and they became volunteers for the experiment.

They became volunteers for ONE experiment, not to become guinea pigs for your ideas. But you have given me a good one.


For the third prototype, I begin by asking Natalie, my team's expert in chemistry, and Francis, the doctor, and both of them tell me how to solve some of the problems that I have just found. When we solve it, it will be able to help us with the current project.

A week later, we make the first test. On mice, of course. Perfect success this time, as it works on all of them and the mice wake up without any apparent consequences. Two weeks later, the mice show no other problems, so we continue the tests, this time on chimpanzees, who also recover without a problem.

The first test on humans is a complete success. Just a hit with the gun, and our first volunteer, a local guy called Pepe, is snoring like a chainsaw, and the only thing required to wake him up is to hit him with the other side of the device I've developed – even though he would have woken up in a few hours on his own, we do need to make sure that there will not be anything wrong.

It is just a matter of kickstarting his entering the deep sleep phase to make the objective go to sleep, and it leaves no big consequences. Sure, there is a bit of a problem with the circadian rhythms, but nothing that cannot be solved in a couple of days.

And, the best of all, it has more applications than just this one. Come here, ladies and gentlemen, if you have insomnia you will be to fall asleep, one hundred percent guaranteed and without trouble.

OK, I have to admit it is not exactly one hundred percent. We test the gun with another ninety-nine people: while ninety five of them fall asleep, two just start getting tickled, another is not affected, and the last one starts to recite the entire periodic table, lantanides and actinides included. That was so hilarious, that I think everyone in the team laughed harder than the ones that got tickled.

When we show the device, the bosses are enthusiastic. Even though there is a small percentage of people that are not affected, it is still far more effective and clean than anything else that exists right now. More tests must be carried out, but that's out of our hands – they will take care of it in another laboratory.

Now, we are charged with another project: an auton like the one I saw a few weeks ago, but that can be mass-produced. That's certainly more complicated than what we did before. I might be able to build an auton that can build things, but... auton-making autons? That's a big deal.

A wacko auton? Sure, it is not exactly the wacko department, but it can be done. Maybe it's just a matter of priming one of them with the need to reproduce, but, hey I'd bet that they would be able to make lots of interesting things if we let them loose. Ohh, they might even create an auton army that can TAKE OVER THE WORLD-

Sorry, pal. I just want an auton-making auton, I don't want to become a B-movie villain.

Damn, that's so boring.

Deal with it.

In a film, when you see this thing about people talking to themselves, it is either hilarious or incredibly dramatic. In my case, it becomes a bit repetitive, to have an internal voice with megalomaniacal tendencies. Well, at least I always have someone to speak with. And it does even give some good ideas from time to time.

I begin to work on the auton. First thing, the design. A huge case, made out of stainless steel. It won't need to have a head, so the important thing will go in the body itself. Couple of eyes in the center. Two legs. Five arms? Yes, I guess that it will be easier for it to make everything it has to do.

“Looks great,” Joaquin mentions.

“Just wait until I finish making it,” I reply, “you'll see how cool it is. Now, I need six steel sheets of thirty by thirty square centimiters, about three hundred rivets, five steel tubes of thirty centimeters, five of twenty, fifteen of five...” and I continue rattling off a long list of things that I hope will not be too expensive.

“Just give me a week.”

Six days later, we receive two industrial-sized containers full of the materials I requested to build up that auton. I don't know what Joaquin told the top brass, but it looks like they do not mind what I am doing.

“People on the top are really interested in the possibility of having things like those at A4A7A. Like Asimov's robots, but far more versatile.”

“Not sure if I will be able to put the three laws in them.”

“Just make it part of the package.”

As if I did not have enough of a load, already.

But I will try it.


The next day, I grab the plans and hang them in the hangar-turned-workshop, showing them to the team.

“Why five arms?”

“One to hold things, two to grab pieces and the other two to manipulate. And when it comes to making smaller objects, it can just alternate arms.”


We begin to build. We start with the legs, which are human-like: you can always study some anatomy when it comes down to engineering. Leonardo did it, and built up lots of awesome things. Pity that he was never able to fulfill those projects.

The legs done, I get four of the kids to take charge of the arms, divided in three parts and with three fingers at the end, while the rest of us work on the inner gears, the guts, so to speak, and soon we have

the connection to the arms, to the legs, control zone, a small electronic brain to allow him to reason, but without going too far, just in case it decides to go crazy and start to say stupid things, and how about a heart? Would be awesome if it had one. Pity that it has no weapons, but, hey, a blowtorch could be useful for its work, and it will probably even want to speak...

Someone shakes my shoulder.

“Damn, John. Again?”

I close my eyes, and I let my cognitive capacity return to normal levels.

In layman's terms, I brighten up.

These fugue states are really a mess. I never know what I am going to find out as a result.

When I open my eyes, I see that, in front of me, is the auton I designed, almost identical to how I had imagined it, maybe slightly bigger, but with some changes. And when did I decide to put a loudspeaker in its back?

“It's getting worse, John.”

“Thanks for waking me up, Martin. How much time have I been like this?”

“Fifty-five hours and forty minutes.”


“That I am going to take you to your room, before you drop to the ground. You have not slept at all in three days, and you barely ate at all. Because you decided to build another three autons like this one, but on a larger scale. Did you know you built one out there that looks big enough to start mounting a rocket?”

A rocket. I had never thought about it. It could be fun to do.

“Oh, wait,” I tell him. I poke the auton just between its eyes and its blowtorch-mouth, and I feel a spark going from my finger to the auton.

The auton begins to shake and to make a hoarse sound, as its arms begin to move around.


“Nice to meet you, Lancaster. I am John, and this is Martin. You can go out there if you want, but don't go too far, and don't touch anything unless they give you permission, OK?”

“BURRRR!” Lancaster answers, and soon he begins to walk to the hangar's gate, getting through it with some destruction – poor guy has not taken into account its real size – so as to get outside.

“I've just seen it, and I can't believe it,” Martin says, clearly impressed.

“Believe it, man. Good night.”

I drop down. And I fall asleep.

Me desplomo. Y me quedo dormido.


When I wake up, after thirty-six uninterrupted hours, they tell me that they are keeping an eye on Lancaster, who is still looking around and making noises, but as no one understands him, he cannot communicate with them, and he even sounds a bit sad at times.

I will have to build some device that can translate Lancaster's lowing, and that of any other auton I build.

Meanwhile, though, I have to check if Lancaster can truly do what I designed him to do, so I get outside and walk to him.

“Hi there, Lancaster,” I tell him.


“Yes, I know, and I am sorry. I had been working on you for three straight days non-stop, and I needed to rest.”


“Of course you don't need to sleep, you are an auton. But us humans are a bit more time limited.”


“I'd need a bit more of what I have here right now to do what you are suggesting, so, for the moment, I'll keep what I have right now, thank you. Say, can you try to make a mason auton? You can use the materials in that container.”


Lancaster walks to the container I have pointed out – the one with everything that was left over from making him and his siblings – and opens it, grabbing everything he needs and starting to make it, soldering where he needs and bending, cutting and joining everywhere he has to.

“Impressive, John. You have certainly made an impact.”

“You here, Joaquin? You flatter me.”

“You deserve it. The only bad thing is... do you really have to break the laws of physics whenever you start to mess around?”

“Such as?”

“First law of thermodynamics, for starters, and about twenty or thirty more. Your autons have no source of energy beyond that spark you give them at the beginning, they can keep logical conversations – at least, as far as I can tell with you – , they can reason without the need of being programmed, they have nothing that even resembles a brain... they should not exist, and yet they do.”

“I can't explain it, myself. The only thing I can come up with is that I give them the spark of life.”

Joaquin growls.

“Great. And now, you are making bad jokes.”

“Sorry, they come out on their own.”

“As long as you keep them under check, no problem.”


The bosses are enthusiastic with the new invention I've made up. With the wacko auton, they hope to use more of them to bring more cash to the organization, recruit more people and expand operations in a lot more worlds. They have even asked me to design so that they can work in any of the many lifeless worlds the Corps have discovered, so that resources may be extracted without having to send more people than strictly necessary – digging a mine is tough enough when you have to take a full protection suit and a compressed air bottle that barely gives you ten working hours, and that in an almost pure nitrogen atmosphere – but I am not concerned with that.

I ask Joaquin to give me a year to work on a personal project. When Joaquin asks me what I want to do, I tell him.

Joaquin laughs for a few minutes, and then gives me permission.

“What will you tell the bosses now?” I ask.

“I'll make something good up, don't worry. Besides, I think that you deserve to have some time for yourself, it's been six months since you last went out on a holiday.”

I check my watch – which, at some point while I slept, I modified so that it could tell the 'local' time, as well as the time at 'home' – and I find out that Joaquin is right.

“Shit, time flies when you are busy... what with everything we have been doing here, I had not even checked how long I had spent here. Don't worry, though, I'll be staying around here while I work on my project, so you'll have me on hand if there's an emergency. Though, I will need Reynolds and Simpson to give me a hand.”

“The bosses will not be happy about that.”

“I'll get them that translator so that they understand what autons say.”

“In that case...”

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