“Present Card”

Ivy encounters the process of developing technology for an evil base.

As it turned out, getting to young Mike’s party was not a simple matter of walking up. After navigating up stairs and down corridors to the room it was in, I reached a door marked “CHILDCARE : ROOM B3-C11“. In front of the door, however, there was a robot.

This robot was not one of the gleaming confections of chrome and ceramic you see in movies. For want of chrome and ceramic, the entirety of the machine was painted in a matt white, with decoration spray-painted on in silver. The head was covered with an asymmetric arrangement of holes, lenses and sensors that looked more like a potato squashed into a tube than a person; the limbs were apparently constructed of plastic pipes, rubber bellows and duct tape; and the hands were corroding brass claws that looked like they had been taken from a high-tech pirate.


Nevertheless, it apparently worked; the head rotated smoothly to watch me as I stood in front of the door, and when I tried to step forward and open it, the machine moved in front of me and announced “Entry not permitted. Present card,” in a voice apparently made of all the noises its motors had not made.

That voice reminded me of one of the first stories I worked on. Last time someone tried to build a an AI like this in A – with all the resources of a big corporation, mind you – it ended up killing two people when the car it was controlling crashed. When I remembered that, the strange face suddenly seemed nightmarish. Nothing had a right to look like that and move. I backed up against the opposite wall, and tried to glance up and down the hall while watching the machine for the slightest move. [A is the city-state Ivy is from — Bethany]

After a couple of minutes, where the robot did nothing more than watch the people going past, I began to feel like a fool. All it wanted was a card. I took a deep breath and pulled out the one I had been given earlier, then offered it to the robot. “Here. My card”

The head rotated to face me, looking straight at the design on the card. Then it stayed, looking at me, completely immobile. “Present card,

“This is my card.” I waved it in front of the machine’s absurd face. “See?”

Present card,

“Look, I’m supposed to be attending something in here, you machine.” I held the card right in front of the largest lens, and read off the back. “Ivy Ferraglin. Historian. Grade 0. Civilian.” Still nothing. “I have an appointment.”

The robot moved its eye to look past me, and recited its line again. I tried tentatively putting the card in the robot’s hand, but it jerked away whenever I got close.

I retreated back to the opposite wall.

Watching the mechanical guard warily, I noticed a key-card slot next to the door, similar to the ones I had seen on every other door on the way here. Why did they need that and a machine?

I held my hand in front of my face, and concentrated on seeing through it to the “Childcare” sign. Like hundreds of times before, I faded away to invisibility. This was what I should be doing in an evil base. I stepped around the machine – apparently it wasn’t clever enough to notice anything it couldn’t see – and slid my card into the slot. Lights blinked above it, and I smiled.

Then the lights turned red. I took the card out and stepped back, as the robot announced my error to the world. “The card-slot is deactivated. Present card to me,” It waved its hand at the slot and I jumped away; when I offered the card again, though, it still refused to take it.

* * *

I spent another five minutes standing in front of the door, deliberating whether to go back to my office and try the manual, or e-mail, or something. I wasn’t confident I could approach Siersi, I had no idea where Hannah would be, and anyone else I could as was in the room. None of the passers-by looked like the sort of person who would help a stranger in a pickle, certainly.

I remembered the “phone” I had been issued, but it turned out to be nothing more than a black cylinder with cleverly cut holes in it, presumably for a speaker inside. It apparently had no controls beyond an on-off switch, and did not appear to respond to voice commands. I felt too stupid talking to it to spend long trying.

Eventually, the door opened from the inside. A black-gloved hand waved the robot aside and Jim, the Leader with the black suit, came out. The glove caught my attention. I didn’t remember him wearing one previously, and it was clearly far too large for his hand. This was emphasised by the fact that he only wore one glove.

“You have noticed my new hand? It’s part of a project I’ve been working on for a while.” He waved the glove again, and the robot stepped back in front of the door. “I can see many uses for these machines; so far, it is quite the fruitful line of research. They could be most useful as incorruptible guards.”

“Ah…” I looked at the robot, and back at the man in the black suit. “Was it supposed to let me in? I was told to come here.”

The Leader frowned. “It was, yes. Have you made certain to swipe your card?” He demonstrated, sliding a blank card through a near-invisible slot on the robot’s wrist. He looked back at me. “That is it. I see. I shall have to think about re-designing it. Thank you for your assistance.”

“Er. Okay.”

“It is vital to give new inventions a test in a real environment. It reveals a great many problems.” The door slid open again, given me a glimpse of party decorations inside as Bethany, Bartholomew (out of uniform) and several other people in well-cut but informal clothes came out. Most of them left, but the Leaders fell in step, Jim waving for me to follow. “There is no more to be recorded there. It was just a whim, but we now have a true problem to discuss. I would have you take notes at our council.”

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