Stephen R. Sobotka Jr.
The thrum of a power core filled the air.
Tapping the keys on her databoard, the short scientist asked, "Icarus? Are you receiving me now?"
A warble preceded the reply. "Yes, Dr. Kincaid."
Puffing out her cheeks with a sigh, Dr. Kincaid ran one slim hand through her pixie-cut hair. "Excellent. Let's begin our check-list. Power?"
"Main power, one-hundred percent. Battery backup fully charged."
"Initial status check?"
"Scanning… no initial anomalies detected."
"All right, begin main systems check."
"Working… prelim checks show all primary and secondary systems operational. Commencing secondary checks…" Together, they both ran through the hundred points to assure themselves of Icarus' well being.
The deep-violet of Kincaid's right eye turned a darker shade of indigo at one point. "I'm detecting a slight glitch here, Icarus. Can you verify it?"
"Yes, Doctor," Icarus replied.
"Is it affecting you in any negative way?"
"No, Doctor. But, there might be a thirty-two percent chance it could interfere with second-level memory pathways, if allowed to go unchecked."
"Run a Systems-Repair Servo then," Kincaid ordered. "Don't take any chances. Be a shame if after all my hard work, things start breaking down now."
"Attempting repairs, Doctor." Silence filled the labs, running contrary to the drumming sound of the blood in Kincaid's ears as she waited. She knew all of Icarus' systems like the back of her hand, but…she never had everything riding on today's trials before now.
"SRS has reached the anomaly, Doctor."
Kincaid nodded. "Good…go easy then. Let's not throw a wrench into your works before our big even today, okay?" There was a motherly tone in her voice, which wasn't all that odd. She had a reputation for fussing over her robot test subjects often speaking to them like they were family, which in truth they had been a part of her life since childhood.
Living with her father and mother, a mechanical engineer and a software programmer, she combined their influence and her own talent for creating things and learned to build a career to follow in their footsteps. But her work with robotics started after her mother, Margot Kincaid, joined an engineering team to began working on the second global space station. It was the first time a large robotic construction crew would assist humans in such project, and everything ran smoothly from the start.
Until several of the robots suffered a programming failure. When a rescue team finally put the renagades down, it was too late to save several members of the team, including Margot. Since that terrible time, Jessica switched from becoming an engineer to a doctorate in applied robotics. If her research could prevent another tragedy like that…
"Anomaly is now repaired."
"Confirmed," Kincaid nodded, making a final notation on her databoard. "Well, unless we missed something, you're as ready as I can make you for Step-Three today." Removing the HUE, she rubbed her blonde hair again with a free hand. "Now, tell me how you feel?"
Swiveling his bucket-shaped head cap, Icarus faced the middle-aged professional, his optics like two small black dots in a larger actuation field of white. "Fit as a fiddle, though I cannot understand why a fiddle should worry about physical fitness."
Dr. Kincaid chuckled, "That's one I can't figure out myself, Icarus."
Icarus paused before he asked, "If I might inquire, Doctor, how are you doing?"
Kincaid cocked her head at the robot and sighed heavily. "Fine. Just a bit nervous. So much is riding on this project. Grants, papers, new leeway with the United Government to continue this research… not to mention my reputation, and a promise I made." She sighed gustily. "You and your partner will have to be one-hundred percent perfect, if we're to succeed with this new application of nanotechnology."
"A person cannot ask of a pint to do the work of a quart," Icarus replied. "I shall do my best, Doctor. As shall my partner as well."
Dr. Kincaid patted Icarus on one shoulder. "I know you will."
As if on cue, the door to the labs slid open, admitting two people to enter. The first one, a severe man in a drab-blue uniform of military-cut, frowned slightly as he looked about. His blue-black hair gone gray at the temples and at its widow's peak. The row of cloth bars on his left breast gave credit to his dedication to service in the armed forces. The second was a young girl with summer-brown hair, looking no older than fourteen. She stood beside him, dressed in a candy-pink smock dress and cream colored blouse, her hands clasped nervously before her as she looked around the lab.
Dr. Kincaid turned away from Icarus with a smile. "General Harcourt. Mandy."
Mandy smiled brightly. "Hi, Doctor."
"'Mornin' Dr. Kincaid. Any troubles with the 386 this mornin'?" Harcourt said, his tone clipped and to the point.
"Icarus is… completely functional. We just finished the final check just a moment ago," Kincaid reported, still not caring for the way the Army officer kept referring to Icarus by his model number. But Harcourt always did show distrust for all non-human things the man never wore a digital watch, preferring an archaic wind-up type.
"Sounds good," Harcourt nodded. "Well, why don't you release the 386, and see how it reacts to our human subject, now that it's more complete."
Reaching over, Kincaid flipped the release. With a spiraling hum, the gravity field lowered the three meter tall robot to the floor. "Go on, Icarus. Time to see if all the psyche-evaluations we pulled on you two paid off."
Touching down, Icarus slowly raised up from a crouched position, its motivation units humming with controlled power. Gliding forward with a smooth grace, Icarus loomed over the young girl before kneeling to bring its head level with Mandy's.
"Good day, Mandy. It's lovely to see you again."
"Hello, Icarus," the girl replied in a gentle tone. "The last time I saw you, you didn't even have a body!"
"And you were just about to loose your fourth front tooth, as I recall," Icarus returned, its voice pitching in an unspoken question.
Mandy giggled, as did Dr. Kincaid. "Yep! Lost it four weeks ago! And I got three dollars for it, too!"
Icarus' optics indexed from left to right. "That is a pretty dress, Mandy."
She brushed her hands over the skirt. "Do you like it? Mom requisitioned it four days ago. Just in time for school!"
Gen. Harcourt cleared his throat. "Um, Mandy?"
Seeing the look Harcourt gave her, Mandy blushed before doing what she had to do. "Icarus?" she said with a small cough to clear her throat. "Identify yourself, please?"
"I am ICARUS: Information Core Ambulatory-type for Re-education/Undergraduate Status. Series designation. Model-386-13a," the robot replied.
Harcourt cut in, "What is your primary mission?"
"To offer education and guidance to my chosen partner in a variety of areas of common knowledge. As well as to provide physical protection when needed."
"And whom are you attached to?" Kincaid prompted.
"To the Theoretical Technologies Branch of the North-Am Robotics Technologies, in Houston." Icarus' head swiveled to face the adults. "And, I might add, to Doctors Jessica Kincaid and Marcus Camden my programmer and engineer…and my test partner, Mandy Brant."
From where he stood with Dr. Kincaid, General Harcourt grunted, "Smart aleck!" In a guarded aside, he said to Jessica, "Sometimes, that blasted thing almost acts human."
"It's one of our objectives, General," Kincaid commented. "A lot of people felt better when we made these Ambulatory-types as human as possible." She held up on hand, adding, "And before you ask, yes, we added the Standard Human Code factor as well. Icarus will destroy himself before allowing harm to come to any human. Especially Mandy."
"Even if his programming is altered, with orders to that effect?"
"Sabotage was considered when we started working with the programming," Kincaid replied. "A terrorist wouldn't have to know just how to reprogram units like Icarus. They'd have to break the encryption laced into the programming code as well."
"Well, at least we don't have to worry about going through that fiasco, like with the 266's. We just have to make sure he doesn't touch anything during the operation."
Kincaid grimaced. "Hey, I've been working on his depth perception, and his judgment processes! There shouldn't be any trouble now."
Watching as Mandy and Icarus chattered away, Harcourt consulted some papers in his hand. "Considering how much damage he caused to Labs One and Two during the testing of that overpowered body of his, they'd better be bug-free. After all, the Governor's been edgy enough allowing us to have that overgrown tinker-toy next to his daughter. And you had to convince the two of us back then that those problems would be fixed by now!"
"Everything is fine, General," Kincaid groused. "Mandy, too. I just got the reports this morning from Medical."
"Well," Harcourt raised his voice, getting the attention of Icarus and Mandy. "If it's ready, and if our young subject is just as much prepared…"
"I'm ready, sir." Mandy looked up trustingly at the female doctor.
"As am I, sir." Icarus added, rising to his feet.
Kincaid replied, "There's your answer, General. Icarus, if you'll get the door…"
"Yes, Doctor." Lumbering over, Icarus reached for one of the doors and took it completely off of the wall with one pull.
Harcourt shot Kincaid a dirty look.
Coming through the doors of the overhead observation deck, Dr. Kincaid spied the State Governor seated in the first row. Even with the sterile-aired environment, she could smell his nervousness as she approached.
Turning, the man leapt to his feet with energy one wouldn't have expected a sixty-nine year old man to have, running both hands through his silvered hair. "Doctor Kincaid! I came here from the visitor's center as soon as I heard things were commencing. Is Mandy all right? Were there any complications!?"
"She's doing fine, sir. The anesthesiologist was just starting when I left her in OR-Prep," Kincaid replied, hoping her posture didn't give away her own nervous feelings. "The medical specialists will be starting this shortly."
Governor Brant gushed, "Good, fine... good!" Looking down at his polished brown shoes for a moment, he stared at the smaller woman worriedly. "Look, Doctor, I'm not trying to sound like I've got cold feet, but… is this really going to work?"
Kincaid expected Brant to act like this. "Nothing is guaranteed, Governor, but I have every faith in my work, in Icarus and with the nanotech we're going to apply today." Kincaid looked down into the operating theater, where several medical specialists were guiding a locked-down Icarus into the theater. "Besides, we explained the risks involved when we approached you and Mandy about this project."
"I know," Brant snapped. He then modulated his voice, saying, "I'm sorry, Doctor. It's just that if this fails, and the results ever saw the light of day, it would ruin the life I've tried to make for Mandy and me. Aside from the bad press, there's been too many attempts on her life, and all conventional means to safeguard her haven't worked. If this fails too--!"
"Let's wait and see how the procedure goes before we start worrying, Governor."
"When your policies are challenged by ultra-radicals, Doctor, you'll see I have no choice but to worry."
"Well, my concern now is for Mandy and Icarus," she replied, a slight tremor in her voice. "So much is riding on their success…"
Down below, a pair of surgical-suited figures wheeled a gurney in through the self-closing doors. On it lay Mandy, fast asleep from her session with the anesthesiologist. The medics transferred her to the operating table, covering her with surgical drapes to set up their sterile field.
Kincaid cleared her throat. "Governor, it's about to start. If you'll step over here, I'll explain each step of the procedure as it happens." Taking the nervous man by one arm, she escorted him back to the seats in front of the window, looking on as Dr. Camden, the doctor that would handle this phase of the procedure began to assemble his instruments.
Brant watched as a air mask was placed over Mandy's face, whispering a prayer under his breath. A prayer Kincaid whole-heartedly echoed. "W-What's going to happen?" he asked.
"First, they have to get under the cranial bone layer, into the space between." She said, unfolding a special viewer from the wall in front of them, using it to access the signal from the OR's camera circuit. Even though the glass was buffered for sound-proofing, the whine of a powered instrument cutting bone could just barely be heard. She continued to explain, "From there, the surgeon has to clear the open tissues, that way when they introduce the inductor, nothing foreign will interfere with the assembly process."
Brant hemmed, his mind more on his daughter than on the doctor's words.
"Now, they are going to start applying the inductor, which will place the 'core' group of nano-cells into Mandy's head. Once they've established themselves within about ten minutes they'll begin the construction of the emitter. The surgeon will then extract a number of the nano-cells that are attuned to the construction of the emitter."
"And those cells?" Brant asked, looking at Dr. Kincaid, as if grasping the meaning of all of this for the first time.
"Those go into Icarus to complete the final step by making the second half of the transceiver circuit a part of Icarus' neural matrix."
Brant asked, "And then she and this robot will be… joined?"
"That we'll have to wait and see," Kincaid admitted. "But, if all goes as we planned it, then Icarus and Mandy will become the first human/robot pairing to share the world's first functioning nano-link."
After taking Icarus back to the lab for a systems check when the procedure ended, Dr. Kincaid and her charge were inside the Medical Building, riding up to the recovery wing on the 11th floor. On their way there, walking across the garden-quad, Jessica had to call the hulking robot to heel several times to keep him from wrecking anything along their path.
"You know," she commented wryly as they rode the elevator upwards, "I have a younger brother that acts just like this when he's itching for an ice cream cone."
"Sorry, Dr. Kincaid," Icarus apologized. "I am concerned for Mandy. Do you know if she made it through the operation?"
Kincaid didn't hide her smile. "I'm sure she's fine, Icarus. But you won't be if the General catches you damaging the complex." She added, "Anyway, we've only got to get through the security checkpoint, and we'll be in the recovery wing before you know it, and you can see for yourself."
"Assuming there are no problems with the base computers, we'll be in Mandy's room in forty-nine-point-six seconds." Icarus remarked, sounding smug as they stepped through the front doors of Medical Main.
"Show-off. Hi, Gerri!"
The guard nodded, watching with amusement as Icarus idled by the locked interior door, while Dr. Kincaid signed the duty log for the security detail.
"Anxious, isn't he?" the corporal asked Kincaid, jerking a thumb at Icarus, who was dancing from foot to foot, looking like a steel-plated toddler waiting for his mother to let him out to play.
"He just wants to make sure Mandy is okay," the doctor replied, leaning over the desk to add her signature to the security log.
"Doctor!?" Icarus shouted, just before his frame went rigid, his head swiveling from left to right like a fast-moving roller.
She turned, frowning. "What's wrong, Icarus?" Without explanation for his outburst, Icarus suddenly lunged forward, his heavy arms becoming battering rams as they punched into the security door, sending it flying into the corridor beyond. As a klaxon honked on the ceiling, Icarus jumped through the portal and vanished.
"What the--!?" Gerri stammered.
A shout from inside the door rolled behind his exclamation "Look out for that juggernaut!!!"
Dr. Kincaid quickly collected her wits and made a dash for the opening. "Get security moving! Send them to the East Recovery Wing, now!"
"But, Dr. Kincaid… wait!" The young airman shouted, just before he snapped up the beige phone on the desk. "Damn it! Base Security!? Medical! One of the robots just went bugspit!"
Fearing for Icarus and everyone else in the wing, Kincaid sprinted down the halls after her charge. She had a sudden hunch as to what happened, but she prayed the nano-link hadn't made him go rogue. The Governor and Harcourt would tear the project apart if that was the cause. Especially Harcourt! Along the way, she spied gouge marks in the floor and on the walls clear signs Icarus was disregarding the affect of his strength as he crashed along. Heads poked out from behind doorways, with looks ranging from shock to indignation, all watching as Kincaid wove her way through the debris.
"Damnit, Icarus! What's gone wrong with you!?" Kincaid barely finished asking herself that question, when another sound rolled down the hallway: the snarling report of a heavy pistol being fired.
Fearing a melee between her robot and the MPs, she rounded the last corner, skidding into the nurses' station. She stared for a second at the nurse cowering behind the cubicle, before gasping out, "Where--?!?"
The nurse pointed a trembling hand towards one corridor, just as four military guards armed with powerful rifles burst from an adjoining corridor.
"Dr. Kincaid!?" the lead man queried, bringing the others to a halt behind him. "What's the situation? We'd heard a report one of the 386's went buggo!"
She waved a hand to silence him. "I don't know what happened to my robot, Sergeant, but he went down there. I also heard someone firing a weapon."
The MP tensed. "The robot's armed!?"
"No! Someone else is, and we need to find out who!"
The MP grimly armed his weapon. "Right. You stay here, Doc! Let's go, boys!" The quartet shot away from the junction at a quick march.
"Just don't shoot at Icarus! Not until we find out what happened to him!"
The Sergeant shot back, "We might not have a choice in the matter!"
"Damn grunts!" The brown-haired specialist shook her head, turning around as a door to a stairway access burst open, letting General Harcourt and Governor Brant boil out onto the floor.
"Dr. Kincaid!" Harcourt shouted, angry and out of breath. "What in Hell's Bells is going on here!? I just got a report your 386 is tearin' this place apart!"
Kincaid replied with more heat than she normally used. "Calm down, General! I don't know what the problem is, but I will not let Icarus be drawn and quartered until I find out what IS wrong."
"Where's Mandy, Doctor?!" Brant snapped, his dark eyes flashing. "If that… tin can has hurt her in any way, I'll have your worthless hide nailed to my wall!"
Harcourt's personal transceiver chirped shrilly before she could answer the Governor. "Hold your horses, Governor!" he growled. "If anyone gets her hide, it'll be after the military gets done with her first." Snatching it up from his waist, he snapped the device on. "Harcourt!?"
Brant glared at Kincaid. "Fine, but I'll see to it you never work with robotics again!"
A cold knot twisted into Dr. Kincaid's guts. To never work on her life's goal…
"Yes, I'm… What? What do you mean by…" Harcourt stopped talking, glancing over at the hallway where the MPs had gone. "Well… I see… okay, just hold on son. We're on our way down there." Snapping the device off, he replaced it to his belt. "Doctor, I think you and the Governor need to see this."
Both Kincaid and Brant looked at the General. "W-What? What's going on?" Brant asked. "Is it Mandy?" But the General said nothing as they hurried along the hall…
Moments later, Dr. Kincaid peered through the jagged hole, now occupying the space where Room-02a's outer wall once stood. She only briefly noted the exposed structure, before her eyes swept over the tableau inside.
"My… God!" she whispered.
Brant was just as shocked. "Oh no… no, no, no…"
Kincaid barely registered the hasty shove Gov. Brant gave her and the General as they stepped into the room. Rubble lay scattered throughout. Tray tables and chairs were smashed, and a line of neat holes stitched their way across the room, leading to where a shattered window gaped on the far wall. The slumped form of one of the nurses rested next to Dr. Camden, both sitting propped up against the side of an overturned bed, while another nurse used an emergency kit to take care of their wounds. The rest of the security team stood off to one side, hovering over the sprawled, limp body of what looked like one of the wing's orderlies. But the heavy-duty weapon in his dead hand told a different tale.
"Oh no! Not again," Brant cried out as he viewed the broken corpse.
Kincaid blanched. "One of the radicals?"
Harcort nodded. "They must have found out about what the Governor was doing somehow." Turning to one of the MPs, he snarled, "Find out how this mook made it this far, and get this place locked down! Who knows if there are any others lurking around!"
"What about Icarus?" Kincaid asked. "Where is he?" Turning, she looked towards the window, noticing the tell-tale gouges on the sill that could only have come from the robot's feet.
Brant spied the window at that same instant. "What… where's Mandy? Where's my daughter!?"
An MP remarked, "Sir, there wasn't anyone else in the room except these two, and him." His dark look was aimed at the radical's body.
"Then, where did they go?"
Sounds of something scrabbling outside the window answered her question. The MPs snapped their weapons up, target beams flashing out.
Kincaid threw herself between them and the window. "Wait! Don't shoot!"
Her warning couldn't have been better timed, as a small arm flung itself over the sill, followed by a small, bandaged head.
"Daddy!" the little girl cried weakly. At once Kincaid was at the sill, pulling her the rest of the way in before gently setting her down on the floor. With Harcourt ordering the MPs to lower their guns, Brant dashed towards her. Falling to his knees, he wrapped his arms around her as if she were his only lifeline in this life.
"Mandy, Mandy! Oh, thank God your safe!" he said, nearly in tears. "When we were told that robot had come crashing in here--!"
Mandy rested her head against her father's chest. "Daddy, Icarus would never hurt me… he just came when I told him that man tried to hurt Dr. Camden."
Harcourt jerked as if stung. "Wait! You told that robot there was trouble here!? How in the name of--!?"
"It was the nano-link," Kincaid interrupted. "If it was functioning like it was designed to, then Mandy had the means to send a warning to Icarus! No wonder he reacted like he did! His programming has one overriding priority: protect his partner, no matter what!"
"B-but, if that's the case," Brant asked, looking up at the doctor, "then where is Icarus? Mandy?!"
She turned in her father's arms, pointing with one hand towards the window. Kincaid leaned out, seeing one of Icarus' hands locked against one of the immovable wall struts outside.
They found the rest of Icarus on a grassy patch below, some fifty feet from the outside of the building, surrounded by MPs and a small crowd of staff, looking at the smashed metallic form with a hubbub of questions.
"I'll be a monkey's uncle," Harcourt breathed, just after he ordered his sergeant to clear the onlookers. "That tin can saved her!"
Dr. Kincaid shot a relieved look at the general. "It's… part of his programming," she said with pride. She walked up to Icarus and knelt beside him, not liking the looks of his battered shell. Parts scattered everywhere, his legs lay mangled beyond repair, having been sacrificed to absorb the brunt of his plunge. Several bullet marks scored his metal shell, and his head canted on a bad angle, exposing wires and tubing from several popped access panels.
Harcourt came up behind her, whistling low as he looked back up to where the damaged window was. "Damn! He must have tried to keep the kid out of range by dangling the two of them below that ledge. It was his own body weight that did this."
Before Kincaid could reply, one of the optics indexed in a crazy circle, orienting on her face as Icarus tried to speak. "D-D-D… D-Doctor… Ma-a-andy?"
"She's all right," Dr. Kincaid reported. "A bit the worse for wear… most likely to hate guns for the rest of her life. But she's going to be fine." She swallowed hard. "As for you…"
Icarus' one arm whined, as it tried to lever the damaged torso upright. "Na… Na… Nothing a little oil-l-l and a hammer-rrr won't cure, D-Doctor…"
Harcourt gave a half-hearted chuckle. "Sure, sure! A little spit and polish… be just as good as before. Right, Doc?"
Dr. Kincaid almost couldn't find the words. "I… I wish, it was that simple. He was never designed to withstand a fall like this. Icarus! Mandy said she told you of the gunman! Is that right?"
"In-n-n… I-Indeed," Icarus stated, "Congra… gra… tulations, Doctor. Your-r nano-link appears to b-b-b… b-b...be a success…"
Mr. Sobotka is a commercial/graphic artist from Springfield, Missouri. He writes fiction - both fantasy & sci-fi - from a strong storytelling base, while maintaining a firm sense of "quality over quantity". He has been well established as a writer of fantasy fiction and fan-fiction. Particularly notable is his work with "The Gargoyles Saga" (based on the animated show "Gargoyles"), and his various crossover stories on Fanfiction.net.
Stephen was first published online with the stories Open Eyes" in Twilight Times, and "Riverdaughter's Bent" in the pages of Sabledrake Magazine - in which he also writes book reviews for the column "Off The Shelf".
Recent publications include a fantasy story "All That Glitters" from his "Moray & Co." fiction series published in Sabledrake Magazine.
Currently, he resides in Tampa Bay, Florida where he continues to write short fiction, while working on a novel: an anthromorphic tale of pirates and romance set in the 16th Century, entitled "For Love of The Bloody Vixen".
Check out The TGS Project's homepage
Read another story by Stephen -- "Open Eyes."
Published by permission of the author.