Dr. Hartford raced through the corridors of the colony city, pushing the transport to its limits. At his side was Carl-1X, a created man, a robot. The engine whined and they slowed to a stop.
“Come on. We’ll have to walk from here,” said Dr. Hartford.
Carl-1X complied, following Dr. Hartford further into the interior of the city’s structures.
“What will happen to the people in the city?” asked Carl-1X.
“What do you think? They’ll probably die when the Gorth arrive,” said Dr. Hartford.
“Will the Gorth kill them?” asked Carl-1X.
“Yes, and they’ll kill me if we don’t get to our escape shuttle,” said Dr. Hartford.
“Life is precious,” said Carl-1X.
They entered a long narrow corridor resembling a metallic cave. Ahead of them could be heard the desperate shouts of colonists stranded in the city.
“Yes, life is precious. I taught you well Carl,” said the Doctor as he pulled his energy pistol from its holster.
“Then why did you kill graduate assistant Patrick Kelly?” asked Carl-1X, his tone nonjudgmental.
“I’m sorry you had to see that, Carl. But the escape shuttle is only big enough for two people. I could tell he was getting desperate,” said Doctor Hartford as he crept down the corridor toward the mob of colonists.
“Survival?” asked Carl.
“We’re getting into a gray area. I’ll explain it better once we’re away from here and safe,” said Dr. Hartford.
They stopped and watched the crowd. About 50 colonists blocked the way. Women clutched their children. Men shouted. And over them all was the specter of death.
“Get ready Carl. You’ll have to push through this mob if they can’t be reasoned with.”
Carl-1X scanned the faces of the crowd. “I must not hurt them, but we must survive, correct?”
Dr. Hartford nodded as he adjusted the output on his weapon. “Yes. You must be firm, but try not to injure them, though they will surely try to harm you.”
“I do not understand why they would harm us,” said Carl-1X.
“They don’t understand how important you are Carl. They’re nothing but panicked fools incapable of seeing the big picture. They can’t see that your artificial mind is the next generation in AI. I have to take you back to Earth and present you to my peers. They sent me away to this academic exile, but I’ll show them my genius,” said Dr. Hartford.
“There he is! They have a shuttle!” screamed one of the colonists.
Dr. Hartford raised his pistol. “That’s right. And that shuttle is property of Stellar University Earth! Now make a hole so I and my project can get through.”
A woman holding a baby begged, “Please. Take my child. You have room.”
The good doctor shook his head. “Sorry, madam, but my escape shuttle is a two man craft. If I could, I would take all your children, but I don’t have the room.”
“Two-seater? There’s only one of you! I’ll give you $100,000 for the other spot!” announced an overweight man in a suit.
“I’m afraid not. I have to take my robot,” said Dr. Hartford.
A cry went up from the mob. Curses sailed at Carl-1X.
“That’s ridiculous! You can’t take a machine when there are human beings. The Gorth don’t take prisoners. We’ll die!” said another man.
“I don’t expect you to understand my reasons. You’re obviously too stupid to see the importance of my work. So just get out of my way!” said the doctor.
“Reconsider. Don’t you have empathy? You can fit at least five or six small children in the place of two adults,” reasoned the woman with the baby, tears falling on her cheeks.
“Empathy? There’s more to this than empathy. Now get out of the way. I don’t have time for this,” said the Doctor.
The crowd was staunch. They eyed Doctor Hartford and his artificial man, sneering. “We’ll make him give up his shuttle!” screamed a voice and the mob advanced.
The doctor fired a short pulse from his pistol, laying low a colonist. “Carl! Make a hole!”
Carl’s hydraulic legs pumped as his crashed into the first row of the mad colonists. Doctor Hartford shot another charging man then turned his sights on the woman with the baby. It was unfortunate, but in her attempt to retreat she had moved in front of the doctor’s next target. Collateral damage.
Carl tossed a muscle-bound manual laborer into the wall of the corridor as he pushed through the crowd. The colonists lost their courage and scattered into adjoining corridors in the face of the powerful robot and his laser toting creator.
Carl-1X and Dr. Hartford entered the spaceport. It was empty. Everyone who had transport off the planet had already escaped. The invading Gorth had a murderous and utterly unreasonable reputation.
They passed storage bays cluttered with forklifts, power tools, rations, storage crates, industrial power cells, and everything else that lacked importance in the face of certain death. They made their way to the wing of the spaceport where the emergency vessels were.
Dr. Hartford smiled before exclaiming, “Huzzah! It’s still here, my boy.”
A semi-circular concrete structure went partly around the spaceport. It had openings extending to individual platforms for escape shuttles. Every platform was empty except for one. Stenciled above the archway to the shuttle’s door was the proclamation: Property of Stellar University Earth – Reserved for Dr. Hartford and Grad Assistant Kelly. The doctor punched his security code into a panel on the door.
“Will I sleep?” asked Carl-1X.
“Not really. I’ll be in suspended animation. A hibernation state. But you’ll power down,” said Dr. Hartford.
“Is it far?” asked Carl-1X
“Yes. The last I heard Earth was sending cruisers to intercept survivors. The shuttle will navigate and we’ll float for months. Maybe years,” said the Doctor.
“My energy supply won’t last that long. Even if I power down, my power cells will eventually die.”
Dr. Hartford still had the energy pistol in his hand. He holstered it then put a consoling hand on Carl-1X’s metallic shoulder. “You’ll survive. Though, you may have memory loss. Your hardware will endure and that’s the important thing.”
Carl-1X did not show emotion. “Will I remember who I am? Will I live?”
Dr. Hartford laughed softly. “Oh Carl. You’re like a child. Don’t worry about dying. I can recreate the mind in your head. I can even make a new person with the correct programing. I just need your body to survive so I can show all the disbelievers back at the University.”
The expansiveness of space is truly awesome. The escape shuttle accelerated toward Earth against a backdrop of blackness and stars. Like a cocoon waiting to open, it floated, lonely and delicate. Months later it decelerated as it approached an Earth cruiser.
“It’s docking now, Sir,” said the Tech-sergeant.
The officer on duty crossed his arms and waited. The automated bay swallowed up the escape shuttle, pulling it inside the cruiser.
The tech-sergeant went to the portal and began securing the clamps.
“Are they alive?” asked the officer.
“We’ll know in second, sir.”
The portal hissed as the bay compressed air. The shuttle was positioned at the portal and the tech-sergeant opened the hatch.
“What the!?” sputtered the officer.
A robot exited the shuttle and stood before them silently.
“I didn’t expect a robot in an escape shuttle,” said the officer, scowling.
“That’s a new one for me too,” said the tech-sergeant.
“Identify,” commanded the officer.
“My designation is Carl-1X. I am the property of Stellar University Earth.”
“There’s another hibernation compartment. I’ll check it,” said the tech-sergeant.
The tech-sergeant went into the shuttle. Seconds later he returned to report.
“Nothing in there but a spent power cell. One of those big industrial kind.”
“Well, this was pointless. I guess there aren’t any more survivors. Damn Gorth butchers. Secure this robot in the cargo hold, sergeant,” said the officer and walked away.
“I need power. I want to live,” said Carl-1X.
“Yeah, sure pal. Just plug yourself into a wall socket.”
The tech-sergeant led the robot to the cargo-hold. Strange, thought the sergeant. He’d never heard a robot say it wanted to live. Wonder where it learned that?