The mining of precious minerals had been a task man had undertaken for millennia. As Earth’s supplies had dwindled and mankind had reached for the stars their insatiable appetite for raw supplies had grown even more. Planets, moons and asteroids were all ripe for the plucking and the Government soon swooped in to ensure their cut of the profits. Mining stations had been set up wherever there was a large enough deposit of particular ores to warrant the investment and as technology increased so did both the demand for the materials and the methods of extracting them.
The first robots had been automatons, bulky machines that possessed a single-mindedness matched only by their physical strength. They could bury into a planets surface and hall out more rock than any man could in a year, yet they lacked the capacity to make rational decisions. Every eventuality had to be compensated for, early A1s had dug through into magma flows and kept on going until they were nothing more than slag before their controllers could react and pull them back.
Huge amounts of money were spent trying to create more intelligent machines, each successive model becoming smarter and quicker at learning of their environment until eventually the very first cybernetic brains were rolled out. Yet humanity distrusted these new machines, labelling them as too human, too dangerous to existing morals. The manufacturing companies invested heavily in marketing, preaching the Three Laws of Robotics hardwired into every robot such that it could never harm a human being. Now, in the year 2389, most robots were relegated to the lives of simple machines, toiling away in factories and in mines under the careful gaze of ever paranoid workers.
The boardroom on Asteroid-098-mining-facility-Alpha was cold, the brushed silver walls punctuated only by the black trim and screens that lined the edges. The large table that consumed most of the floor space and could comfortably seat a dozen or more currently only hosted two guests who sat in deep thought. The man reclined backwards in his chair, his spotless military uniform declaring him a General and as such temporary commander of this facility until such time as he left. The woman sat perched over the edge of the synthetic wooden table, her thin hands clasped into what looked like a silent prayer. Finally she broke the silence.
“Explain it to me again?”
The older man wiped at his forehead with a fresh handkerchief before retelling the story of events again.
“At 0600 hours this morning we found the body of one James Ackeroy, brutally murdered in one of the lower mine shafts. He had been working during the night shift, supervising the robots while they worked on the tunnel wall.”
“Yes yes, I know that, but what else?”
“You must understand that this is classified information and will not be leaked to the public under any circumstances.” He dabbed at his forehead again, aware of the glistening sweat that continued to break out.
“General Clements, I can assure you that such a leak would not only damage your operations here, it would irrevocably devastate both Robotic Systems Limited of which I am a representative, and also the entire human-robot relationship that we have fought so hard to build up over the past 200 years. So you see, a potentially tiny incident could be the end for an entire industry.”
“With all due respect Doctor Smith I don’t think you can call the murder of a human being by a robot a ‘tiny incident’.”
“Of course General, I meant no disrespect at all. It is just that all humans are considered innocent until proven guilty, yet this robot has already been tried and sentenced by most reasonable accounts. I’m sure had it been a normal man he would not have received such harsh judgment.”
“Doctor,” General Clements began, clasping his hands before him.
“Please, Samantha, I feel we have already passed the point of formality.” He grinned slightly at her openness, but had to continue nonetheless.
“Samantha, you must understand the circumstances in which the pair were found. Ackeroy had been gutted, he was a mess, the rock walls were lined with…. Well I hope you get the picture. And there was LN-8, quietly sitting beside the man, staring off at nothing. The first person on the scene screamed to high hell before running back the way he came full pelt. I was called by the security officer in charge of this facility as he felt the situation was out of his jurisdiction. When we reached the scene of the crime the robot was still sitting there, completely blank, almost as if it was on a charge-cycle.”
“Was it in anyway damaged?” Samantha asked slowly.
“Nothing we could notice past the usual nicks, and then there was all the blood. It responded to our orders instantly though, we escorted it to the brig with a guard of two dozen men. Not that the brig could hold it if it so wished to be free.”
“And this unfortunate man, what of him now?”
“The base medic went down to perform a preliminary post-mortem, but this is the first murder we’ve had here since operations began five years ago, he was dumbfounded needless to say. He could not work out what had killed the poor man first, though he suspected that any one of the numerous injuries could have resulted in death itself.” At this the General paused and Samantha could see the pain of the situation etched into his face. “I had the body placed in the morgue, and a communication sent to his family on the sub-ether channel. He had a wife and two children on Titan.”
“How long had be been stationed on A089?” Samantha questioned, eager to keep the man talking lest he slip into despair.
“Thirteen months, his next rotation was still five months off.”
“Any friends, people who knew him well?”
“Heck the entire night crew. These teams get real tight after a while, each man looking out for the next around those crazed robots.”
“Please, General, we don’t know that the robot committed this crime.”
“What the hell else could of Doctor?” the General retorted angrily, his heavy fist balling up on the table. “Any man found sitting by the corpse of another would immediately be made the prime suspect.”
“Yes General, suspect; of whom we must now question to determine the course of events that led up to these circumstances.”
“You don’t think the robot did it?” he asked, baffled at this womans’ thinking.
“General, you must understand, I am a psychologist trained to analyse mechanical minds. And the underpinning feature of every machine is the Three Laws, this robot could not have so violently butchered the man, lest a fault have developed, in which case I will find it and report to my superiors so that the robot may be destroyed.”
“But why didn’t it call for help,” the General pleaded, shaking his head angrily, “Isn’t that part of the First Law, that a robot must try to protect a human from harm? Why didn’t it help the man, why didn’t it try and find another supervisor in the tunnel, surely there must have been one?”
“All good questions General that I intend to answer, but in the meantime I need a complete working history of both the deceased and the robot.”
“Then you shall have it, but please Doctor, find out what happened quickly, so that I can quash the rumours that will surely abound.”
Doctor Samantha Smith could give no guarantees, the task ahead would not be covered by any existing procedure, the first possible murder of a human by a sentient machine. It didn’t bear thinking about.