Hard Life


To: The Settlements Committee. From: The Remote Ship Tracking Centre. Subject: A decoded report submitted to the R.S.T.C. by the remote survey ship "Enlighten."

Message begins...

"Enlighten reporting, Co-ordinates:-0005,74,60,32,20,16,9000. Earth type sun, emissions 105%. Seven planets; #2, 68% match. #3 97% match. #3; Atmosphere 98.2%. Wooded terrain. life forms high. Sentience nil. Seismic 8%. Meteorology stable. 66% water, 30% land mass, 4% ice caps. High tidal variation to predictable cycle, cause; twin moons. Criteria match 99.4% ± .5% No contra indications. Remote ship "Enlighten" moving on."

... Message ends.

Chapter One - Something's cooking in the kitchen

For Keesul Morland it was one of those mornings when there's no need to get up. So, she lay on her back, eyes open looking up at the ceiling. She thought how boring ceilings were, all this technology and no one had discovered a better way to do ceilings. She also thought how quiet it was, not unusual, for six o'clock, but it was nearly ten thirty. Keesul wondered if anyone was ever going to come and wake her up. After all she couldn't lay here all day. Actually she could, her father was off-planet on some diplomatic mission. He was usually the one who nagged her out of bed.

Keesul decided to get up and see what all this silence was about. Perhaps her father had taken the entire household staff with him, just as a test. You're eighteen now Keesul, he would say, time to look out for yourself. In a house full of Lec-mechs that wasn't likely.

She finally dragged herself out of bed and stumbled over to the wardrobe. She stood naked in front of the large imported wood doors, a chill ran up her flesh. She rubbed the sleep from her grey eyes and attempted to pat her unruly brown hair into something resembling normality.

"Wardrobe," she said sleepily, "something loose but practical, a track suit or something, and some underwear I suppose. And what's happened to the heat in here I'm freezing!" This last statement was spoken to the house in general. After a few moments when nothing happened she spoke again, "Wardrobe, clothes please." Again nothing happened.

Keesul walked over to the doors and slapped her palm against the wood. "Look, just open, I haven't got all day, I'm freezing to death out here." Nothing happened. Keesul considered trying to force the doors open but that sounded like too much hard work, so she grabbed her dressing gown off the bed and grumpily pulled it on. With one last glare at the thing she walked out of her bedroom and slammed the door.

The corridor outside wasn't any busier than her room. Usually human and robot servants would be around, doing things, well, "servanty". She wandered along the corridor and down the back stairs. To one side of the stairs was a ramp used by the wheeled robots. A toothed track attached to the wall assisted their ascent, slowed their descent. As a young girl she would slide down this ramp, getting told off by the staff if she got caught. As the house was so empty she tried to slither down the last few metres, but found it impossible in bare feet.

She emerged into a large kitchen. The kitchen had seen lots of action recently, her father being the consul for the whole planet. Any visitors of even the slightest importance were wined and dined with the local produce. It got so busy in here sometimes you couldn't move for white coated cooks and black coated waiters. The lec-mech Kitchen whirring like mad, threatening to over-heat, the cooks trying to get it to do what they wanted came close to over-heating themselves.

Now the kitchen was deserted, its white and chrome surfaces gleaming under the bright sun streaming through the skylight. Keesul planted herself at the table set for breakfast and picked up a glass of orange juice. She took a long drink.

"Morning Kitchen, I fancy a full breakfast today, you know, a real blow-out." The Kitchen took some time to answer, Keesul was beginning to wonder if it had gone the way of the wardrobe when it spoke. A very cheerful voice said "Good morning, Miss, I'll have that ready for you in a few moments, would you like a nice cup of steaming hot tea while you wait?"

"Yes please, It might even wake me up, though I doubt if anything could today."

"Yes Miss," replied the Kitchen politely.

"Where is everyone today, have I missed something?"

"Yes Miss," replied the Kitchen politely.

"I have!" Keesul was surprised, it wasn't like her father's aide Thorne to let her miss something even if it was only a minor event. "What? I didn't notice anything on my diary last night, I switched it on specially to check, to make sure I could have a long lie-in."

"Your tea miss," said the Kitchen. A jointed plastic arm descended from the ceiling bringing a large mug. As the arm approached Keesul the hand tipped the cup over her. The scolding hot liquid dropped down her left side, splashing onto her dressing gown in her lap. She leapt to her feet, holding the hot material away from her leg and dashed across to the sink. She furiously turned the tap and tried to wet a cloth.

"Water! quick Kitchen, cold water, now!"

"Yes Miss," replied the Kitchen politely. "Let me help you." Another of the Kitchen's multi-purpose arms moved along the track set in the ceiling towards the sink. At the sound of it coming towards her Keesul flinched, she turned to make sure it didn't have a cup of tea in its hand. It didn't, instead it was carrying a large saucepan. At first Keesul thought the saucepan had water in it, but the hand was carrying it suspended by the handle.

"Have you gone completely mad!" Keesul demanded, hands on hips. In reply the hand swung the pan straight for Keesul's head. The heavy pan clanged against her skull, setting her mind ringing like a bell. Her vision was suddenly one big swirl of appliances. She began to topple backwards. By an effort of will power she managed to stop her knees buckling, this meant when she lost her balance she fell like a tree, landing on her back, bouncing her head off the easy-clean floor.

Keesul was too upset to black out, instead she fumed quietly while the gleaming appliances tired themselves out by running around the room.

After a few moments they slowed down, but didn't stop. She managed to focus just as the hand dropped a large meat knife towards her head. Instinctively she rolled out of the way, sheltering under the large table. The knife stuck point first into the floor.

Under the table Keesul lay silently, wondering what to do. Life under her father's wing in the consulate hadn't exactly prepared her for this. Yes there had been schooling, and extra instruction with bodyguards and stuff, but Keesul thought that was for her father, why would anybody be interested in her? The sound of something heavy landing on the table made her cover her head with her hands.

This is no good, she thought, I've got to get out of here. She looked around, the door to the dining room was about seven metres away. She rolled on to her belly, then up into a crouch. The arms above seemed to be bombarding the table with crockery, to judge by the sound it was making.

Keesul gathered up her thoughts, her strength, the racket above was disturbing, she tried to put it out of her mind. Focus on the door, she thought, just the door. She examined it closely, probably for the first time. It was a large door, made to look like wood, although it was actually blast-proof plastic. It was as tall as a normal door but twice as wide to allow the serving trolleys through. She fixed her eyes on the door, concentrated until all she saw was the door, then burst from hiding and bolted towards it.

Three or four painful thumps hit her in the back, but she kept going, stretching her hand out towards sanctuary. Her hand hit the door palm first, the weight of her body piled up behind it. The door didn't move. Too late she realised the door slid open. Just before her face ran into it she remembered her dad saying "What's the point of a blast door that swings open?"

Keesul stood with her face against the plastic, people don't usually bounce off solid objects. Pain ran up her arm and the back of her leg, crockery shattered beside her head. A massive cleaver thudded against the door beside her and fell at her feet. Frantically she scrabbled for the latch, grabbed it and pulled as hard as she could. The door shot open on frictionless runners. She tumbled into the dining room, hanging onto the door for support. She turned to slide the door shut, her last glimpse into the kitchen was one of total crockery hell. A soup tureen came flying towards her and smashed against the rapidly closing door.

Keesul flopped against the door in relief, her forehead against the cool plastic. What an idiot i am she thought, not even knowing my own house. A hand on her shoulder made her scream, she jumped and turned at the same time.

"I'm sorry, Miss. I didn't mean to startle you. Whatever is the matter? You're bleeding, I'll get the first aid kit."

Keesul could have hugged the man, but thought better of it, since she was practically naked. Quickly she rearranged her gown and tried to compose herself. Her fathers aide, Thorne stood calmly before her. He was a middle-aged man of the same height as Keesul, about five and a half feet. He had thick, light brown hair, grey eyes and a non-descript face. His build suggested a man who was as fit as he needed to be to do his job but no more. Today he was wearing a grey suit with a green tie, obviously off-duty.

"Thorne! Am I glad to see you! What the hell is happening, I was nearly murdered in there!"

"There does seem to be a problem today miss, none of the public facilities are working, and it is awfully quiet outside. If you would excuse me." Thorne stepped around Keesul and slid the door open enough to see into the kitchen. After a very short glance he rapidly closed the door. A piece of crockery of some kind smashed into the door.

"I think things may be a little worse than I at first surmised. I think it wise if we use the bathroom next to your fathers office, there are no Lec-mechs in there."

Thorne took Keesul's arm and assisted her to the bathroom. The room was gleaming with cleanliness, the towels folded neatly, the dispensers full. Thorne led Keesul over to a small stool and had her sit down.
"Thorne, tell me what's going on, where is everybody? Why has the kitchen gone mad?"

"Firstly miss, the servants were given the week off, your father wanted you to look after yourself," Keesul nodded knowingly, "He left me behind to assist you should the need arise. Unfortunately the need seems to have indeed arisen. The Kitchen is acting according to a program it has been given."

Keesul sat up amazed, "What? Well which idiot gave it the program? That thing could have killed me!" Thorne removed a wad of synth-wool from a cupboard and started to clean the wound on the back of her leg. 

"Precisely miss, that's what the program told it to do." Keesul was thoughtful for a few moments while Thorne sprayed arti-skin over the wound. The soft, pliable material would cover the wound but allow it to breathe. The skin underneath would heal in only a few days, leaving little or no scar.

"Thorne," Keesul said firmly, "I've got the strange impression I've walked in half way through a film, could you please explain it to me from the beginning, using language a 'lady' could understand."

"Certainly miss, would you like to adjourn to your fathers office? He keeps a supply of refreshments in there. And I believe the seating arrangements are vastly superior."

"Yes, that's a good idea Thorne, I can see why my father values your services so highly."

"Thank you miss, though I appear not to have been needed on his latest trip." The last part faded away into a mumble, Keesul was already through the linking door and didn't hear.

Keesul sat herself in her fathers large revolving, reclining, chair. It had been imported at great expense, as had most of the items in this office, but the ambassadorial staff had deemed it worth every penny. Planet heads and government officials expected a certain level of luxury. They tended to equate wealth with power and success. A newly established colony on a recently discovered planet needed all the help it could get to survive. People had invested heavily in this place, not just those who had made the incredibly long journey to get here, but others back on earth. The investment of billions couldn't be risked because of an uncomfortable chair.

Thorne sat opposite on an upright chair; this one made from mahogany and leather, with antique brass feet. He leaned forward and pressed a button on a slim panel set into the desk. To Keesul's right a cabinet swung around. Keesul flinched as it approached.

"It's quite alright miss, it's only a mechanical device." reassured Thorne. 

The door to the cabinet slid open, a waft of chill air blew across Keesul's face making her shiver. Inside the lighted cabinet were all manner of drinks, from fruit juices to the strongest whiskies. On the bottom shelf, behind more drinks, were packets of "bar snacks". Keesul selected a bottle of orange juice and a packet of chicken and mushroom crisps. She turned back to Thorne, indicating she was listening. Thorne closed the cabinet with a push of a button.

Thorne began to tell Keesul what he knew of the situation over the rustle of a crisp packet.

"Please forgive me miss if I sound patronising, it is not intentional, I merely wish you to fully understand the circumstances. Not knowing you that well I may tell you things you already know, I beg your forgiveness and your patience."

Keesul smiled and gestured vaguely with a large crisp. Thorne took this as concurrence and carried on.

"As you know this city is practically run by a series of computers called the Link. Each of these computers is a separate entity running a different part of the city. But these computers are linked together in a series of concentric loops. The loops themselves are also linked. Which means that any one computer is in contact with any other computer at any time. Linked to these computers are other computers, less powerful ones used by the citizens for many different purposes, information retrieval, planning, voting on certain issues etc. Some of these computers are located in public places for those who don't have one in the home."

"Now, the separate computers also control robotic appliances and some of the Lec-mechs or Electro-Mechanical devices; fire engines, road sweepers, maintenance vehicles and so forth, by radio link. As I said, all of these computers are quite capable of running their own territory, or indeed the whole city, albeit at a lower service level, if required. But of course, what happens if two computers want to do opposite things?"
"Are you with me so far miss? Not boring you am I?"

"No, not at all, carry on" replied Keesul, who had been trained by a professional protocol teacher to always sound interested.

"Well, if two computers are opposed they ask a computer on the next inner ring, which has a higher priority rating, and so on to the centre. Of course you know the computer in the centre is the most powerful of them all, it is called The Principal. The Principal has the final say over every other computer in the link, including those in households and public places. If The Principal says something the rest must follow. The principal is, in practice, in life or death control of this city, although your father has some right of veto over it. Unfortunately, I suspect that it is The Principle which has gone "mad", as you put it."

Keesul suddenly sat forwards spitting crumbs in a most unlady-like fashion. "Gone mad, how can you be sure, perhaps it's just this block, the local computer."

"No, that was my first thought, but the local computer cannot access the Lec-mech in the kitchen, it wouldn't have the codes needed to switch the Kitchen into attack mode."

"But how does the computer get access to the Kitchen? surely it isn't wired to the Link? And what's this attack mode, sounds very dangerous to me."

"Well, yes it is wired into the Link. Where else do all the recipes come from? How does the Kitchen order the groceries it needs? It has a link to the local computer, and if a signal can go out, it can also come in. Attack mode? That's a little something the designers put in, something the public are unaware of. This colony is far from the nearest military assistance, so should we be attacked by pirates or aliens or some such the city is quite capable of defending itself. That is what it's doing now, for some reason someone has activated, or caused The Principal to activate, the Armageddon program."

Keesul was staring at Thorne the drink and crisps forgotten.

"Armageddon as in end of the world right? So why did it pick on me? I haven't done anything." Thorne nodded, "The armageddon program has certain parameters that can be set, one of which is to remove human life from the colony. The Lec-mechs, and presumably the higher robots, have been instructed to attack humans on sight. So you see, it hasn't gone mad, it's just doing as it's been told."

Keesul sat stunned, her face pale, "That's why it's so quiet." The thought hit her hard, as though she had just heard it said, only now understood its meaning. Thorne merely nodded slowly.

A few minutes went by with both silent, Thorne finally spoke in a soft voice, "Don't worry, only the Kitchen and a few of the Info-terms are attached to the Link in this house, being a consulate. We are quite safe in here. There is a vast quantity of water stored for just such emergencies, and with only the two of us I think the food would last years. The house is also strongly fortified, it's just a pity the bunker isn't finished, your father insisted we had other priorities than his safety." "Now, the arti-skin will be dry, it may be advisable to get dressed, something practical, and put stout boots or shoes on if you have any."

Keesul stood slowly and walked from the room, her mind in turmoil. She had been thinking only of herself, of the Kitchen wounding her, whilst the rest of the city had been wiped out by their own robots. Half way up the winding main staircase she paused, "I can't get dressed Thorne, my wardrobe doesn't work." she said loudly. Absent mindedly she carried on up. As she neared the top Thorne came bursting out of her fathers office.

"What did you say? About your wardrobe?" He seemed very anxious. 

Keesul took another step, "It doesn't work, I asked for some clothes earlier but nothing happened."

"Keesul," Thorne said quietly but firmly, using her name for the first time. "Walk slowly backwards down the stairs, don't ask why, don't even speak, just do it."

Keesul was stunned for a moment, she wasn't used to the staff talking to her like that. But Thorne sounded so worried she decided to do as he said. Step by step she walked backwards, until she reached the bottom. "What's the matter Thorne?, you said we were safe in here."

"The wardrobe doesn't work! The wardrobe shouldn't be affected, it's not attached to the Link. Somehow The Principal has found a way into this house. This house is full of Lec-mechs and robots, and most of them are kept up there," He pointed up towards the top of the stairs, "Out of sight of visitors."

As if on cue a faint rumble started as if several wheeled vehicles began moving towards them. The rumble grew louder, closer, until the high-pitched whine of electric motors could also be heard.

Thorne took Keesul by the arm. "This way, miss." He lead her to the end of the hall, through a narrow door and into the long basement. The wooden stairs creaked as they made their way down. Lights flickered on at their approach, then went out as they passed, giving Keesul the uncomfortable feeling of being tracked by a searchlight.

"We'll head for the site where the bunker was supposed to be, there may be some things there that can help us."

Chapter Two - Are friends electric?

Their route took them through the storage area, crammed with crates. Each crate was neatly labled and stacked, everything from rolled oats to smoked salmon. Not a speck of dust or a single cobweb sullied the clinical environment. But Thorne pushed on, not even stopping for a brief look.

Instead he carried on through a wide archway into the house laundry, and face first into a large steam-iron. He threw himself backwards as a pair of long fingered metal hands grabbed for his throat. Keesul was taken completely by surprise. She collided with Thorne, knocking her forehead painfully with the back of his skull. She managed to keep her balance, helping Thorne stay on his feet.

"I do beg your pardon miss, are you alright?" Thorne asked gallantly, completely ignoring the blood running down his face.

"Yes I'm fine, but you're not, that was the Lec-mech Laundry I presume." Thorne pressed a neat, white handkerchief to his wounded eye.

"Yes miss, in my haste I had completely forgotten it was down here, I apologise, it won't happen again." He bowed slightly from the waist.

"Thorne, please, I know you are my father's employee, but there's no need for that. Call me Keesul, or Sully, my friends do, the few I have anyway. And what should I call you? Saying 'Thorne' sounds very patronising."

"Thorne is fine miss, I may on occasion call you Keesul, never Sully, but Keesul certainly. At least until we are once again returned to our normal status."

"But, Keesul, the presence of the laundry has solved one of our problems, that of getting you decently attired. A gown is not fit attire for this kind of physical activity, particularly since you are not wearing any underwear." Keesul looked down at herself and tightened the belt on the dressing gown. Thorne, realising what he had said, suddenly turned away. Keesul could see the back of his ears and his neck flushed scarlet.

"Please accept my apologies once again miss, I was merely being practical, in my line of work I need to be observant, I didn't..." 

"It's alright, Thorne, don't worry about it. Now, you were saying something about clothes?" Thorne, greatly relieved but still pink, turned back to Keesul. although he didn't make eye contact. "I am afraid that the clothes, being in the laundry, may not be as clean as you are used to, but they will be your own. We also have the problem of the Laundry. But we will think of something."

A loud crashing, clattering noise from the basement steps made them both start. The sound continued until a final crash, followed by lots of little taps, left the basement in silence. The lights in the corridor didn't activate, so whatever lay there now wasn't visible.

Thorne's calm voice broke the quiet, "One of the robots has either ventured the stairs or been pushed by the rest. Luckily they are not equipped to deal with ordinary stairs, as are some of the newer models. We can thank your father's frugality for that. He always said that if something worked it didn't need replacing."

"Yes, he did, and still does, my diary is so old it's a wonder I remember anything." Thorne wandered off towards the stairs, "Stay here miss, I'll just go and see if there's anything we can use off the wrecked robot."
The lights once again came on as Thorne walked towards the wreckage. The scene at the bottom of the stairs was much as Keesul had expected; disjointed arms stuck up at all angles, broken pieces lay scattered all around, liquids dripped and bubbled from several places. A detached hand still gripped a piece of linen, a robot maid, still clinging to its old duties even in wartime.

Thorne returned with two large plastic pieces he had wrestled from the wreck. He swung them experimentally, like primitive clubs. "These may do the trick, there's not a lot else I'm afraid, there's battery acid over the rest. Follow me, do what I do, and don't talk."

They approached the archway carefully, Thorne leading, wielding his club. Once within the archway they could see the laundry room. It was about six metres square, covered floor to ceiling with white tiles. A track similar to the one in the kitchen ran left to right across the room. The washing and drying machines stood along one wall on the left. To the right a wheeled basket sat ready to catch clothes from a wide chute. The Laundry Lec-mech was removing washing from one of the machines and ironing it neatly. Thorne stepped quietly into the room. Despite his caution the Laundry immediately moved towards him, the two limbs flailing, one behind the other. This time Thorne was ready.

With a speed and agility that surprised Keesul, he side stepped the first arm, bringing the hard plastic club down on the hand. The iron dropped to the floor with a crash, two of the Lec-mech's plastic fingers still curled around the handle. Steam sprayed from the ruptured pipe, but Thorne dodged swiftly, hitting the hand again as hard as he could.

Meanwhile Keesul had tried to engage the other hand, lashing out at it with all her might. The arm grabbed at the stick, deftly catching it, then lifted up to the ceiling. Keesul hung on, her feet left the floor. The arm began to swing from side to side, picking up speed. Keesul was swung wildly, coming nearer and nearer to hitting the walls on each pass. She gripped the stick as tight as she could manage, but still felt herself slipping. One more swing and the arm stopped. She hung for a few moments, thinking she had broken the arm, probably by being so heavy. She promised faithfully to go to the gym more often.

Keesul looked around, Thorne stood over by the far wall leaning against the emergency power cut-off. "It's alright now miss, you can come down. It's quite safe." She looked down, The tips of her toes were just brushing the floor. Smiling she dropped down.

The laundry floor was very cold and slightly wet on her bare feet. Quickly she walked over to the stacks of clothes. The system was old but efficient, which meant the clean clothes were sent straight back upstairs. Most of the clothes were uniforms worn by the "living" staff, most of which were unsuitable. Starched shirts and knife-creased trousers in purple weren't her idea of fun. But being the daughter of the consul had it's privileges, one being she had plenty to wear. She soon found a pair of whitish socks in the "dirty" basket. She had only worn them once, so they didn't smell at all really. She also dug out some acceptable underwear from the ironing pile, and the drier yielded a track suit.

Thorne wandered out of the room whilst Keesul dressed, but stayed within earshot. Talking constantly to assure her he wasn't looking. "All we need now are some shoes." His voice sounded from around the corner. "It's a pity you don't have those washed. Never mind, we'll come up with something. I suppose your shoes are all in that un-cooperative wardrobe."

Several minutes later Keesul appeared from the laundry, "I'm ready, this is better, though it's a bit bright." The tracksuit was yellow with pink stripes down the arms and legs. Keesul turned to show Thorne a large pink motif decorating the back.

"Yes I see what you mean, but that's not too important, robots can see your body heat and can detect the slightest movement, so it doesn't make that much difference."

Keesul went suddenly quite pale. She had forgotten about their precarious position for a moment. "We beat the laundry, Thorne," she said uncertainly, "we can do the rest the same way and re-possess the house."

"I'm sorry miss, it isn't that easy. Lec-mechs are simple devices, designed to do menial tasks. They have little ability to fight, they just do what they can, which isn't very much. Some of the robots upstairs are quite capable of inflicting fatal injuries. If it was just a matter of being hit with irons and saucepans we wouldn't have come down here. A Lec-mech is one thing, a fully mobile robot is something else. Besides The Principal has been informed of our movements, we must assume he has sent something a little more capable than our domestic friends up there."

Keesul fell quiet, her arms falling limp by her sides, she spoke quietly, "Then what will happen to us?"

"Don't worry miss, please calm yourself, there is help at hand, we aren't beat yet. This way please." Thorne walked away from the laundry with such confidence that Keesul felt immediately better. She rushed after his retreating back, deeper into the basement.

She caught up with Thorne in a large open space. The space was meant for a bomb proof bunker. The re-enforced walls had been built but nothing else. Old wooden crates had been stacked up against the far wall. Thorne was busy looking at the labels.

"Ah, here we are, 'Oxygen recycling equipment'. Keesul, help me with this will you." Thorne handed Keesul a crow-bar and began prising the front off a massive crate.

"Why do we need this, Thorne, this place isn't air tight is it?" Said Keesul, jamming her crow-bar into one corner.

"It isn't oxygen recycling equipment. Look at it, it's too big. A unit to fit this place would be a tenth the size of this. Besides, I inventoried this stuff years ago, when it was first delivered, so I know what's in here."

"So what is it then?"

"You will see, miss, in just a moment."

The plastic front squeaked and groaned as the fastenings popped off one by one. With the last one the front dropped to the floor. Inside was a large plastic object that seemed to be folded up. It was un-identifiable, to Keesul's eyes at least. Thorne seemed very pleased.

"Just what we wanted, there should be another one somewhere, see if you can find it."

Keesul stared at the shape for a moment, trying to follow the lines, but nothing made sense. So, swinging the crow-bar she wandered off to find another crate of similar proportions. She had spotted a likely candidate when the sound of a deep booming voice sent a shiver down her back.

She turned slowly around to where she thought the voice had come from. Thorne seemed to be talking to the crate, but it wasn't his voice, not by a long way. The voice sounded again.

"All systems on line and ready, do you wish me to exit the travel case?"

"Yes," replied Thorne, "Please do so."

The shape in the crate began to move, the crate warped and split as the robot stretched out to its correct form. Keesul stood with her mouth open. She had seen military robots before, but never this close, and never in such a confined space. Awed, she admired the robot. Now it was out of the crate it stood over two metres tall. It was very wide, had a head like a turret and was all sharp angles. It's arms, all four of them, where obviously weapons. Its legs were like greek columns, and had a strange joint on the hip that Keesul couldn't work out. It was a patchy grey all over except for black stripes across its back and upper arms. Keesul was impressed. Then suddenly she wasn't.

"Thorne, is that thing on our side." she said nervously.

"Yes miss, of course. I wouldn't have activated it otherwise. Did you find the other one?"

"Er, yes, I think so."

"Excellent, now, come over here and introduce yourself to Tiger One."

Hesitantly Keesul crept over to the hulking robot and held out her hand.

"Er, hello, my name is Keesul Morland, pleased to meet you." The robot looked at the outstretched hand, then at Keesul. "I am not programmed for etiquette. Your identity is now stored in my memory. Do you have any orders?"

"No, not at the moment." Keesul dropped her hand, looking to Thorne for a prompt.

"Come here, Tiger One, help me with this crate." The robot turned slowly, "Yes, sir." Despite her nervousness Keesul couldn't help noticing the hesitation between the 'yes' and the 'sir' when the robot spoke. It worried her immensely. The Kitchen had spoken the same way.

Light, precise steps took Tiger One across the room to the other crate. It quickly cleared the smaller crates from around the larger one. Then one of the lower hands reached out and plucked the front off without the slightest effort.

An almost identical robot to Tiger One was folded within. Thorne reached into the crate and removed a long strip from the robot's head. Several lights flashed on a panel on its chest, followed by a single beep. The panel them slammed shut. Again a deep resonant voice echoed around the bunker. "All systems on line and ready, do you wish me to exit the travel case?"

"Yes, please do so." Said Thorne.

Keesul was introduced to the second robot, Tiger Two, this time she didn't offer to shake hands. The robot's reply was much as the first one's.

Once the introductions had been made, Thorne gave the robots their orders in a crisp, military fashion. "Tiger One, proceed to a point within the laundry, prevent any other robot from approaching using minimal force, any humans are to be restrained before informing me. Whilst you are there please access the central computer known as The Principal and update your memory as required. Tiger Two, you will stay within this room, over by the door, otherwise your orders are the same as Tiger One. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir." This from Tiger One, again with the slight pause.

"Yes sir." From Tiger Two, with no hesitation.

The two robots walked away to take up their positions. Tiger Two stood in the doorway, its head rotating alarmingly through the 180 degrees between the inside and outside of the room.

Keesul stood watching for several moments until Thorne's voice brought her back.

"Now, miss, there are just one or two more things to find. If you could just look for "Personal storage equipment", I'll find us some weapons."
"Thorne," began Keesul, "if The Principal has ordered the colony robots to attack, why aren't these two listening?"

Thorne's voice sounded from behind a stack of crates. "Because these robots have been assigned to the house. Besides they are military issue, they wouldn't be much good if they did what any old person told them, now would they?"

"No, I suppose not, but how do they know you? And how did you know their names? I didn't hear them say anything about names."

Thorne emerged with a small crate, placing it carefully on top of another. "Battery powered stoves, this is what we want." He turned to Keesul and smiled. "I was here when they were delivered, as part of the household my identity was programmed into them. I am out ranked by several other people, but none of them are here, so I'm in charge. And I didn't know their names, they don't have names really, just codes. I called them Tigers because that's their official type, for obvious reasons. They are Tiger One and Tiger Two because that's what I told them to be." He disappeared around the crates again.

Keesul thought for a few moments, idly scanning a few of the nearer crate labels. "So you could just as easily have called them 'Squeak and Lu-la-belle'?"

Thorne didn't answer for a few minutes, then he emerged from the other side of the room dragging a long box. "Oh yes, it didn't really matter, as long as both we and they know who we are giving orders to. They have a serial number to avoid confusion, but it doesn't exactly trip off the tongue."

Keesul was expecting some kind of weapon, but the long crate contained packets of foil-wrapped field rations. "Nutritious and tasty, here, try some." Thorne held out one of the packets.

"No thanks, I've eaten." declined Keesul quickly.

"They are actually quite good, soldiers are very fussy with their food you know. Although I must admit they are more nutritious than tasty." Thorne turned his attention to the smaller box. The lid slid off revealing four metallic pistols.

"This is all we have for ourselves, I'm afraid, not counting the awesome fire power of our feline friends of course. But if we should become separated you may need to use one of these."

"What do you mean 'separated'? Where are we going?" Keesul gripped the edge of the crate, the tendons on her hands standing out. Thorne reached out and patted her shoulder, "I'm sorry miss, I thought you understood. We can't stay here, The Principal will send his forces in once he knows we are still alive. That's what his programming says, "Seek and destroy all who pose a threat". In this case that's us. We will have to leave, and soon. Tiger One will inform us of the situation outside, and keep us updated."

Keesul relaxed slightly, though her voice was still a little high pitched. "So where will we go? I thought the whole town was under The Principal's control?"

"Yes the whole colony is, but there are computers within the town that are autonomous like the tigers, that can decide to act or disregard The Principal." Thorne paused for effect, a slight smile on his lips.
"Where? What are they?"

"The spaceport. We can get out on a space plane." He looked for the smile on Keesul's face but was disappointed to see her face tighten and her shoulders sag. "But that's kilometres away, we'll never make it with every robot in town on our backs."

"Of course we will," Thorne said confidently, "we have two military robots with us, there are very few things that can stand up to one of those. We also have side arms, most of the city's robots are armed with tools, like the Kitchen and Laundry. And we can move very swiftly. It won't be easy, but it shouldn't prove too difficult. Now, help me with these." He began clearing the top of the crate they had been using as a table.

After a few minutes of silence, during which they opened the crate, Keesul turned to Thorne and asked, "Most of them? You said most of the robots have tools for weapons, what do the rest have?"

Thorne grimaced, "I hoped you wouldn't ask that." He began pulling tube shaped parts from the crate and laying them out on the floor. Then, studying a thin manual, he began to assemble the object. Keesul picked up several of the little foam packing pieces and began ripping them apart. Eventually, realising she wasn't going to give up, Thorne explained the circumstances.

"This is a big town, Keesul, on a colony world light years from anywhere. The authorities built many safe guards into the system for many eventualities. Crime, riot, civil war, famine, drought, and so on. The Principal is programmed to handle them all, and it has the resources at its disposal. While it doesn't have anything like these two, they are more for open warfare, it does have armed robots, the police robots for instance."

"And these robots are going to be doing what, exactly, when we run for the spaceport?" Keesul's voice trembled slightly.

"Actually, their programming will help us somewhat. They are programmed to issue a warning before attacking, even the armageddon program can't override that. Also, the armageddon program is aimed more at crowds, not individuals, so that gives us a certain advantage."

Thorne turned his attention to the pistols, removing and loading all four.

"Now, Keesul. This is an old fashioned projectile pistol. It fires balls of hard plastic at very high velocity using small quantities of high explosive. The cartridge here in the handle," He turned the pistol over and pulled a metal slide out of the pistol grip, "holds thirty of these shells. Each shell is one shot, when the shells are all gone, you have no shots left. It isn't like the laser weapons you have practised with; shot after shot, then slap in a recharge." He looked to see if she understood. Although she only nodded quietly, Thorne knew she was a bright girl and was probably taking it all in.

"There are three spare slides for each gun, I know that sounds a lot but use them sparingly, or not at all if you can help it." Thorne handed two of the pistols and six slides to Keesul. "They are a little out of date, but they still work, I'll show you how to use them properly later. Meanwhile just point and pull the trigger."

Smiling confidently, Thorne turned back to the instruction manual he had been looking at earlier. He hoped the pistols would calm Keesul, giving her something to think about as well as being a comfort to hold on to.

Keesul watched Thorne assemble the object with interest. She needed something to take her mind off things. This whole situation was beginning to get too worrying for her liking, she had lived in comfort all her life, the real world kept at bay. Now she was in a bunker holding live weapons and talking to attack robots. She looked down at her practically bare feet, She suddenly felt very small and vulnerable in a room full of big, heavy things she didn't understand.

Thorne looked at her, following her gaze. "It's alright, miss, I've thought of something we can do to get you some footwear." He smiled again and returned to his task.

The object he was assembling was now taking on some kind of form. Keesul had worked out it was another robot, but it was very small. She wondered what use it was going to be. A few minutes later it was complete. It was slightly shorter than Keesul, at about one metre sixty. Its head was very humanoid, with full features, pinkish 'skin' and short black hair. Its shoulders and hips looked like tubes with the limbs hanging down from the ends. The two tubes were joined by another, thicker, tube like a drainpipe. Overall it looked like a metal dog-bone stood on its end with straw arms and legs.

Thorne opened the drainpipe and inserted a circular lump with wires hanging from it. He connected the wires inside then closed the hatch. As he stepped back the robot opened his eyes and looked around. Noticing Thorne and Keesul he stood smoothly and moved over to Keesul.

He took her hand, Keesul snatched it back.

"I do apologise madam, I didn't mean to frighten you. Please, I mean you no harm. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Pierrot. I am a Personal Assistant, model pa121. I have been carefully programmed to serve your needs. I can cook, clean, mend and fetch. I can choose outfits for any occasion, order wine, make interesting conversation..."
"Yes, thank you Pierrot, that will be sufficient for the moment."

nterrupted Thorne, "Your orders for the time being are to look after miss Keesul, never leave her side, not for a second. Do you understand?"

"But sir, I haven't even mentioned my artistic qualifications, nor my..." 

"Do you understand?"

Pierrot stood open mouthed for a moment, then said quietly, "Yes, sir."
Thorne, noticing but ignoring the sarcasm in the word "Sir", turned to Keesul.

"Now, miss if you could fill Pierrot in on the current situation, I will see about some shoes. He has a radio transmitter, but only with voice capability. So despite his long list of other talents, he is unable to access the Link." Thorne smiled at Pierrot and walked away.

"What a rude man, however did you come to be with him?" Keesul felt slightly awkward talking to Pierrot, he was obviously far more intelligent than the robot servants she normally spoke to, and quite a different kettle of fish to the laconic Tigers.

"He's a good man, he saved my life."

"Oh, well in that case I may have to forgive him. Now you were going to tell me about these circumstances?"

Keesul looked into Pierrot's large, round eyes. They were very human, soft, almost sensual. Keesul felt herself relaxing as they gazed at each other. Pierrot changed position, bringing his tube-like body to her attention. The spell was broken, she was going to have to do something about that.

Thorne emerged from behind a pile of thin crates dragging a metallic silver suit behind him. "I've found a biological warfare suit, it's got stout boots that will fit nicely, if we can get them off." He looked around, realising he was talking to an empty room. He dropped the suit and ran over to Tiger Two.

"Where did Keesul go? Why did you let her past?"

The Keesul and the small device went along this corridor towards Tiger One's position. I was not given orders to restrain the Keesul from leaving this room, my orders to restrain other robots were over-ridden by the Keesul." The robot spoke clearly, without hint of emotion.

Thorne shook his head and ran towards Tiger One. The sound of voices up ahead caused him to slow down. He found Keesul and Pierrot standing in a pile of discarded clothing discussing the merits of New-denim. Tiger One stood alert, not in the least distracted from his duty.
Thorne cleared his throat meaningfully. Keesul turned to Thorne and smiled, then back to Pierrot. The small robot was trying on a pair of jeans, trying to get them to stay on his strange shape. "Never mind," Keesul said, "we can find some rope and tie them on, then you can wear this shirt of my father's, it will hang down and hide all that."

Pierrot slipped the shirt over his head. It was a long sleeved T-shirt with a picture of a native cat-like carnivore on the front. The carnivore was all teeth and very dangerous. Pierrot was immensely pleased when Keesul told him.

"We will have to do something about those things." Keesul sighed as she inspected the rounded metal plates that were Pierrot's feet.
Thorne walked over to Keesul, "Miss Keesul, I would be obliged if you would inform me of your movements from now on, As I will inform you of mine. We need to stay together, or at least not too far apart." He paused, Keesul nodded in understanding. He changed the subject quickly, in an effort to ease Keesul's discomfort. "I believe the problem with footwear had been solved, if you would come with me."

Thorne turned and walked back to the bunker. Keesul followed close behind, a mock scolded look on her face. Pierrot laughed in a very human like fashion, following closely on Keesul's heels.

- Copyright Steve Dean