The Robot Sorcerer
by Eric James Stone
Boot process finishes at 2047-07-06 17:03:18 UTC. All systems nominal.
Navigation establishes current location as Wormhole Project Launch Room.
Gravitonic imaging detects exotic matter around hole in north wall. Navigation
labels it wormhole entrance.
Cameras show three humans within 360 degree field. Cameras show one human's
hand moving. Voice recognition converts sound to words: "Good luck, little
Radio detects go signal. Navigation starts impellers in air mode and accelerates
toward wormhole entrance. Magnetic radiation shielding activates.
Cameras show varying colors inside wormhole. Pattern recognition algorithms
find no meaning.
Pressure sensors detect liquid surroundings. Nanosensors on hull determine
liquid is water with 0.0% salinity.
Navigation changes impellers to water mode. Sonar shows body of water, average
depth 3.1 meters. Sonar shows an object 1.2 meters long floats at surface.
Navigation directs impellers to head toward surface, avoiding object. Sonar shows
depth at 20 centimeters. Ten. Zero.
As I break the surface of the pond, I'm so shocked that I stop my impellers and
begin to sink back down. Something strange has happened to me, but I don't
understand what. My systems check out fine, though, so I restart my impellers and
head to the gray-green clay that lines the bank of the water. When the water is
shallow enough, I start my tread motors. My 212 kilograms of weight cause the
treads to sink into the soft ground, but they catch hold. Dripping water off my
composite armor shell, I roll out onto land.
The object floating in the water behind me is a girl. She watches me with wide
brown eyes, her face wet with algae-tinted water. She looks human, which
surprises me, because the wormhole could have led anywhere in the universe with
a similar gravitational gradient to the opening.
My surprise surprises me, because I know I have not been programmed for
"What's your name?" asks the girl. Her accent is different from that of the techs
back at Wormhole Project Headquarters in West Virginia, but her words are
understandable. She's speaking English.
I start to calculate the probability that a wormhole would open on a planet that had
evolved intelligent lifeforms that look identical to humans and speak a language
apparently identical to English, but then I get sidetracked as I realize I don't know
what my name is. I examine my memories. A tech called me "little buddy." Is
that my name?
I dig deeper, examining the code of my program. In the comments I find a label
for what I am: Multi-Environment Robotic Lander (Intelligent Navigation). Units
of my type -- I'm the 412th, according to my serial number -- are called by the
"Merlin," I say, using my voice synthesizer. "My name is Merlin."
"Bump," she says as she swims toward me. "But most people don't call me that.
They call me Princess." She is in shallow enough water now that she stands and
wades out. Her simple shift of loose-woven gray material drips water onto the clay
She doesn't dress like a princess -- except for a silver circlet that crosses her
forehead and disappears into her shoulder-length black hair.
How do I know she doesn't dress like a princess? I haven't met one since being
activated. A check of my memory storage reveals that I have 512 petabytes of
nonvolatile memory, some of which holds a library of cultural materials -- art,
books, movies, music, videogames -- that can be shared in first contact situations.
A quick search of text materials, ranging from Emily Post's Etiquette to the
novelization of the film Bloodstained Clover VII: Little Green Men, allows me to
form some idea of proper manners on encountering royalty.
"It is a pleasure to meet you, Princess Bump," I say. Not having a waist or neck, I
can't bow, but I manipulate the suspension on my front treads and dip forward a