July 15, 2024
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July 15, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Chapter 3: Incoherent Raven

Author’s note: In the previous chapter, Yosef was brought to the ARIA headquarters so he could be questioned about Isaac’s odd behavior. However, Mel, the robot tasked with questioning him, suddenly began to act strangely.

Though Devorah had found it hard to appreciate and practice certain mitzvot, keeping Shabbat somehow came naturally to her. Perhaps it was the fact that so much of her week consisted of working with machines that made turning all of her devices off so much more appealing to her.

Things were usually slower on weekends since many schools and stores weren’t open during that time. On top of that, many people in the community were Jewish and usually deactivated their robots for Shabbat anyway. This might have been why Devorah’s boss let her have her Shabbat off, but she liked to believe that it was due to him being an understanding person.

However, she was still required to keep her phone ready on Sundays like this one, just in case Roy had to let her know when there was an abnormal robot for her to deal with. As she cleaned up the table from her recent breakfast, she anticipated that she would receive a call from him the moment she sat down.

What she didn’t anticipate was to hear something tapping at her window or to turn and see what appeared to be a raven perched on a nearby branch, pecking at the glass.

Devorah sighed and went to scare it away before it could cause any permanent damage.

However, the moment she opened the window, the bird spoke.

“Excuse me,” it said, “Are you Devorah D. Vash?”

I guess the coffee hasn’t kicked in yet, she thought to herself. “And what if I am?”

“I understand that you might be a busy person,” the raven replied, “but do you have a moment?”

Devorah sighed. “I’m dreaming, aren’t I?”

The bird tilted its head to the side. “I don’t think so. Why do you ask?”

“Birds don’t talk,” she said, not quite awake enough to remember the existence of parrots.

“Well, I’m not a bird,” it corrected, “I’m a robot.”

“A Beaked Information Retrieval Drone then,” Devorah guessed. “I don’t know who—”

“A Beaked Information Retrieval Drone wouldn’t go up to someone and talk to them in broad daylight,” the robot pointed out, “That would blow my cover. Speaking of cover, if I were a Beaked Information Retrieval Drone, I’d look less like a raven and more like a bird that’s smaller and harder to notice.”

Devorah folded her arms. “All right then. What kind of robot are you?”

“I was hoping that you could help me with that,” it said. “I’m too conspicuous to be a Beaked Information Retrieval Drone, too frightening to be an artificial pet, and too mobile to be a prop. Even with all of these possibilities eliminated, I can’t figure out what I was built to do, something that should come—” it paused, “Would ‘naturally’ be the right word? Anyway, our purpose is usually included in our code. It’s what makes us act. For lack of a better term, it’s our instinct. You can understand why not knowing mine would bother me, right?”

She thought for a moment, putting aside the fact that Orev was able to feel bothered by anything. “What’s the earliest memory you have?”

“Opening my eyes in a burning building before flying for my artificial life,” the robot replied. “I don’t know how I knew to flee from fire or to check the rubble for anything that could tell me anything about myself, but I somehow did.”

“Do you at least know your designated name?” Devorah asked.

“In front of the stand I woke up on was a damaged sign that read ‘Orev’ in Hebrew,” it answered, “so I’m guessing it would be that.”

“Interesting,” she said. “Did any other robots escape?”

“Possibly,” Orev answered, “There were three other stands like mine, some of them being larger than others. However, the only one with signs that was readable and didn’t have an irreparable robot on it when I woke up was labeled ‘Shual.’ Does the name sound familiar?”

“Not really,” Devorah admitted. “Were you at least able to find out anything about it?”

The robot shook its head. “I was not.”

“Well, I’m afraid I can’t help you if you can’t give me anything to work with. Good luck, though,” she said before reaching to close the window.

“Wait!” Orev called. “If you can’t figure out my current purpose, do you think you could at least give me a new one?”

“What exactly do you have in mind?” Devorah asked.

“I… don’t know. Every ability I have can be utilized better by a different kind of robot.” Orev looked to the ground below. “I’m sorry for taking so much of your time. Perhaps it would have been easier for the both of us if I had burned with the rest of the building where I awakened.”

Her eyes widened at the statement. “I—” she hesitated, trying to find the words she wanted to say. “When—Well, the thing is—” she took a deep breath, collected her thoughts, and soon enough, an idea came to her. “Orev, I think I could use your help with something.”

“Really?” the robotic bird asked.

“Really,” Devorah answered. “Have you heard of the Metal Beast?”

Orev tilted its head to the side. “The what?”

“Supposedly, it’s a robot that can change its shape and size at will,” she explained.

“Hold on,” Orev said. “How would that even work? What if it damages whatever component allows it to shapeshift? When it wants to become smaller, where does the excess mass go? When it wants to become bigger, where does the necessary mass come from? How does it decide on what shape is best? Can it rewrite its own code?”

Devorah shrugged. “No one knows. In fact, there’s a good chance it might not even exist. Fortunately, your task isn’t to worry about the details. Your job is to find evidence of its existence without harming to yourself or your surroundings, though you may defend yourself if absolutely necessary. Should you succeed, your next task is to report back to me.”

The robotic avian took some time to process the matter. “So let me get this straight. You want me to search for proof of something that may or may not even exist?”

“You said you were struggling to find a purpose,” she told it. “This one should last you a while.”

“That’s… that’s brilliant. If I had the right kind of face, I’d be grinning from ear to ear.” Orev spread its wings. “Thank you, Devorah. I’ll get started right—”

“Hold it. I have a few more questions to ask you,” she said. “How long have you been searching for something to do with yourself?”

“Seven years, give or take,” the robotic bird replied. “I wasn’t installed with a calendar.”

Interesting, Devorah thought. “How have you been recharging?”

“I don’t know,” Orev admitted, “I’ve never noticed my battery life getting low.”

“Last question,” she said. “Are you the Metal Beast?”

It took some time before answering. “I’m unable to shapeshift. According to my memory, I was never capable of doing so. However, since a robot’s memory can be tampered with, I’m unable to deny the possibility that I wasn’t always the way I am now. I’m sure you’re as tired of being answered with uncertainty as I’m tired of replying with it, but I don’t know.”

“I see,” Devorah said. “That’s all I had to ask you. Thank you and good luck.”

“You’re welcome and thank you,” Orev said before taking off and flying into the distance.

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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