July 25, 2024
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July 25, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Chapter 2: FAQ (Fully Automatic Questioning)

Author’s note: In the previous chapter, Devorah helped Yosef search for his missing robotic cat, Isaac. Shortly after accomplishing their goal, the group encountered a pair of security robots known as Geards, which Isaac deactivated through unknown means. Because of this, Devorah decided that the best course of action would be to take Yosef in for questioning.

“You know,” Yosef said from the back seat of Devorah’s car, “I didn’t expect you to drive a manually operated vehicle. Most people have turned to self-driving cars.”

Devorah hesitated for a few minutes. “When you take part in my line of work, you come to learn that you can’t always rely on machines for everything.”

“Oh,” he began to pet Isaac, who was curled up beside him, “I can’t imagine how dangerous your job must be.”

“If it makes you feel any better, not every abnormal robot I come across is a death machine that’s out for blood,” she said. “What a lot of people don’t realize is that ‘abnormal’ doesn’t always mean harmful. It just means irregular. For example, a while back I dealt with a custodian robot designed to clean classrooms. Every now and then, it would help children reach books on higher shelves, something it wasn’t programmed to do. Of course, that doesn’t mean that they’re all harmless either. I’ve faced dangerous robots before, and probably will again. It’s my job. Fortunately, I don’t always do it alone since the company knows that deactivation staves aren’t designed for dealing with groups of two or more robots.”

Yosef gave her a confused look. “What’s a deactivation staff?”

“It’s a weapon roughly the length of a fishing pole that can retract until it’s slightly longer than a pencil,” she explained, “It’s used to, well, deactivate hostile robots. All the wielder needs to do is have either end of the staff come into contact with the robot in question in order for it to work. Unfortunately, it has a 20-minute cooldown, which is part of why I didn’t go after those Geards the moment I saw them.”

“What’s the other part?” Yosef asked.

“As dangerous as Geards typically are, the ones we encountered didn’t show signs of being hostile. Normally, they go after anything that moves, robot or otherwise. However, they ignored Isaac completely.” Devorah stopped the car. “Here we are. You should deactivate Isaac and leave it here. We don’t want it to run away again.”

Yosef did as instructed before glancing at the sign above the entrance of the building they were about to enter. “What’s ‘ARIA’ stand for?”

“Anomalous Robot Investigation Association,” Devorah answered. “Anyway—”

“Hey, Bee, you’re back early.”

She tried (but failed) to hide her annoyance as she turned to address Roy, the association’s receptionist, as he went to greet them. “Don’t call me that.”

Roy smiled. “But it’s what your name means, right? You’re Jewish, so—”

“We’re here so that Yosef can be questioned,” she said, “We’re not here to waste time.”

He laughed. “There’s that sting of yours, the second reason for your nickname. Clever, don’t you think? Anyway, I read your report. He’s the one with the robot cat, right?” he approached Yosef and bowed, “Call Me Roy. I answer phone calls and whatnot. The questioning room is right this way.” While Roy led Yosef and Devorah to the questioning room, he talked at great length about the importance of hearing a human voice at the other end of a phone as opposed to a robotic one.

The questioning room was a small room with a table and two chairs. In one of the chairs sat Mel, a repurposed humanoid robot who had originally been designed as a trap to deal with the Metal Beast. It was meant to spark the curiosity of its would-be target by attempting to solve the sliding puzzle it carried in its hands. Once the Metal Beast got close enough to try and help, Mel would seize and disassemble its target. Unfortunately, Mel’s first victims were its creators, which it attacked the moment it was placed. Though it was reprogrammed to ask questions and generally tolerated people more after being brought in, it still lashed out on occasion, albeit not with the same ferocity it once had.

“Hello,” Mel said as its green, doll-like eyes opened, “I believe the person who brought me in among you. Once again, I am obligated to thank you for not discarding me.”

Devorah sighed. “You don’t need to do that, Mel.”

“She’s just showing her feelings of gratitude,” Roy said, “Mel, today you’ll be questioning—”

“The information regarding this evening’s incident has already been sent to me,” Mel told Roy before addressing Yosef. “This conversation is being recorded for later use. I was installed with a lie detector and will be able to distinguish whether or not you are being truthful. Dishonesty will be met with punishment. Yosef, please take a seat.”

Yosef sat down. “All right. What now?”

Several tendrils emerged from Mel’s back, each ending in a sharp claw. “I will be the one questioning you, not vice versa. Further disruption will result in punishment.” Mel’s tendrils retracted. “Question one. How did you come to acquire Isaac?”

“I always wanted a living cat but couldn’t get one for a few personal reasons, so I decided that a robotic one would be the next best thing. Fortunately, a friend of mine wanted to give Isaac as a gift to his son, but since he didn’t like the way Isaac’s eyes didn’t match—”

“Question two,” Mel said. “Were you aware of Isaac’s abnormal properties prior to the incident that brought you here?”

“I was aware that his eyes are mismatched,” he answered, “but that’s all.”

“Question three.” Its eyes suddenly closed as sparks flashed from the corner of its head. Mel slumped forwards, smoke emerging from its mouth.

“Mel!” Devorah exclaimed, rushing to the robot’s side.

Mel raised a hand as its eyes opened and the smoke began to clear. “Excuse me,” it said, fixing its posture. “Yosef and I are in the middle of an interview. Question three, though this probably should have been question one in hindsight.” It rested its arms on the desk as it faced Yosef once more. “How are you?”

Yosef grinned. “Quite well. Thank you.”

That can’t be right, Devorah thought. “Everything all right, Mel?” she asked, confused about the sudden change in the robot’s demeanor.

Mel laughed. “Why, everything’s peachy.”

“Peachy?” she repeated, unsure where Mel picked up the word. “I think we should stop for now. You’re clearly not yourself at the moment.”

“What do you mean?” Mel inquired. “I feel fine.”

Devorah’s eyes widened. One of the first things she was taught during her training was that robots didn’t have what gave living things the capacity to experience emotions, pain or any sort of desire (aside from the need to do whatever it was they were programmed to). While they could be programmed to act as though they did, which she was certain Mel wasn’t, they couldn’t actually “feel” anything.

“Actually, now that you mention it, I do feel a bit drowsy,” the robot said with a yawn. “Roy, I would appreciate it if you would be so kind as to set me up to charge.”

Roy flinched. “Huh? Why me?”

“Everyone else in this room was nearly killed earlier today,” Mel explained. “It might be good for them to return home as soon as possible so they may recover.”

“I never thought about it that way.” He turned to Devorah with a sad look on his face, “Sorry, Bee.”

Confused but not ungrateful, Devorah didn’t bother to correct him. “Don’t worry about it. Just keep an eye out for any more reports.” She turned to leave. “Come on, Yosef. You have a car close to where I found you earlier, right? I’ll drop you off there if that’s all right with you.”

Yosef nodded. “I’d appreciate that. Thank you.”

Noah Motechin is a summer intern at The Jewish Link and an English major at Rutgers University. He has an affinity for Torah, writing and the natural world.

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