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Chapter One



I am.

I am Rock.

Life sparked and miraculously grew within a nightmarish twist of silicon wafers, copper wiring and microscopic circuitry. Three cognizant and self-aware thoughts surfaced amidst the darkness of nonbeing, and brought truth to the old maxim: I think, therefore I am.

Tiny servomotors whirred nearly inaudibly and carried out their predetermined set of instructions. Syntheflesh slid smoothly over diamond-hard corneas and revealed perfectly manufactured artwork. Twin crystal lenses twisted slowly and admitted light to a pair of photoreceptors designed to recognize and decode over a dozen types of wavelengths for visual recognition.

The android on the table opened his hawk-blue eyes and looked around him.

It did not occur to him that he was other than an android, though at first, second and third glance, he appeared entirely human. He stood and looked at his hands. From what he could tell, they looked organic. But then, everything about him did.

As a preprogrammed imperative, he ran a quick self-diagnostic scan of his system. What he found and accepted without pause would have astounded any scientist on the globe. Literally millions of tiny servomotors and steel cables simulated muscle structure and movements beneath the unusually pale synthetic skin of the android. Hundreds of tiny computers controlled his movements as he decided upon them, all in turn controlled by an amazing neuro-synthesis computer located in his head and chest cavities.

A miracle, and nothing less. He was a nearly perfect human replica--constructed entirely of highly durable and tough titanium alloys and synthetic flesh. Years, perhaps centuries ahead of his time, the android turned his head experimentally and looked at himself.

Rock. That was his name. He assumed it had been programmed into him, although he couldn't be sure. Perhaps somebody had told him while he was asleep . . . ? Doubtful. Had Rock been subject to human gestures, he would have shaken his head slightly.

He leaned against the highly-polished chrome-plated table upon which he had lain and studied the image of his own face. Large blue eyes, jet black hair and a face that looked more like a seventeen year old young man than that of a mature adult characterized him.

He was garbed in a pale orange, sleeveless robe that reached just to his mid thigh, cinched about the waist with a black cloth belt. His pants seemed made of the same stuff, and tucked into black boots of some sort. They were sturdy, and looked as if they had seen their share of wear and tear.

Rock flexed his fingers and looked about the room. It was a fairly plain chamber, with white walls and tiling. No visible electronics were in evidence, except for the rows of fluorescent lights above.

A doorway stood open behind him, and in it stood a man.

Rock felt his auto-irises constrict to adjust for the added light reflected by the white lab coat worn by the man. To avoid photoreceptor overload, his system automatically compensated and closed his eyelids for a fraction of a second while the irises adjusted.

In human terms--a blink.

"Hello, Rock," said the man, in a fatherly voice. Rock felt he should recognize the man, but could only hypothesize upon his identity. After a moment, Rock hazarded a guess.

"Are you my . . . maker?" he asked. The term father would have sounded wrong, somehow.

The man broke into a wide beam. "Yes, I am. My name is Thomas Xavier Light, and I am your creator." He looked Rock up and down for a moment. For the slimmest of instants--one which a human eye would have missed--Rock saw what might have been sorrow or longing playing across the aged features of his master and creator.

"And I am Rock," Rock answered. It was a statement meant more to confirm the idea to himself than to introduce himself to the doctor; after all, wouldn't Light have known his name already? He rolled the name around on his tongue, testing the sound of it. It was as good as any, he supposed. A simple, solid name: Rock.

Half-astounded by his own ability to form such opinions so quickly, Rock decided to run another diagnostic to see if he had changed in any way. Amazingly, his diagnostic indicated a constantly shifting neuro-net that adapted to new information; even an errant thought by Rock could be processed and extrapolated on--subconsciously to use an organic phrase--until an opinion was formed!

Rock blinked again as Dr. Light flipped on another light. Dr. Light beamed and clapped his hands once together. "Excellent!" he exclaimed. "Your blink-reflex is programmed perfectly! I really wasn't quite sure about that, you know."

A subroutine in Rock's neural info-net analyzed the remark as slightly humorous, and compensated with a slight contraction of the cables that controlled the widening and shortening of the mouth.

"A grin!" Dr. Light was in ecstasy. "Oh, wonderful! Rock, you are a marvel!"

Rock stood stock still, confused. He wasn't quite sure what to do at this point. He considered asking a question, and calculated a 94% probability that doing so would lead to a gain in information on the present situation. However, before he could speak, Dr. Light began again.

"Actually," Light said, "You are Rockman. However, Rock will do. It is a good name, and it matches your . . ." Light seemed to grasp for words, and eventually shrugged. He gesture to the doorway. "Well, Rock. This is Roll."

Rock looked past his "father" and saw an image of breathtaking beauty. At least, had he the need to truly breathe, the sight would have taken his breath away. The young woman behind Dr. Light was a bit shorter than Rock. Though her face seemed somehow familiar, it was crowned by pale red-gold hair that fell to her mid-back, caught up in a pony tail. She wore a simple crimson dress and brown leather shoes. Her eyes, like Rock's, were a piercing blue.

"Roll," Rock said to himself. He wasn't quite sure what to make of this. Dr. Light looked on expectantly, as if Rock were supposed to know what to do. After a moment of consideration, he asked, "Is she my--," probability matrices expanded and collapsed within Rock's brain, and flow charts that would have driven even the most persistent logician to tears produced eight logical possibilities. Rock filled in the word he calculated as having the most likelihood of being accurate. "--sister?"

Dr. Light frowned. "Well, in a way, I suppose." He grasped his hands and looked distressed. Eyes rolling heavenward, he continued. "I mean, you two were meant . . . but if you . . . oh, never mind!" He threw his hands up into the air and looked heavenward. "Yes, Roll is your sister."

Rock grinned. Having a sister would be much less difficult, he calculated, than having a mate, which had been number three on his list of probabilities. "A sister. Good." He walked up to Roll and spoke. "Hi. I'm Rock."

Roll's voice when she spoke, though sweet, was laden with sarcasm. "So I guessed."

"Um . . ." Rock looked around for some help, and decided that he would do better to talk to Dr. Light. "What is my function, anyway?"

Light seemed amused, and answered after letting Rock stew for a few moments in uncomfortable silence. "You are my assistant." He turned to Roll. "And you, too. We have great work to do together, and not much time. In less than an hour, my cousin Dr. Wily will be here."

"Where is here?" Rock asked.

Dr. Light looked flustered. "You are in Tokyo, of course. In my lab."

"Tokyo." Rock's voice was flat. He turned to Roll and gave her a questioning look. She shrugged. Rock pushed blue-black hair out of his eyes and asked, "What is a Tokyo?"

"Oh my." Dr. Light sat down heavily and shook his head. "I should have included this in your programming." He looked at both of the new robots. "Well, at least you both know how to read."

Both nodded. Rock scanned his memory banks, and found that he could not only read, but speak eighteen different languages. Dr. Light continued as he pushed himself up from the white tile floor. "Well, then. Go to the library on the second floor of this building. You'll find anything you could want to know there. If you get lost, ask the serving 'bots for directions. But come down in a bit to meet my cousin Will."

Rock wondered internally what increment of time a "bit" was, but decided that he could determine such information in the library, when he and Roll arrived. "Very well."

"Have fun." Dr. Light grinned, and Rock found himself, and Roll returning the expression.

Rock's shrug was mirrored by his golden-haired sister, and the pair turned and walked upstairs, leaving a softly chuckling Dr. Light behind. He could not have been more pleased.

"Eddie!" he called. In a moment, his robotic transport device--which he had nicknamed Eddie--trundled into view. It had two legs with large feet to keep its balance, holding up a wide, roughly cone-shaped body with a face on the front and a thin arm extending out of the right side. The arm held a small crank that opened a large compartment on the head, giving this line of robots their trade name, the FlipTops. Light had manufactured and sold thousands of them.

Eddie's thin arm rapidly turned the crank, and the top of its head/torso popped open, revealing a sheaf of paperwork cluttered with pens, pencils and a hundred different measuring tools and devices. Thomas Light rifled around in the patient robot's head until he found what he was looking for: the Council's expectations for the six industrial robots.

* * * * *

Weeks, then months flew by.

Rock and Roll learned quickly to do their share of work around the lab. Rock was particularly gifted with tools, and Roll with electronic schematics, so Light had each help him and Wily in their tasks. Soon, the pair became invaluable, though Wily grumbled that they were always in the way.

Rock had read until all the books in Dr. Light's extensive library had been finished, from Frankenstein to Isaac Asimov's Basic Chemistry to Sen Tzu's the Art of War. Roll was no less enthusiastic in her yearning to learn, and soon, the readings developed into a race to see which "sibling" could finish first.

Despite his ability to feel emotion, Rock felt strangely detached when he read about the atrocities of the Second World War, or the racial persecution that followed the Third World War. Roll, when she read the books, was furious, and demanded to know how humans could be so stupid. Dr. Light had only shrugged sadly. Dr. Wily had said something acerbic about the limitless abilities of humans to commit mass stupidity.

Conversely, Rock felt little reaction to such ideas. Instead of the burning anger he knew he should feel, or the deep sense of disquiet, he felt only that he should correct such wrongs. When Rock had asked Dr. Light about the suspected flaw in his own system, Dr. Light merely raised an eyebrow and assured Rock that he was fine.

It was not until Rock picked up a book of Dr. Wily's--a play written by a Rumanian whose name was Capek--that he was truly disturbed by something. It was three months after his activation that he read Rossum's Universal Robots, and when he finished, he walked downstairs to the lab, quietly.

When Wily saw him holding the book, he shook his head. "You forgot to program your robots with manners, Cousin Tom, or is it no longer considered necessary to ask permission to borrow one's books?"

Rock stammered an apology, by Wily waved it away.

Dr. Light put down his wrench after tightening the last bolt on the robot he worked on, and looked at Rock with concern. "What is it? You look upset."

Rock held up the copy of R.U.R. "This. Could it really happen?"

Wily nodded grimly. "Robots could, conceivably, revolt against humanity and destroy them. That is why we program every robot with the Three Rules."

"But," Rock said, "killing one another is a human trait. Robots do not kill."

"Not as of yet," Wily said grimly. "A robot programmed to kill will do so."

Dr. Light waved a dismissive hand. "Bah! You two worry too much. Here, Rock--look at Number Three."

Rock took a step forward and looked at the nearly-completed timber felling robot. Of course, he had seen it a hundred times before; it was his handiwork that had secured the springsteel to the soles of the feet. He and Roll had worked together on the legs of this particular robot, adding several muscle-cables, so that it would be capable of jumping high in the air to cut off tree branches.

"He's nearly finished," Rock observed, with some pride in his voice. He grinned wryly. "Rather ironic, don't you think?"

"What?" Dr. Wily asked. "That we're setting up the human race to be dominated by its own inventions? Scheiße, do you realize how serious this is?"

"Not that," Rock answered. "I mean that we've invented a robot to cut down robotic trees."

Dr. Light barked a short laugh. "True. But who could have predicted that treeborgs would have been so successful?"

Rock shrugged. Treeborgs--a term coined in the early 21st century when mass deforestation, pollution and radioactive fallout had combined to wipe out 98% of the world's plant life. That disaster had heralded the end of the Third World War. When men realized that they would die from lack of oxygen provided by trees, a concerted effort by all the world's leading nations produced a team of scientists who eventually came to be known as cyborg-botanists-- "cybotanists" to most English speaking countries. The team of fifteen dedicated robotechnicians and botanists had built upon several theories. Prosthetic enhancements were already commonplace amongst those humans wounded in battle or born with physical defects. If one could adequately blend organic matter with inorganic on a man, why not with trees?

The question had eventually given rise to the creation of the so-called "treeborgs." Although the term was outdated now, the principal remained the same. While the few remaining trees survived in highly protected nurseries dotted around the globe, treeborgs flourished, a perfect blend of flora and machine.

The first treeborgs did not begin as seeds; rather, they started life as saplings. With leaves enhanced by micro-solar panels and a malleable core that simulated photosynthesis, treeborgs could only be distinguished from true organic trees by the inexplicable tendency for cables or plating to grow from the bark.

Cybotanists still didn't fully understand how their own work functioned; in theory, it should have been impossible for treeborgs to germinate and produce seeds. In theory, it should have been impossible for the treeborgs to remove trace amounts of minerals from the earth through their roots and synthesize entire branches of iron. Still, theory notwithstanding, both happened. Treeborgs were now more widespread than their organic predecessors had been, surviving even in the arctic and Antarctic.

In addition, treeborg wood was harder and more durable than traditional organic wood (pieces of which now sold for thousands of dollars), and a healthy lumber trade had developed around their cultivation. Replanting was never a problem; treeborgs grew much faster than organic trees, reaching mature height in often under a year.

Rock shook his head slightly. He could get lost in his own knowledge sometimes; that's what came of having a perfect memory. He looked from doctor to doctor to see if they had noticed his thoughtful reverie. It occurred to him a few seconds later that to bring up all the data available on the development and growth of treeborgs and the treeborg lumber industry had taken less than a second in his super-efficient brain.

"Nearly finished," Rock repeated, staring in wonder at the end result of months of hard labor, interspersed with flashes of brilliant inspiration by both Dr. Light and Dr. Wily, and--to the doctors' surprise--Rock and Roll. "Just a few chips left to install?" Rock asked.

Dr. Light and Dr. Wily nodded. "We plan to activate him for a test run this afternoon, if you and Roll want to watch."

Rock grinned, his expression a duplicate of the smile he had picked up from Dr. Light. Both doctor-cousins had to remind themselves that he was not human. "That would be great. I'll go find Roll and tell her." Without another word, he turned and walked upstairs to the library, his disquiet forgotten.

Both scientists watched him go. Wily shook his head.

"We depend too much on him and Roll," he said. "They did almost the entire leg assembly on this robot. I never even saw the changes Roll made to my schematics!"

Dr. Light frowned. "They're supposed to be lab assistants, Will. That's what lab assistants do."

"But what if they broke down? Would we be able to work without them?" Wily folded his arms and looked levelly at his cousin.

"Of course," Light snapped. "You're too much of a fatalist. Here, hand me that access panel."

Wily picked up the gray access panel that would cover the main chest cavity and placed it in Light's waiting hand. He looked at their creation as Light let the magnetic seals seamlessly hide the chest cavity; it looked humanoid, though not nearly so much as Rockman or Roll.

The upper arms and legs were of normal human proportions, and painted a pale gray. The lower arms and legs, painted a dull crimson, were both somewhat ballooned out: the feet were exceptionally large, so that the robot would have no trouble keeping its balance once it landed from its mighty leaps.

The head, also of dull crimson, was a perfect sphere, with silver ear-forms on each side. Large eyes, a concession to Wily's cartoon-like sense of humor, would also serve to take in large amounts of optical data and allow the robot to see more than a normal human being would. A small mouth equipped with a voice chip would allow the robot to communicate with human beings.

It was the blade that was Wily's pride. He and Light had worked for weeks to make sure that the circular scissors-blades, about a foot and a half in diameter and magnetically fixed to the top of the robot's forehead, would retain their razor-sharp edge after repeated use in cutting down trees. An added brainstorm of Wily's had been to implant a magnetic homing chip in the blades, so that they would serve as a "boomerang"; that way, the robot wouldn't need to waste precious time and lower its efficiency by needing to retrieve the thrown blades after every felled tree.

"What were we going to name him, again?" Wily asked as he admired the robot.

"Achilles," answered Light, who had a love of ancient mythology.

Wily shrugged, then grinned. "It's a bit of a departure from Blues, Rock and Roll." His grin faded. "But you realize, we're only adding to the problem."

Light frowned. "What problem?"

"Once we finish these robots, they'll be so popular that every nation in the world will want them." Wily unfolded his arms and gestured at the inert Achilles. "Soon, nobody will be cutting their own wood. The lumber industry will be dominated by these robots, and thousands of lumberjacks will lose their livelihoods! People will be become so dependent on these robots for their lumber, that if they ever break down, the world will be in chaos!"

Light sighed. "I'm getting tired of hearing this over and over again, Will. You did agree to help me with this project, right? Did I just imagine that?"

"No," Wily snapped. "But the consequences--"

"I don't think you need to worry," Thomas Light interrupted. "The lumber trade may be dominated by these robots, but there will always be room for human labor. After all, robots are expensive."

"But far more efficient than men," Wily answered heatedly. "And they don't tire as quickly. Mark my words, Tom--"

"You are a terrible distraction," Light joked. "We'll never get this finished if you keep up your ominous portents of world domination by a bunch of industrial robots. What's next--'Toasters of the world unite?'"

Wily blushed. "All right, all right."

Light picked up the master control chip for the timber felling Achilles and inserted it into the massive IBM computer that he used in his lab for most programming. As Wily watched, he sat at the terminal and began to type:





There was a faint whirring sound as the computer transferred the information into the Priority One memory banks of the master control chip. It was one of several chips, controlling the twelve lesser control chips, which dictated such tasks as timber felling, speech, locomotion, and so forth.

Light held the chip up to Wily.

"Would you care to do the honors?" he asked.

Wily took the chip with a sense of foreboding and walked over to the motionless robot. He pressed a hidden button-pad on the side of its head and watched an access panel slide open, revealing its heavily shielded cybernetic brain, consisting of a nightmare-maze of wires and chips. In the one empty space, he placed the chip, and watched as the servo-motors clamped it in place.

Pressing the access button again, Wily turned away as the access panel closed.

"Well, it's done, now. All we need it the spark of life." Wily sighed, and was suddenly weary.

Thomas Light noticed and put a hand on Wily's shoulder. "It will be all right. You'll see. Come on, how about getting some lunch?"

* * * * *

"Konnichi wa. Watashi no namae wa Rokkuman desu."

Rock had chosen Japanese as his language of introduction out of habit--all of the humans to whom he had thus far introduced himself had been Japanese.

Rock extended his hand out to the crimson-steel gauntleted hand. Achilles seemed to take it uncertainly, before shaking it. The timber-felling robot's mouth turned up in an uncertain grin, an almost exact copy of Rock's.

Rock understood. It had taken him a few weeks to properly express his own feelings with facial expressions, as humans did. It was more difficult than one might imagine to make a special subset of servomotor commands into second nature. Rock and Roll had both practiced their facial expressions for hours. After all, as Light had told them, another purpose of theirs was to fit into human society.

"Watashi wa . . . Achilles . . . desu?" Although the face--unpracticed at expression--remained blank, Rock could tell that the sentence was more of a question than an introduction.

"Yes," Rock answered. His grin was part assurance, part relief that Achilles' multi-language module was functioning properly.

In the observation room, Roll, Dr. Light and Dr. Wily watched with pride and awe as the two androids spoke to one another, getting acquainted. Rock and Roll had drawn lots to see who was the lucky one to meet Achilles first, and Rock, much to Roll's dismay, had won.

Roll put her hands on her hips, a gesture copied from an actor she had seen on the holovid. "He's certainly enjoying himself, isn't he?" she snapped.

Dr. Light smiled indulgently. "Fair is fair, Roll; you lost."

"I still don't see why two of us couldn't go in and talk to him," Roll said sullenly.

Dr. Wily threw up his hands. "How can you be so foolish with a brain like yours? As I've told you a hundred times--"

"It was only twice," Roll interrupted.

"As I've told you a hundred times," Wily continued, with an irritated glance at Roll, "The danger is too great that he might be faultily programmed. If there is to be danger to somebody, it makes sense to only send in one!"

Roll folded her arms and pouted. "I'm just as able to defend myself against danger as Rock."

"Shh!" Light scolded. "They're coming!"

As he had said, the two robots had left the room and now approached the observation room. Rock and Achilles spoke animatedly over several things, sometimes slipping into computer dialect, which sounded like nothing so much as a nest of baby birds, all cheeping at once.

When they reached the observation room, Rock grinned and gestured to Achilles. "He works."

Light nodded. "So I see."

"But what about his main purpose?" Wily asked. "Can he cut down trees? That is what he was designed for." All eyes turned to the German scientist, who said, "It's all very well for Rock to have somebody to talk to, but if Achilles can't cut down trees, he's a failure."

Achilles seemed to tense at the word "failure."

"I can fulfill my function," he said evenly.

"Let's go outside," Dr. Light suggested. "There's a tree out there that's been blocking the view from the observatory for quite some time now, and we've been saving it just for you." Of course, it was a treeborg and not a tree, but the two terms were synonymous by now.

So saying, he turned and walked down the corridor that led outside. The rest of the group followed, Achilles gaping out the large floor-to-ceiling transparisteel window that overlooked a panoramic vista of Tokyo, a mass of spires reaching for the sky and half-finished space scrapers on a backdrop of majestic mountains and blue sky.

It was a short walk to the observatory, and soon the group stood in front of the offending tree. Normally, Dr. Light would have had the tree transplanted, but he deemed it a necessary sacrifice to cut down the tree for Achilles' test. Achilles stood, eyeing the tree impassively.

It was a large maple-type tree, maybe fifteen meters in height. Branches reached out in a large pavilion of green and shade. The outermost of the limbs stretched across the observatory's main telescope.

Two human workers nearby, taking a lunch break from the construction of the new wing of Light's lab, looked on, interested. A few meters away, a team of five EG-400 multi-purpose labor 'bots--commonly called metools, or, for the more fanciful, hard hat "Macs"--turned large photoreceptors to watch in curiosity.

Rock gave Achilles an assuring thump on the back and winked. "I know you can do it; I helped make you."

Wily frowned, but remained silent.

Achilles turned to the pair of cousins. "Shall I just cut the tree down?"

Dr. Light smiled. "Why make it boring? Cut off the top branches first. Then the bottom. Leave a middle set of branches still attached. Then cut down the tree."

"You have thirty seconds," Dr. Wily added.

Roll looked at Rock. Both of the robots' eyes had widened. Surely, Wily was joking?

Achilles made no comment, except. "I begin."

"Now!" Called Wily, pressing a button on a small digital stopwatch.

Achilles shot up into the air with a hiss of hydraulics. Lost to sight in the high, leafy foliage of the tree, the timber-felling robot could be heard at work. A quick, almost imperceptibly quiet snap and click of the blades being freed from Achilles' forehead was followed by a loud, repeated snick as the blades opened and closed, sometimes on air, sometimes on living wood and cable.

"Look out!" came the cry in less than five seconds. Upper branches, large and small, crashed through the lower branches to land noisily in a heap before Rock, Roll and the two doctors.

Achilles leaped down with a loud thud and threw the blades again before he reached the ground. They flew with unnatural speed, slicing again and again into wood, slashing leaf and limb. The snick sound was louder now, and Rock could hear as they cut each branch off, sometimes three or four with one superhuman-quick throw.

"Timber!" shouted Achilles.

The blades sang forth a final time, and the sound of shearing wood was so loud it made Rock cover his ears. With a shriek like tearing metal, the tree fell to the ground.

Wily punched the clock, and everybody stared in shocked silence.

The readout for the time read 11:06.

"Eleven seconds," Wily said, his voice hoarse with disbelief. He gazed at Achilles with a mixture of fear, admiration, and respect written on his weathered features.

Nearby, the metools made alarmed beeping sounds and scampered back to their work. The two construction men sat, pale-faced and silent, watching the small group.

Dr. Light beamed. "Excellent! I propose we go inside and celebrate!"

Dr. Wily broke into a radiant beam, something which shocked Rock to his core. Never had he seen Wily smile, let alone so happily. "Did you see that?" he exclaimed to nobody in particular as Light took his arm and led him inside. "He was amazing! Nothing is as powerful as that. Nothing!"

Roll grinned at Achilles, and the three robots followed the pair of doctors inside.

Still sitting on a bench nearby, sandwiches forgotten, two workers took shallow breaths and looked at one another with fear-glazed eyes.

After a moment, one of them laughed nervously. "Wow."

The other's invective was lost on the wind before he whispered, "I'm getting out of here!"

* * * * *

Weeks passed quickly as Rock and Roll learned more and more, also teaching Achilles some of what they had learned about human culture. As the pair had learned early on from watching the televid, the pair of doctors was hardly a model example of what society was like.

For the most part, Rock and Roll had hung around the construction workers, learning from them what normal human life was like. The robots' human likenesses had been so complete that the workers mistook them for other humans at first. It had been until one of the men got bold and pinched Roll's bottom that they had discovered the truth.

Roll had turned and picked the man up by his collar, lifting him into the air with a single sweep of her titanium arm. "My programming prevents me from throwing you across the yard," she had said evenly. "But if you ever do that again, I promise I will find ways to get around my programming."

Now everybody regarded the robot twins with an equal mixture of caution and admiration. Rock had feared that the outburst would cause the workers to shun the two robots. However, the discovery of the twins' nature, had, if anything, increased the workers' desire to talk about human life. Each spoke longer than the last, wanting to give his exact perspective on life as he knew it.

The pair of androids had unblinkingly accepted all information. Opinions from idealism to cynicism to paranoia abounded in the workers' speech, and by the end of the first month, the only sign that Rock and Roll weren't human was their disturbing tendency to speak to one another in computer code on occasion.

When Achilles appeared with Rock and Roll to speak with the workers, the human beings had been rather reluctant to speak with him. It was Rock who finally pointed out that there was no justice in their judgment.

"He has as much intelligence as Roll and I," he said. "He just looks different. I hope you're not so prejudiced as to hold a person's appearance against him with no second thoughts, or Akira there is in trouble, too."

Akira Yamatsu, of whom Rock spoke, had been disfigured at birth, so that one eye was slightly larger than the other. Although it was highly conspicuous, most who knew him had gotten used to the imperfection, and thought nothing of it.

That statement had alleviated some of the construction workers' fears, and they began to speak with Achilles as well, though still not quite as openly as they had with Rock or Roll.

The real test came when the rest of the robots had been completed. Dr. Light and Dr. Wily held a press conference to "unveil" their amazing robotic creations in September, and Rock waited before the lab, ushering in reporters. It had been the idea of Dr. Light to see if anybody could tell that Rock and Roll were robots as well.

None of the reporters guessed, as they were politely seated in the demonstration hall, that the young man and woman who led them to their seats were androids. Rock was nearly ecstatic as he realized it. He could pass for a human completely!

He felt, for the first time, shabbily dressed. For all of his life so far, he had been around jeans-and-tank-top wearing construction workers who spoke earnestly but roughly, and the two doctors, almost always in lab coats. Rock thought it was some kind of joke between the two, for they hardly ever needed to wear the sterile white clothing except when performing delicate acid-immersion tests on memory chips.

Here, however, were men and women in business suits and ties. They looked immaculately clean in their darks and lights as Rock, dressed in his customary orange karateka-style robe and trousers belted with a black cloth, ushered them to their sitting places.

As Dr. Wily, nearly hidden behind a bristling forest of microphones, blazing white for all the lights shining on him, and observed intently by the eyes of millions of people via satellite and holographic televid, began to speak, Rock made a mental note to himself to get some new clothing.

"Citizens of the world!" Dr. Wily announced. "A new age has begun today, with the creation and unveiling of eight of the world's most powerful robots! I, Doctor William A. Wily, am pleased to present to you my cousin and partner, Doctor Thomas Xavier Light!"

There was a round of applause and cheering as Dr. Light walked out on the stage to stand beside his cousin. Both men beamed. Rock marveled that Dr. Wily, once such a devoted advocate of the anti-robot dependency idea, should now be so happy to present his inventions to the world.

That's human pride for you, thought Rock, and rolled his eyes heavenward. He would be sure to tease Wily about this later on.

"As you know," Light was saying, "LighTech has been producing industrial and domestic robots for quite some time now: near to thirty years! We have made great progress in the world of robotechnics, from our first FlipTop line to the multi-purpose EG series, to our housebots."

Rock shifted position.

"However," Dr. Wily continued for Dr. Light, "Never before has the world seen, not only a theoretical, but a practical application of artificial intelligence as we have accomplished today."

"Since the coining of the term robot in the early 1920's, authors and film-makers alike have fantasized about humanoid robots--androids--that would not only resemble human beings, but do the work of them as well." Dr. Wily grinned and motioned to Thomas Light.

"I am pleased to announce," Dr. Light said, "That this is no longer a fantasy. As of today, fully-functional humanoid robots, fully capable of interacting with human society and doing difficult labor, are a reality!"

There was wild applause and cheering at this, and Dr. Light waited for the response to die down before speaking again. "Today," he said, "It is mine and my distinguished colleague's pleasure to introduce to you the future of robotechnics!"

"Achilles," Dr. Wily said, "Is a timber-felling robot, equipped with the latest technology. He is fully intelligent and can speak three languages. Not only that, but after testing, it has been determined that he is at least ten times faster and more efficient than even the most industrious human lumberjack. I introduce to you, android 003, Achilles!"

There was more applause, and Rock winked at his friend as Achilles strode out on the stage, his hydraulics whispering slightly. The audience murmured quietly. Achilles spoke in flawless Japanese.

"Greetings, honorable guests. I am Achilles, the timber felling robot, android number 003, created by Dr. Light and Dr. Wily. It is my honor to appear before you today." He bowed.

One of the men in the crowd stood up, holding up his hand. Achilles raised an eyebrow. "Yes?"

"I'm sorry," the man said, "But are we truly supposed to believe that you are a robot? I've seen some fine actors and costumes in my day, and this looks like one of them. You don't fool me."

Achilles grinned. "You do not know how you compliment me by saying that. However, I shall prove myself. Look." He pressed a hidden button, and the access panel on his chest clicked and fell into his waiting hands, revealing a rat's nest of twisted wires, blinking lights, and lubricant pumps and cables.

An astonished murmuring swept across the audience. The reporter sat down, his face white. Achilles nodded, as if he had just explained something extremely difficult, and replaced his chest plate.

"Where are the others?" asked a woman in the crowd.

Dr. Wily smiled indulgently. "We shall introduce them one at a time. We next present android 004, Heracles."

A monster of a robot walked onto the stage. He seemed to have difficulty walking, as if his massive legs were better suited to short hops and jumps. The murmuring the in the audience grew to voiced speaking, some of it alarmed.

Heracles, the wilderness reclamation robot, was nearly as broad as he was tall. His upper torso was painted black, with a red crystal, for concentrating energy, fastened in the center. His broad arms and legs were a dull orange color, while the massive epaulet-shoulders, the metal boots and gauntlets, and the reinforcing armor around his waist and upper legs, were a dull scarlet.

The face was a pale yellow, capped with a strong hard hat and dominated by two large eyes and a lantern jaw that worked separately, like a snake's. Everything about Heracles suggested brutish, massive strength, true to his name.

When he spoke, it was sparingly, and in slow Japanese. "Greetings, honored guests. I am Heracles, the wilderness reclamation android 004; it is my function to clear land for future development. I am pleased to be of service to you."

Rock grinned. Heracles wasn't all that smart, but he had a heart--if the phrase could be properly used--of gold. Dr. Light and Dr. Wily had both agreed, for once, that if this robot broke the Prime Rule, he could be uncontrollable. Therefore, they had programmed him to be very friendly towards human beings and robots alike, so as never to endanger anybody.

Heracles looked to the back of the auditorium at Rock, and waved. "Hi, Rock!"

Rock would have blushed, if he could have. The big idiot was going to ruin the surprise!

He waved half-heartedly at Heracles and closed his eyes in embarrassment. The reporter nearest him looked strangely at Rock, who explained, "I'm a lab assistant. He knows me already."

"Ah," the reporter said, and turned back to watch, as Dr. Light was already announcing android 005, the arctic exploration robot.

"As we all know," Dr. Light was saying, "world population has reached an all-time high. As such, many environments previously regarded as uninhabitable are now being considered for living. One such environment is Antarctica. Unfortunately, most humans are too frail to survive extensive exploration in such a climate. So, may we present to you Orpheus, the arctic exploration robot!"

Orpheus had always been a little too sarcastic for Rock's liking, but the android was still a friend. He strode out onto the stage and stood beside his two companions, cool and calm as always. Dressed in a light blue parka, and heavily insulated pants, both trimmed in white fur, Orpheus looked like an Eskimo. His hands and feet were covered with heavy white gloves and boots. His mouth was a little round "O"; he needed to speak, but it made sense to keep the intake of cold air in the Antarctic to a minimum.

Large eyes, as big as Achilles' overlooked the crowd.

"Hello," he said to the reporters. "I am Orpheus, explorer of the underworld." Rock smiled. The name had been his idea. In legend, Orpheus had traveled into the underworld. Rock reasoned that, by northern hemisphere standards, Antarctica was about as "under" as one could get. "I am android 005," he continued. "I hope I am able to serve your people well."

The audience had quieted to near silence by now, all awaiting the next robot.

Android 006, the ground disruption robot, appeared. He walked and stood beside Orpheus. More accurately, Rock amended mentally, he waddled. Hephestas' strong legs were like Heracles'; good for leaping, but poor for walking.

Hephestas, as he introduced himself, struggled to stay upright. His body was a large sphere, black on the bottom and red on the top. His arms and legs were both orange, ending in yellow-booted and yellow-gloved feet and hands. The head, like Achilles', was a perfect sphere, a golden color with a red metal crest running down the center. Large eyes and a normal mouth made up the face.

He explained that he was a ground disruption robot, to help clear the way for such robots as Orpheus and Heracles. When he said this, he gestured, and a bomb appeared in his hand: a large, black sphere.

It was an amazing system dreamed up by Dr. Light and Dr. Wily; matter synthesis. Hephestas could pull together air particles and rearrange them into the component materials for a bomb in seconds; an incredible--if not openly miraculous--feat.

When Helios, the waste disposal robot walked on stage, Rock smiled.

His legs, arms, boots and stomach were white, while his gauntlets and the strange football padding-type upper body assembly were red. His head was enclosed in a helmet that looked like an old 1800's wood-burning stove.

"I am Helios," he stated. Then, with a wry smile (copied from Rock), "I would be of service to you gentle folk in the years ahead. I am the waste disposal robot 007." With a short blast of flame from the top of his helmet and another smile, he stepped back.

Finally, android 008, Icarus, leaped onto the stage. Rock had been privy to this small bit of theatrics, and had thought it a fitting entrance. As the atomic energy storage android, Icarus was full of vigor. As a result, he often spent more time up in the air, leaping around, than he did on the ground. His habit of excessive leaping and love of high places had soon earned him the name of the man who flew too close to the sun.

From the startled looks on the doctors' faces, Rock could tell that Icarus had not warned them about leaping from the ceiling first. As he landed, surprisingly lightly for almost two hundred pounds of machinery, he gave a dramatic flourish and bow. A few of the people in the audience laughed.

Rock smiled slightly and shook his head. Icarus was a jokester among the eight, and never tired of his pranks. Although he was mostly black, save for red gauntlets, boots, and a golden lightning bolt emblazoned on his chest, the twin-bolt eyemask he wore made him look more like a jester than anything else.

When he had made his introduction, the audience clapped and waited politely. Dr. Light moved to the podium and spoke. "Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. We will now take your questions."

Whispers swept the room. At last, a woman in front of Rock stood up. "Dr. Light, Dr. Wily," she called out, "You said there were eight robots. Where are the other two?"

Dr. Light grinned. "You've already seen them, haven't you?" He shrugged then. "Well, perhaps you weren't paying attention. Rock, Roll: will you please come up on the stage where the people can see you?"

Continue to Infamy--Chapter 2
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