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Heirs of the Perisphere

THINGS HAD NOT BEEN GOING WELL at the factory for the last fifteen hundred years or so.

A rare thunderstorm, soaking rain, and a freak lightning bolt changed all that.

When the lightning hit, an emergency generator went to work as it had been built to do a millennium and a half before. It cranked up and ran the assembly line just long enough, before freezing up and shedding its brushes and armatures in a fine spray, to finish some work in the custom design section.

The factory completed, hastily programmed, and wrongly certified as approved the three products which had been on the assembly line fifteen centuries before.

Then the place went dark again.

* * *

“Gawrsh,” said one of them. “It shore is dark in here!”

“Well, huh-huh, we can always use the infrared they gave us!”

“Wak Wak Wak!” said the third. “What’s the big idea?”

* * *

The custom-order jobs were animato/mechanical simulacra. They were designed to speak and act like the famous creations of a multimillionaire cartoonist who late in life had opened a series of gigantic amusement parks in the latter half of the twentieth century.

Once these giant theme parks had employed persons in costume to act the parts. Then the corporation which had run things after the cartoonist’s death had seen the wisdom of building robots. The simulacra would be less expensive in the long run, would never be late for work, could be programmed to speak many languages, and would never try to pick up the clean-cut boys and girls who visited the Parks.

These three had been built to be host robots in the third and largest of the Parks, the one separated by an ocean from the other two.

And, as their programming was somewhat incomplete, they had no idea of much of this.

All they had were a bunch of jumbled memories, awareness of the thunderstorm outside, and of the darkness of the factory around them.

The tallest of the three must have started as a cartoon dog, but had become upright and acquired a set of baggy pants, balloon shoes, a sweatshirt, black vest, and white gloves. There was a miniature carpenter’s hat on his head, and his long ears hung down from it. He had two prominent incisors in his muzzle. He stood almost two meters tall and answered to the name GUF.

The second, a little shorter, was a white duck with a bright orange bill and feet, and a blue and white sailor’s tunic and cap. He had large eyes with little cuts out of the upper right corners of the pupils. He was naked from the waist down, and was the only one of the three without gloves. He answered to the name DUN.

The third and smallest, just over a meter, was a rodent. He wore a red bibbed playsuit with two huge gold buttons at the waistline. He was shirtless and had shoes like two pieces of bread dough. His tail was long and thin like a whip. His bare arms, legs, and chest were black, his face a pinkish-tan. His white gloves were especially prominent. His most striking feature was his ears, which rotated on a track, first one way, then another, so that seen from any angle they could look like a featureless black circle.

His name was MIK. His eyes, like those of GUF, were large and the pupils were big round dots. His nose ended in a perfect sphere of polished onyx.

* * *

“Well,” said MIK, brushing dust from his body, “I guess we’d better, huh-huh, get to work.”

“Uh hyuk,” said GUF. “Won’t be many people at thuh Park in weather like thiyus.”

“Oh boy! Oh boy!” quacked DUN. “Rain! Wak Wak Wak!” He ran out through a huge crack in the wall which streamed with rain and mist.

MIK and GUF came behind, GUF ambling with his hands in his pockets, MIK walking determinedly.

Lightning cracked once more but the storm seemed to be dying.

“Wak Wak Wak!” said DUN, his tail fluttering, as he swam in a big puddle. “Oh boy. Oh joy!”

“I wonder if the rain will hurt our works?” asked MIK.

“Not me!” said GUF. “Uh hyuk! I’m equipped fer all kinds a weather.” He put his hand conspiratorially beside his muzzle. “’Ceptin’ mebbe real cold on thuh order of -40° Celsius, uh hyuk!”

MIK was ranging in the ultraviolet and infrared, getting the feel of the landscape through the rain. “You’d have thought, huh-huh, they might have sent a truck over or something,” he said. “I guess we’ll have to walk.”

“I didn’t notice anyone at thuh factory,” said GUF. “Even if it was a day off, you’d think some of thuh workers would give unceasingly of their time, because, after all, thuh means of produckshun must be kept in thuh hands of thuh workers, uh hyuk!”

GUF’s specialty was to have been talking with visitors from the large totalitarian countries to the west of the country the Park was in. He was especially well versed in dialectical materialism and correct Mao thought.

As abruptly as it had started, the storm ended. Great ragged gouts broke in the clouds, revealing high, fast-moving cirrus, a bright blue sky, the glow of a warming sun.

“Oh rats rats rats!” said DUN, holding out his hand, palm up. “Just when I was starting to get wet!”

“Uh, well,” asked GUF, “which way is it tuh work? Thuh people should be comin’ out o’ thuh sooverneer shops real soon now.”

MIK looked around, consulting his programming. “That way, guys,” he said, unsure of himself. There were no familiar landmarks, and only one that was disturbingly unfamiliar.

Far off was the stump of a mountain. MIK had a feeling it should be beautiful, blue and snow-capped. Now it was a brown lump, heavily eroded, with no white at the top. It looked like a bite had been taken out of it.

All around them was rubble, and far away in the other direction was a sluggish ocean.

* * *

It was getting dark. The three sat on a pile of concrete.

“Them and their big ideas,” said DUN.

“Looks like thuh Park is closed,” said GUF.

MIK sat with his hands under his chin. “This just isn’t right, guys,” he said. “We were supposed to report to the programming hut to get our first day’s instructions. Now we can’t even find the Park!”

“I wish it would rain again,” said DUN, “while you two are making up your minds.”

“Well, uh hyuk,” said GUF. “I seem tuh remember we could get hold of thuh satellite in a ’mergency.”

“Sure!” said MIK, jumping to his feet and pounding his fist into his glove. “That’s it! Let’s see, what frequency was that . . . ?”

“Six point five oh four,” said DUN. He looked eastward. “Maybe I’ll go to the ocean.”

“Better stay here whiles we find somethin’ out,” said GUF.

“Well, make it snappy!” said DUN.

MIK tuned in the frequency and broadcast the Park’s call letters.

* * *

“ . . . ZZZZZ. What? HOOSAT?”

“Uh, this is MIK, one of the simulacra at the Park. We’re trying to get a hold of one of the other Parks for, huh-huh, instructions.”

“In what language would you like to communicate?” asked the satellite.

“Oh, sorry, huh-huh. We speak Japanese to each other, but we’ll switch over to Artran if that’s easier for you.” GUF and DUN tuned in, too.

“It’s been a very long while since anyone communicated with me from down there.” The satellite’s well-modulated voice snapped and popped.

“If you must know,” HOOSAT continued, “it’s been rather a while since anyone contacted me from anywhere. I can’t say much for the stability of my orbit, either. Once I was forty thousand kilometers up, very stable . . .”

“Could you put us through to one of the other Parks, or maybe the Studio itself, if you can do that? We’d, huh-huh, like to find out where to report for work.”

“I’ll attempt it,” said HOOSAT. There was a pause and some static. “Predictably, there’s no answer at any of the locations.”

“Well, where are they?”

“To whom do you refer?”

“The people,” said MIK.

“Oh, you wanted humans? I thought perhaps you wanted the stations themselves. There was a slight chance that some of them were still functioning.”

“Where are thuh folks?” asked GUF.

“I really don’t know. We satellites and monitoring stations used to worry about that frequently. Something happened to them.”

“What?” asked all three robots at once.

“Hard to understand,” said HOOSAT. “Ten or fifteen centuries ago. Very noisy in all spectra, followed by quiet. Most of the ground stations ceased functioning within a century after that. You’re the first since then.”

“What do you do, then?” asked MIK.

“Talk with other satellites. Very few left. One of them has degraded. It only broadcasts random numbers when the solar wind is very strong. Another . . .”

There was a burst of fuzzy static.

“Hello? HOOSAT?” asked the satellite. “It’s been a very long time since anyone . . .”

“It’s still us!” said MIK. “The simulacra from the Park. We—”

“Oh, that’s right. What can I do for you?”

“Tell us where the people went.”

“I have no idea.”

“Well, where can we find out?” asked MIK.

“You might try the library.”

“Where’s that?”

“Let me focus in. Not very much left down there, is there? I can give you the coordinates. Do you have standard navigational programming?”

“Boy, do we!” said MIK.

“Well, here’s what you do . . .”

* * *


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