Dystopia Chapter 3

From the Story Arc: Dystopia

Previous Story in the Arc: Dystopia Chapter 10 - Cont. by Krasnaya Zarya (Saturday, July 08, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: Dystopia Chapter 11 by Krasnaya Zarya (Wednesday, July 12, 2006)

(posted Monday, July 10, 2006)

“It's astounding...”

Alex's awed phrase reflected back and forth across the massive storage area of the laboratory. Most people would assume he was being sarcastic, as the room contained the largest collection of junk anyone could find outside of a city landfill. This young Frankenstein, Alex's mirror twin of universe A658CC, had seemingly scoured all of Siberia, if not the entire Asian continent, for suitable cadavers to fuel his mad experiments. The lack of certain smells and emphasis of others – namely motor oil and rusted steel – would clue the conscientious observer into the nature of the corpses strewn about this graveyard.

The two of them walked down the makeshift aisles of the facility, created by Aleksander's delicate system of organizing his various treasures, which basically entailed trying to keep each individual pile homogeneous. They passed a pile of old car parts, followed by one that appeared to be ancient vacuum tubes and computer wiring, and then one that was simply nuts and bolts of sizes ranging from those used inside a pocket watch to those used inside a building's steel framework. Having recently caught the inventor's bug, the cogs in Alex's head began winding.

“My latest experimentation cames from the piles over here,” Aleksander explained as the maneuvered around a pile of window panes and transparent plastics, then ducked under a steel beam that crested a stack of girders. With a level of showmanship, he bowed to one side and waves his companion ahead, towards a field of mechanical parts of odd shapes and sizes. Unlike most of the heaps, this one was spread out into a thick layer of scrap along the ground. Alex stepped carefully into the sea of parts, then bent down to examine them closer, nearly falling over in surprise as made out what they were.

Somehow, words failed him. After several long moments of staring at one of the mechanical devices, he grabbed it and rose back to his full height, waving the object to his alternate self. Finally, he regained his voice.

“A hand?”

The question was obviously rhetorical, as the steel appendage dangling from a thick wire he held between his fingers could be nothing other. The metallic extremity was frozen in some kind of grasp, as if the owning robot had been in the throes of a painful death when it was torn asunder. Like most of the parts, it appeared worn and aged, but lacked the rust that was threatening to ruin the usefulness of much of the junk.

“Indeed,” Aleksander replied, ignoring the status of the question. The smirk on his face grew in size as Alex knelt down to examine more of the parts. “Robotics has become something of a hobby of mine. Sadly, while I have successfully developed humanoid machines, I am not much of a programmer... A lifelike android isn't very useful if it can't perform even the simplest of tasks.” A heavy sigh interrupted his exposition. “It was while working on a decent positronic brain that I got involved in alternate dimensions. I have a lovely set of equations governing that, but no working portals yet.”

“It's not that hard,” Alex blatantly lied as he probed a titanium skull. It appeared to be the same size as his own head. “We have much technology to share, it would seem. Androids have always fascinated me, but I don't think I could build a Marvin, let alone a Daneel.”

“It's not that hard,” Aleksander replied, grinning. “Synthetic skin is the trickier part... And the eyes.” He whistled to himself. “The eyes are the hardest to make look authentic. But with patience, anything is possible.”

“Skin? Eyes?” Alex stared at the naked skull in his hands. “You've got realistic human robots?” He burst into a broad grin, eyes alight with curiosity. “Can I see?”

“Certainly.” He turned around and took a step towards the exit to the hallway. “This way.”

Alex nearly bounced with excitement, but was reluctant to relinquish the skull back to the scrapheap: for some reason, he felt an attachment to the thing. Having noted that the size of it was roughly equivalent to his own head, he had made the logical assumption that his other self had been trying to build the robots in his own image.

In Alex's image.

He thought of what it would be like, to see a room full of robotic duplicates, and somehow found it much stranger than meeting a natural biological duplicate. For a moment he had even posited that his other self, that he had been spending the last few hours with, was such an android, but Aleksander's admission of being unable to build an artificial intelligence squashed that idea. Nevertheless, even if the menagerie of robots was nothing more than a very expensive series of mannequins, it would be well worth the visit.

Especially if, as Aleksander had said, the machines had realistic features. There were plenty of robots in Alex's own dimension, but they were always obvious to the eye: some were elaborate clockwork skeletons, others exaggerated humanoids with thin arms and gigantic hands. The most manlike machine he knew had glowing circuits visible through thinner parts of the obviously artificial green skin. But the artificial intelligences were indeed highly advanced.

If he could bring the two technologies together, it would be possible to have a whole race of cybernetic organisms, totally indistinguishable from normal men. Whether or not this was a good idea didn't really cross Alex's mind, as he'd already read enough science fiction to know the costs and benefits of such a momentous development, and had long since delegated it to the status of “Good Idea! Be careful.”

Having sufficiently built up a dangerously high level of excitement due to his internal thought processes, Alex resumed following his alternate self out of the room, leaving the mechanical graveyard behind him only to return a few moments later tossing the skull into the air repeatedly. He sighed as he reached the pile, kneeling down to carefully place the head between a limbless torso and a detached arm.

It grinned up at him, empty sockets seeming to stare right through him. For some reason, skulls always seemed to be grinning, as if the corpse was mocking the foolish desires of the living man. In the case of this robot, perhaps it was amused with Alex's curiosity and random attachment to well-shaped hunks of titanium.

He chuckled to himself and patted it on the top of the head. Before finally turning and leaving to rejoin his patient comrade, he gave it his goodbyes.

“Farewell, Yorrick. I never got to know you.”