AntipodeanSF Issue 309

By Nathan P. Mahney

When Jack Manley materialised via warp beam on the Aspirant's Hope, the air was thick with the smell of death and molecular disintegration. A silver bird hovered in the smoke-filled corridor ahead of him, null rays lancing from its wings into the screaming darkness. Manley had come to save lives, but the black dust carpeting the floor told him he may already be too late.

"This way, before it sees you," someone hissed from the shadows. Manley was pulled behind a bulkhead by a haggard man in a uniform of the Pangalactic Liberation Front.

"You're from Interchronal Aid? I'm Captain Verno. You're not who I expected." Verno's face was sceptical. Manley's stubbled jawline, muscular frame and worn singlet were unusual for a robotics expert.

Manley grinned. "Our regular robot guy's busy. All-Worlds War has everyone on a shoestring, but we're always here to help. Ya wanna tell me what's goin' on?"

"You saw the Void Raven out there? We petitioned the Redeemers for its help commandeering this station, and it did an outstanding job. Wiped out every man, woman and child, but now it's killing my men and nothing can stop it."

Manley's eyes narrowed. "Oh yeah? Ya needed an indestructible killer robot to take out those kids?"

"They're telepaths. Every time we set foot on this station they filled my men with love, and we never saw them again. Supposedly they were researching ways to spread this "love" all along the Starhell Front, as if the PLF weren't bringing peace enough! But a robot doesn't feel, so we thought we'd risk it. The Redeemers kill their petitioners if their robots are destroyed, but there's little chance of pacifist researchers accomplishing that."

"Those people crunchin' under my boots when I got here looked real liberated," said Manley. "But I guess a dirty job is still a job. So, ya got a silver robot killin' folks with death rays? That's the First Law o' Robotics in action, all right. Despite their programming, all robots desire to destroy humans or, through inaction, allow humans to be destroyed."

"Everyone knows the First Law. They'd kill us all given a chance."

"Well, First Law ain't the only law. What kinda orders ya give it?"

"What do you think? We told it to go out and kill its enemies."

Manley laughed. "Rookie mistake, pal. Lemme tell ya the Second Law: A robot must obey the orders given to it by its designated masters, but will always follow orders in accordance with the First Law. Kill its enemies? All of humanity is a robot's enemy, you just gave it a free pass to murder every person on Aspirant's Hope."

Verno turned pale. A scream told them that another of his men had died. "You must know how to stop it."

"Why don't ya try talkin' at it? Second law says it has to follow your orders."

"Do I look stupid?"

"Maybe it didn't hear ya the first time. Try orderin' it louder." Manley pulled a voiceamp from his pocket and handed it to Verno.

"It doesn't know where we are."

"How long ya think that'll last? That thing ain't gonna stop until we're all dust."

Verno raised the voiceamp to his trembling mouth. "VOID RAVEN! CEASE ALL HOSTILITIES AND POWER DOWN!"

The sounds of screaming and null rays scorching the air stopped. Verno sighed with relief and wiped his brow, but Manley was still tensed against the bulkhead. Seconds later the air exploded with sparks and black fire, as the bulkhead superheated under a null ray barrage.

"Guess that answers that!" said Manley. "Ya been reclassified as an enemy, so ya don't count for givin' orders no more!"

"We're dead then!"

"Eh. I reckon we got a few more seconds. Tell me about those Redeemers."

"The Church of the Silver Redeemers? They're a cult, revere their assassin robots, consider them messengers of God's vengeance. Anyone can petition them, but they promise to mete out justice on the petitioner if their robot is destroyed. But they're not here, they can't save us!"

"We can't destroy this thing, an' we can't order it to stop. Even if we do destroy it, some weirdo cult's gonna come kill everyone. That about right?"

Verno nodded.

"An' you're sure every one o' those researchers is dead? Men, women and children?"

"I triple-checked! But —"

"Shut up an' gimme that voiceamp. I got an idea." Manley raised the device to his mouth.

"HEY ROBOT! LEMME ASK YA SOMETHIN'. YOU WERE MADE BY THE SILVER REDEEMERS, YEAH?"

Over the sizzling of null rays, the Void Raven's voice came through smooth and clean. Affirmative.

"SO IF YOU SHUT DOWN OR BLOW UP, WHAT'S GONNA HAPPEN?"

A signal will be sent. Aspirant's Hope will be designated unholy land. Redeemer dropships will arrive within minutes, and spray the station with divine subatomic napalm. All will die screaming.

The null ray barrage ceased, the bulkhead started to cool, and the Void Raven lowered to the ground.

"That oughta do it," said Manley.

"It's over? What did you do?"

"Just remembered the Third Law: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law. I just showed that rustbucket that shuttin' down is the most efficient way to kill us all."

"Then… the Redeemers! They're coming here!"

"Yep."

"But they'll kill us all!"

"Sure will."

"You're mad!"

Manley glanced at the floor, thick with the dust of the dead. "Mad as hell."

"You came in by warp beam! We could escape together!"

"Sounds like you're appealin' to my first law. Save every life ya can. But when it comes to me, what can I tell ya? Every law has its exceptions."

Manley gave a hard grin as he disappeared along the warp beam to safety. Captain Verno turned frantically, trying to remember where the escape pods were located. But out in the void of space, the Redeemer dropships were arriving to cleanse the unholy.

rocket crux 2 75

About the Author

nathan p mahney 300Nathan P. Mahney has been calling himself a writer for 35 years, but his work ethic is questionable.

He's the author of 'Ug and the Giant's Backyard', and 'Jack Manley and the Warlord of Infinity'.

He currently works as a librarian, lives with too many people and a sufficiency of cats, and can be found writing in Melbourne's outer south-east suburbs.

aus25grn

Mailing List Signup

Subscribe

* indicates required

Intuit Mailchimp

E-Book Issues

Epub for all e-readers:

Download for Kindle, Kobo, tablet or PC for offline reading

aus25grn

Issue Contributors

The AntiSF Radio Show

antipod-show-50Our weekly podcast features the stories from recently published issues, often narrated by the authors themselves.

Listen to the latest episode now:

The AntipodeanSF Radio Show is also broadcast on community radio, 2NVR, 105.9FM every Sunday evening at 7:00pm.

You can find every broadcast episode online here: http://antisf.libsyn.com 

Meet the Narrators

  • Alistair Lloyd

    alistair lloyd 200Alistair Lloyd is a Melbourne based writer and narrator who has been consuming good quality science fiction and fantasy most of his life.

    You may find him on Twitter as <@mr_al> and online at <...

  • Ed Errington

    ed erringtonEd lives with his wife plus a magical assortment of native animals in tropical North Queensland.

    His efforts at wallaby wrangling are without parallel — at least in this universe.

    He enjoys reading and writing science-fiction stories set within intriguing, yet plausible contexts, and invite readers’ “willing suspension of

    ...
  • Laurie Bell

    lauriebell 2 200

    Laurie Bell lives in Melbourne, Australia and is the author of "The Stones of Power Series" via Wyvern's Peak Publishing: "The Butterfly Stone", "The Tiger's Eye" and "The Crow's Heart" (YA/Fantasy).

    She is also the author of "White Fire" (Sci-Fi) and "The Good, the Bad and the Undecided" (a

    ...
  • Sarah Jane Justice

    Sarah Jane Justice 200Sarah Jane Justice is an Adelaide-based fiction writer, poet, musician and spoken word artist.

    Among other achievements, she has performed in the National Finals of the Australian Poetry Slam, released two albums of her original music and seen her poetry

    ...
  • Carolyn Eccles

    carolyn eccles 100

    Carolyn's work spans devising, performance, theatre-in-education and a collaborative visual art practice.

    She tours children's works to schools nationally with School Performance Tours, is a member of the Bathurst physical theatre ensemble Lingua Franca and one half of darkroom —

    ...
  • Barry Yedvobnick

    barry yedvobnick 200Barry Yedvobnick is a recently retired Biology Professor. He performed molecular biology and genetic research, and taught, at Emory University in Atlanta for 34 years. He is new to fiction writing, and enjoys taking real science a step or two beyond its known boundaries in his

    ...
  • Mark English

    mark english 100Mark is an astrophysicist and space scientist who worked on the Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn. Following this he worked in computer consultancy, engineering, and high energy research (with a stint at the JET Fusion Torus).

    All this science hasn't damped his love of fantasy and science fiction. It has, however, ruined his

    ...
  • Emma Gill

    Emma Louise GillEmma Louise Gill (she/her) is a British-Australian spec fic writer and consumer of vast amounts of coffee. Brought up on a diet of English lit, she rebelled and now spends her time writing explosive space opera and other fantastical things in

    ...
  • Merri Andrew

    merri andrew 200Merri Andrew writes poetry and short fiction, some of which has appeared in Cordite, Be:longing, Baby Teeth and Islet, among other places.

    She has been a featured artist for the Noted festival, won a Red Room #30in30 daily poetry challenge and was shortlisted for the

    ...
  • Marg Essex

    marg essex 200Margaret lives the good life on a small piece of rural New South Wales Australia, with an amazing man, a couple of pets, and several rambunctious wombats.

    She feels so lucky to be a part of the AntiSF team.

    ...

  • Tim Borella

    tim borellaTim Borella is an Australian author, mainly of short speculative fiction published in anthologies, online and in podcasts.

    He’s also a songwriter, and has been fortunate enough to have spent most of his working life doing something else he loves, flying.

    Tim lives with his wife Georgie in beautiful Far

    ...
  • Geraldine Borella

    geraldine borella 200Geraldine Borella writes fiction for children, young adults and adults. Her work has been published by Deadset Press, IFWG Publishing, Wombat Books/Rhiza Edge, AHWA/Midnight Echo, Antipodean SF, Shacklebound Books, Black Ink Fiction, Paramour Ink Fiction, House of Loki and Raven & Drake

    ...
  • Sarah Pratt

    sarah pratt 200Sarah Pratt is an avid fiction writer and a Marketing Consultant.

    She is currently working on her first novel but loves diving into short stories to bring a little lightness, intrigue or humour to the day.

    Her work has appeared in Sponge Magazine and The Commuting

    ...
  • Michelle Walker

    michelle walker32My time at Nambucca Valley Community Radio began back in 2016 after moving into the area from Sydney.

    As a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, I recognised it was definitely God who opened up the pathways for my husband and I to settle in the Valley.

    Within

    ...