This story is a sequel to The Robo-Trainer. Written in 1994 it's almost 5,000 words. I've had a lot of comments about the spelling of Linnda, Luke's wife. If I edit this again, I'll probably change it to Lynnda and make a comment about her being named after her dad, Lynn. I really like this story, I hope you do, too.
by Roger S Nelson
Luke laced up his running shoes and ran out the door, plodding along in the
evening shadows and rustling autumn leaves. He turned onto Peach and ran to
town, working off the
frustrations of the day and relaxing his mind. He smiled at the smell of the scented pines along the way and enjoyed the silence of the evening. He powered his way up a little hill, feeling his legs burning and his heart pounding. Then he glided easily down into town, street lamps guiding his way. He turned onto Violet. Suddenly, against his will, he broke into a sprint, as if someone else was in charge of his body. His running shoes beat out too fast a rhythm on the sidewalk. Plip. Plop. Plip. Plop. Down the block. Ten paces. Twenty. Thirty paces. Forty. Fifty. Something made him count them. Left. One. Left. Two. Fifty-three. Fifty-four. At sixty his heart was racing wildly. His lungs bellowed. His legs weakened. Ten more steps. Suddenly he stopped. The compulsion to run fast was gone. He walked slowly, gasping until he caught his breath. Minutes later he could walk normally again. Finally he finished his run at his normal slow pace. He couldn't understand what made him sprint.
When Luke got home he told his wife about the incident. "While I was running tonight, something made me sprint. It wasn't in my training plan."
"Uh, huh," said Linnda, "Did you know there is a sale at Target. Halloween candy. Shoes. Coats. I could use a new coat this year."
Luke sat down and got out his training log. He felt good after the run and he wasn't going to let Linnda's lack of interest bother him. The incident, however, did bother him, so he wrote it down in the log while he sat in his easy chair. His body gradually relaxed and he fell asleep while he was thinking about these things.
He dreamed he was back in school, taking some advanced classes for his job. He was having a difficult time with his homework. His calculator worked OK right up to when he hit the final "total" button; then it went blank. He tried tapping it. No good. He wondered what little bug was in his calculator, holding back the answer. He remembered a movie he saw once where a man was shrunk and put into a computer against his will. The man battled overwhelming odds, but managed to shut the computer down and escape. Suddenly he found himself inside his calculator, seeking the bug so he could get his answer. Where was that bug in the computer? He found it! It was huge. It looked like a giant spider, only not quite. It was more like a nerve cell, a neuron, and it was coming after him. Luke had no weapons, so he ran. Faster! His heart raced. Lungs gasped. Legs weakened. The bug was catching him. He screamed himself awake. He mopped his sweaty forehead. Then he got up and wrote down the dream before he forgot it. He felt sure this dream held a clue to his problem.
The next morning, as Luke hurried to get ready for work, he glimpsed a mouse running across the kitchen floor. This was the time of year when little critters start finding their way into the house. Luke tried to remember where the traps were kept. Were they in the junk drawer? He opened it: pipe cleaners, twisty ties for garbage bags, a sprayer attachment for the garden hose, small pieces of chain for a light fixture, a pipe fitting, a piece of clothesline, some rubber gloves, a plas-skin mask.
The mask brought back memories of a robot he helped develop. He was assigned to teach it to run as part of a series of sport robots his company wanted to make. He called the robot RC, for Running Companion. Luke had been a fat, over the hill, robot specialist who designed and programmed robots during the day and watched holovision at night. After a frustrating six months, Luke actually lost weight and got fit. All the while he was trying to teach RC how to run, he was learning to run himself. When his project was done, Luke was a runner. The company used the programming from RC to create a popular line of robots that ran with and coached runners. Luke got permission from the company to keep RC for himself.
Luke ran with RC nearly every day after that. He would vary his route, sometimes going through town. RC was designed not only to run with a person, but also to protect him from dogs, muggers, or whatever. Not too long ago, a drunk driver nearly hit Luke. RC saved Luke by pushing him out of the way, but when the car hit RC, it shorted its circuits. After the crash, there was a sizzling and crackling, the smell of burnt wires, hot metal, and melting batteries, then nothing. RC was gone. Dead. Luke kept the mask as a memento, but didn't really know where to keep it. Somehow it found its way into the "junk drawer"; Linnda probably put it there.
He found the mouse trap, along with nails, nuts, bolts, screws, pliers, a screw driver, some pieces of string, and a small hammer. He set the trap and finished getting ready for work.
"Hi Mark," Luke said upon arriving at work. "How's it going?"
"Same as usual. I keep trying to make square circles. How's it with you?"
Luke took the opportunity to tell Mark his dream, and also of yesterdays' running experience.
Mark thought for a moment. "Where did you say it happened? Peach and Violet?" In this town most of the streets running north and south were named after trees, those going east and west were flowers.
"Yes. And it's not the first time, either."
"Does it always happen there, or has it happened other places also?" Mark asked.
"In town only, I think. I can't remember it has happening out of town. Seems like it always happens in the neighborhood of Peach and Violet."
"Let's go over there and take a look around; maybe something there is causing it. We could drive by on the way to lunch."
"Sure. Maybe you'll see something that I'm not. I have to do something."
Mark was a runner, too, and when Luke started running they became good friends. They took Mark's Lincoln Town Car to their favorite restaurant, the Shoe Inn, and drove by Peach and Violet on the way.
"Look at that man run," said Luke. "It looks like he is sprinting the same way I did. I wonder if - no - that's stupid. Why would anyone else be doing the same thing as me? It must be just a coincidence."
"Maybe, maybe not. Let's follow him and see what happens." The man sprinted another block before slowing to a walk. Luke pulled up near him and parked the car. The man was breathing heavily. When Mark and Luke got near, the man was starting to get his breath back. They could see he was around 40 and in good shape. No fat on him, probably a regular runner. When Mark got nearer he recognized the man from one of the local races he'd been in.
"Excuse me, aren't you George?" asked Mark, "Didn't you win your age category in the Fourth of July run this summer?"
"Yes," said George, heavily panting.
"We saw you sprinting and were wondering if that's part of your training program. If it is, it must work pretty well for you."
"No. I was just doing my normal training and all of a sudden I had this uncontrollable urge to run. It's really weird, like something else was controlling me. This is the third time it has happened to me in the last two weeks."
Luke and Mark looked at one another. While the man caught his breath they were trying to think of reasons why two different people should experience the same urge to sprint in the same neighborhood.
The Shoe Inn was full of people eating lunch. Luke and Mark placed their orders for fruit and salad amidst the aroma of fresh coffee, the clatter of dishes, and the chatter of patrons.
"Boy, am I starved," said Mark.
Just then the waitress brought a plate of burritos to the table next to them. Steam was rising along with the aroma making them wish they had ordered the burritos.
"What do you make of George?" asked Luke.
"It seems strange that the same compulsion would strike two different people in such a similar manner. It could be coincidence, but not likely. Something must be causing this to happen to you and to others also. Maybe it's something connected with the area. Can you think of anything special about the area that might be connected?"
"Not really. I've been running for a couple of years now and have gone by there lots of times. Only recently has this started happening to me. Why should things change?"
"Let's check the newspapers and see if anything unusual happened in the last month in the area. Or maybe we could check with the police department. They would know."
"All right. Avoiding the area really wouldn't solve anything. If I'm having these 'spells' there, what is to stop them from happening elsewhere?"
The waitress brought them their food. They were silent for a few minutes as they dug in. Luke ate his food slowly. First he picked out the carrots. Then the cucumbers. Then the tomatoes. One thing at a time. Finally he finished with the lettuce and then the roll. Mark, on the other hand, just shoved in everything. They left their tips, paid their bills, and drove back to work.
On the way home from work, Luke stopped at the grocery store and got some bread and milk for Linnda. He also got her a copy of the local weekly, the "Courier". In the checkout line he leafed through it and noticed the police report in it, detailing the few incidents of his small town.
When Luke got home he checked the stack of old newspapers waiting to be recycled and found the ones for the past month. Then he sat down to read. Not much there, but he really didn't know what he was looking for, either. There was the occasional robbery. The fender benders. The domestic quarrels. The incident of RC saving his life was barely mentioned. People just took robots for granted these days.
The next day at the Shoe Inn, Luke found that Mark had done the same thing. However, Mark made special note of the robot incident. It was in the same neighborhood, and it could at least explain why Luke was having his "spells", if not George.
"Let's speculate," said Luke. Today they were having the burritos. "What type of things could cause someone to have a 'spell' like I'm having? Also, what could be causing someone else to have the same sort of 'spell'? Doesn't it seem logical that it would be something external to me? It seems the odds of it being a coincidence are astronomical."
"Hmm. That's a tough one," said Mark. "Hypnotism? A common experience? I'd hate to suggest some sort of 'possession'. I can't think of much else, though."
"Well, I think hypnotism is out. I haven't been around any hypnotists and besides, would George have seen the same one? A common experience is not likely, either, except for running. We rarely see one another. In fact, I don't think I would have recognized him, except that he had his picture in the paper after the race this summer. That leaves 'possession'. I know it sounds stupid, but on the other hand, if 'possession' is something that can really happen, it's exactly what it felt like to me. I felt like someone else 'took over' my body while I was running."
"OK, let's assume for a minute that you were 'possessed'. By what?"
"I don't know. Whatever it was, I didn't sense any personality. It was just cold logic. 'Run. Get your heart rate to maximum. Stop.' And then it was gone, just as quickly as it had started. What can possess a person?"
"Normally you hear of people being possessed by demons. But I've never heard of a 'running' demon."
"I don't think it was a demon. It seems I would have sensed some sort of evil with it. Give me some other ideas."
"I don't know. If not a demon, an angel? A ghost? An alien? Last century people used to do 'automatic' writing. They would give up control of their minds and supposedly someone from the world of the dead would be free to come into their mind and use their hands to write. People would write things, sometimes whole books, without doing it on their own. At least that's what they claimed. But these things happened because the person voluntarily gave up their minds and actually invited the dead spirit to come in. It seems like it would take something stronger to take a person by surprise, like it did you."
"I had no idea that sort of thing happened. Let's look at the clues we have so far: possession, ghost, running, - what about that dream I had, the bug in the computer? What is this adding up to?"
"Luke, are you thinking what I'm thinking? Robot killed in area of Peach and Violet. Robot was a running coach. Can a robot have a ghost? This sounds really far out!"
"I know, but I haven't got anything else to go on right now, do you?"
"Well, if we are on the right track, what should we do?"
"You have some pull with the company, Luke. Why don't you see if you can borrow a new robot, one that is built and activated, but not programmed yet. One with a 'blank' positronik brain. We could take it to the area and see if this other 'entity' can be persuaded to 'possess' it. This could be a robot 'first'. So far robots have only been mechanical. To my knowledge there has never been a robot that has really been alive before, alive in the sense that it had a ghost, soul, or spirit. We may not be able to prove anything, but what have we got to lose?"
That day Luke got permission from the company to borrow a robot "blank". As he and Mark drove to the area, they tried to think of ways to coax a supposed ghost to possess the "blank". The robot was turned on, but with no programming in it. If there was a robot ghost in the area, then perhaps it would sense a compatible environment and take over the "blank".
"Should we dress up the 'blank' as a runner?" asked Mark.
"I don't know. It might help, but a ‘blank’ robot is hard to deal with. All that dead weight, and it can't even move an arm or leg to help. It took the two of us just to get it in the car. We don't even know what we're going to do when we get there."
Suddenly Luke felt dizzy. He blacked out. When he came to, he was disoriented. He looked about and saw Mark, still driving, but he was in the back and someone else was in the front seat with him. "Wait a minute," thought Luke, "how did I get back here?" Things didn't look right. The colors were different, and the images were not sharp and clear as he was used to. He couldn't feel his pulse, and he wasn't breathing. "Am I having an out of body experience?" He looked down at himself. What he saw startled him; his body was a robot! But he was alive, he was in the positronik brain of the robot, and since the brain was blank, he was free to make it do whatever he wanted. But then who was in the front seat? It took him a few seconds to recognize his own body since he was looking at it from the back. He tried to speak. "I I I a a am r r ro rob robo robot." He saw Mark glance back, an excited look on his face.
"We did it Luke!" said Mark to the passenger in the front. "We got the robot ghost."
Luke turned his plas-skin face to Mark. "N NO! I I a a am L L Lu Luke." His voice sounded strange. Mark looked confused.
Then Luke's body spoke in one syllable monotone, "I want to go run-ning."
After a moment, Mark turned to the back seat and said, "I think I better take you home now, Luke."
"So RC is still alive after all," thought Luke. "That does explain what has been going on the last couple of weeks. Now I have to figure out how to get my own body back. In the meantime, I better learn to use the one I have."
Fortunately for Luke, learning to function as a robot was not that hard. Some reflex functions were already built-in and Luke still retained all his years of knowledge and memories. Since the positronik brain was patterned after a human brain in its functions, it just took a little time to learn to use it.
By the time Mark got Luke home, he was already mostly functional. The three of them got out of the car and went into the house. Linnda met them.
"Luke had an accident today," said Mark. "He isn't himself tonight, Linnda, so I gave him a ride home. I'll pick him up for work in the morning at 7:45. We have something important to work on tomorrow."
Luke's body walked right by Linnda without even saying "Hello", and went into the bedroom. Luke felt like giving her a hug and kiss, as usual, but restrained himself. He could see there would be some relationship patching to do once he got himself out of this mess.
"Hi, RC," said Linnda, "I see Luke got you repaired after all. He really missed you after the accident."
"I'm only an RC look-alike," said Luke, "and your husband is only a look-alike tonight as well. Don't be too hard on him."
Suddenly Linnda went up to Luke and gave him a big hug and a kiss. "I feel so silly kissing a robot, but somehow it just seems right tonight. There's a certain warmth about you that I never sensed with the other RC."
Luke was caught by surprise, not only by Linnda's kiss, but also by his own lack of feeling. Not that he didn't feel strongly for her, but his robot body could not feel her except for a few pressure sensors at the ends of his fingers. He could not smell her perfume he knew she always wore, nor could he sense her warmth. Being a robot was more like watching a black and white computer screen than the 3d holoview movies of the day. Luke longed for his own body.
Just then, RC came out of the bedroom, dressed in running clothes. He walked by them without even a smile and ran outside. "Oh God," prayed Luke, "don't let him tear up my body too much."
"Linnda, I have to go watch after Luke now. Robot's duty," said Luke.
With that, Luke ran out of the house after RC. He could easily catch up and run with RC, as the robot body was designed to run faster and farther than Luke ever could in his own body. It seemed strange, no huffing and puffing. No heart thumping against his ribs or echoing in his ears. Just a quiet sort of feeling. The scenery floated by like before, but there was no effort. He could not feel the electrically stimulated plas-muscles in his body. If one of them broke, he would have no pain, but that was not likely to happen. Shortly he caught RC.
"RC. Easy does it. You'll over work that poor body you're in. You'll feel aches and pains in the morning. Don't run so fast that you're too out of breath to talk. You have to pace yourself. What are you doing, anyway? Why did you take my body?"
"First ques-tion. I am train-ing the bo-dy. I am a coach. This bo-dy will be the best ev-er. Sec-ond quest-ion. I was a-live but I had no bo-dy. I need a bo-dy to run. I could not share a bo-dy for long. You gave me a way to have a per-man-ant bo-dy. I took your bo-dy and gave you a brand new bo-dy. Now we are both hap-py."
"But RC, you're not even supposed to be alive. Robots are not created with souls; they're just machines. How did you get to be alive?"
"I am not sure. My brain was mo-deled af-ter hu-man brains. I have thought pat-terns like hu-mans. Per-haps the ac-ci-dent gave me life."
"How did you learn to possess other bodies?"
"I was not hap-py to be just a ghost. I need a bo-dy so I can run. I drift-ed a-round town and tried tak-ing ov-er bod-ies when I saw them run-ning. It was not eas-y at first. But the more I did it, the bet-ter I got at it."
"But RC, I'm not happy being a robot. I want my old body back."
"Why? With a ro-bot bo-dy you can live hun-dreds of years. When a part breaks you can re-place it. Do not hu-mans want to live long? It is hard to get re-place-ment parts for hu-mans."
"That's true, but I'm used to being human. I'm not happy as a robot. There are certain things that humans can do that robots can't. You don't have a right to take my body from me."
"You will get used to be-ing a ro-bot. You will live long-er. I need to know what it is like to be hu-man so I can coach bet-ter. I coach run-ning. You have a brand new bo-dy. I have a worn down bo-dy. Af-ter a while you will be glad I gave you a new bo-dy."
Luke could see that RC was getting tired. They had been running for exactly 37 minutes and 16.58 seconds. "Sixteen point five eight seconds, and I didn't even look at my watch," Luke thought. He looked at his wrist. He wasn't even wearing a watch. They had traveled 4.5867 miles for an average speed of 7.38275 miles per hour. "Good heavens, I'm a calculator."
RC was heading back to the house now. They were almost home. RC was walking, cooling down. Luke didn't feel tired at all, but RC looked exhausted. RC went in the house, showered and went to bed. Luke plugged himself in to recharge.
Luke woke at exactly 7:00.03.111. He thought it funny that it felt good to sleep in exactly 3.111 seconds. RC was still snoring away. He could hear Linnda trying to wake him. "Get up, Luke," she said, "you're going to be late." Luke knew that RC had run hard last night and his body would be stiff and sore. He was glad he wasn't in it right now. RC sleepily got dressed, and had a bite to eat. Soon it was time to go. Honk. HOOOONK. Mark was out there waiting.
When they got to work, Luke took over speaking for RC. This was not only because RC was still using single syllable mono-tones, but also because RC had no idea what he was supposed to do, as he hadn't actually worked there before. So Luke did the speaking, which made everyone marvel that Luke had made such progress with the robot. In the meantime, RC just followed Luke's orders. At lunchtime, RC went with Mark to the Shoe Inn. This gave Mark a chance to study RC and Luke some time to sit in the office and think.
"What do I know about the way a robot thinks? First, a robot is programmed both to not hurt a human and to protect a human from others. Second, he is programmed to follow orders from his owner. Third, he is programmed for self preservation. The first item gives a robot a sense of morality, the second, a sense of duty. Of course, it could be that some of these concepts may be in conflict or contradictory at times. In RC's case, he was also programmed to run and to coach."
"So why did RC take over my body? First, I ordered him to coach me, and what better way than to take my body. Second, he has a strong sense of self preservation. And third, he was programmed to be a runner and he needs a body to run. Together, these three reasons must be stronger than his sense of hurting me. He thinks he is helping me and doesn't realize the harm he is doing to me."
"So what do I do? I have already provided him with another robot body, so that takes care of the self preservation thing. I'll order him to stop coaching me tonight. All that's left is show him that he is harming me. I wonder how I can do that?"
"Maybe it would help if I knew what he senses. Can he sense everything a human can, or is he limited to just robot senses?"
For the rest of the afternoon, Luke pondered on this. He studied RC for signs that he wasn't making full use of human senses. It appeared that he could feel basic things, like hunger and the need to use the bathroom. But he couldn't sense other people's reactions to him. Perhaps there were other things he couldn't sense.
As Mark drove them home, he asked RC, "You must be pretty sore today, after all that running last night. Are you in pain?"
"Pain? What is pain?. I can hard-ly wait to get home so I can run a-gain."
Luke was horrified. While a younger body might be able to run again, his body couldn't take that much running without injury. And RC couldn't feel pain right now. "No, you mustn't run tonight," said Luke. "Your body needs the rest. I order you to stop coaching me. I don't want you to train me anymore."
"OK. I will not coach you an-y more. But I will still run to-night. I was made to run. Run-ning gives me my i-den-ti-ty."
"But RC, you're hurting me. We have to switch back. You take this body. Give me my old body back," ordered Luke.
"I am not hurt-ing you, that is a-gainst my pro-gram-ming. Be-sides, I am not sure I can switch back. It is not eas-y."
"How do you tell a blind man what seeing is like," thought Luke. "To RC, a body is a body, it didn't matter whether it was human or robot. In fact, according to what RC said last night, he thinks he is helping me by giving me a longer life."
After Mark dropped them off, RC changed into his running clothes and went out to run. Luke followed. RC took one of the routes Luke used to take. Tonight they were running into town. Although Luke glided effortlessly along the streets, he was lost in thought. "How can I make RC see that he is harming me?" he wondered.
The computer-screen images of town from Luke's sensors were hypnotic. If Luke had real eyes, they would have hurt. As is was, the hurt was only in his mind. Luke was losing touch with his robot senses. Dimly aware, he heard the blaring of a horn and the screeching of tires. RC came out of nowhere and shoved him. Luke grew dizzy. He blacked out as he fell to the ground.
When he came to, he was in a hospital. His whole body ached. How did he get here? What happened? There sitting beside him was Linnda. He smiled. Tears came to his eyes as he smelled her perfume and felt the warmth of her hand on his. RC stood next to her.
"You'll be all right, Luke," said Linnda. "The doctor says you only have a slight concussion with some bruises and abrasions, no broken bones, but you're going to be pretty sore for a week or two. You were really lucky. You could have been killed, saving that robot. What ever got in to you, anyway?"
Luke thought a moment and said, "I already lost one robot on that corner, I couldn't afford to lose another."
After Linnda left, Luke whispered to RC, "Why did you change us back?"
"The pain. I start-ed to feel the pain. It was too much for me. There are some things on-ly a hu-man can hand-le."