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Gold: The Final Science Fiction Collection

Isaac Asimov

  Gold: The Final Science Fiction Collection

  Isaac Asimov

  Isaac Asimov

  Gold: The Final Science Fiction Collection

  Part One: The Final Stories


  I am a robot. My name is Cal. I have a registration number. It is CL-123X, but my master calls me Cal.

  The X in my registration number means I am a special robot for my master. He asked for me and helped design me. He has a lot of money. He is a writer.

  I am not a very complicated robot. My master doesn’t want a complicated robot. He just wants someone to pick up after him, to run his printer, stack his disks, and like that.

  He says I don’t give him any backtalk and just do what I am told. He says that is good.

  He has people come in to help him, sometimes. They give him backtalk. Sometimes they do not do what they are told. He gets very angry and red in the face.

  Then he tells me to do something, and I do it. He says, thank goodness, you do as you are told.

  Of course, I do as I am told. What else can I do? I want to make my master feel good. I can tell when my master feels good. His mouth stretches and he calls that a smile. He pats me on the shoulder and says, Good, Cal. Good.

  I like it when he says, Good, Cal. Good.

  I say to my master, Thank you. You make me feel good, too.

  And he laughs. I like when he laughs because it means he feels good, but it is a queer sound. I don’t understand how he makes it or why. I ask him and he says to me that he laughs when something is funny.

  I ask him if what I said is funny. He says, Yes, it is.

  It is funny because I say I feel good. He says robots do not really feel good. He says only human masters feel good. He says robots just have positronic brain paths that work more easily when they follow orders.

  I don’t know what positronic brain paths are. He says they are something inside me.

  I say, When positronic brain-paths work better, does it make everything smoother and easier for me? Is that why I feel good?

  Then I ask, When a master feels good, is it because something in him works more easily? My master nods and says, Cal, you are smarter than you look.

  I don’t know what that means either but my master seems pleased with me and that makes my positronic brain paths work more easily, and that makes me feel good. It is easier just to say it makes me feel good. I ask if I can say that.

  He says, You can say whatever you choose, Cal.

  What I want is to be a writer like my master. I do not understand why I have this feeling, but my master is a writer and he helped design me. Maybe his design makes me feel I want to be a writer. I do not understand why I have this feeling because I don’t know what a writer is. I ask my master what a writer is.

  He smiles again. Why do you want to know, Cal? he asks.

  I do not know, I say. It is just that you are a writer and I want to know what that is. You seem so happy when you are writing and if it makes you happy maybe it will make me happy, too. I have a feelingI don’t have the words for it. I think a while and he waits for me. He is still smiling.

  I say, I want to know because it will make me feel better to know. I am-I am

  He says, You are curious, Cal.

  I say, I don’t know what that word means.

  He says, It means you want to know just because you want to know.

  I want to know just because I want to know, I say.

  He says, Writing is making up a story. I tell about people who do different things, and have different things happen to them.

  I say, How do you find out what they do and what happens to them?

  He says, I make them up, Cal. They are not real people. They are not real happenings. I imagine them, in here.

  He points to his head.

  I do not understand and I ask how he makes them up, but he laughs and says, I do not know, either. I just make them up.

  He says, I write mysteries. Crime stories. I tell about people who do wrong things, who hurt other people.

  I feel very bad when I hear that. I say, How can you talk about hurting people? That must never be done.

  He says, Human beings are not controlled by the Three Laws of Robotics. Human masters can hurt other human masters, if they wish.

  This is wrong, I say.

  It is, he says. In my stories, people who do harm are punished. They are put in prison and kept there where they cannot hurt people.

  Do they like it in prison? I ask.

  Of course not. They must not. Fear of prison keeps them from doing more hurtful things than they do.

  I say, But prison is wrong, too, if it makes people feel bad.

  Well, says my master, that is why you cannot write mysteries and crime stories.

  I think about that. There must be a way to write stories in which people are not hurt. I would like to do that. I want to be a writer. I want to be a writer very much.

  My master has three different Writers for writing stories. One is very old, but he says he keeps it because it has sentimental value.

  I don’t know what sentimental value is. I do not like to ask. He does not use the machine for his stories. Maybe sentimental value means it must not be used.

  He doesn’t say I can not use it. I do not ask him if I can use it. If I do not ask him and he does not say I must not, then I am not disobeying orders if I use it.

  At night, he is sleeping, and the other human masters who are sometimes here are gone. There are two other robots my master has who are more important than I am. They do more important work. They wait in their niches at night when they have not been given anything to do.

  My master has not said, Stay in your niche, Cal.

  Sometimes he doesn’t, because I am so unimportant, and then I can move about at night. I can look at the Writer. You push keys and it makes words and then the words are put on paper. I watch the master so I know how to push keys. The words go on the paper themselves. I do not have to do that.

  I push the keys but I do not understand the words. I feel bad after a while. The master may not like it even if he does not tell me not to do it.

  The words are printed on paper and in the morning I show the words to my master.

  I say, I am sorry. I was using the Writer.

  He looks at the paper. Then he looks at me. He makes a frown. He says, Did you do this? Yes, master. When?

  Last night. Why?

  I want very much to write. Is this a story? He holds up the paper and smiles.

  He says, These are just random letters, Cal. This is gibberish. He does not seem angry. I feel better. I do not know what gibberish is.

  I say, Is it a story?

  He says, No, it is not. And it is a lucky thing the Writer cannot be damaged by mishandling. If you really want to write so badly, I will tell you what I will do. I will have you reprogrammed so that you will know how to use a Writer.

  Two days later, a technician arrives. He is a master who knows how to make robots do better jobs. My master tells me that the technician is the one who put me together, and my master helped. I do not remember that.

  The technician listens carefully to my master.

  He says, Why do you want to do this, Mr. Northrop? Mr. Northrop is what other masters call my master.

  M y master says, I helped design Cal, remember. I think I must have put into him the desire to be a writer. I did not intend to, but as long as he does, I feel I should humor him. I owe it to him.

  The technician says, That is foolish. Even if we accidentally put in a desire to write that is still no job for a robot.

  My master says, Just the same I want it done.
/>   The technician says, It will be expensive, Mr. Northrop. My master frowns. He looks angry. He says, Cal is my robot. I shall do as I please. I have the money and I want him adjusted.

  The technician looks angry, too. He says, If that’s what you want, very well. The customer is boss. But it will be more expensive than you think, because we cannot put in the knowledge of how to use a Writer without improving his vocabulary a good deal.

  My master says, Fine. Improve his vocabulary.

  The next day, the technician comes back with lots of tools. He opens my chest. It is a queer feeling. I do not like it. He reaches in. I think he shuts off my power pack, or takes it out. I do not remember. I do not see anything, or think anything, or know anything.

  Then I could see and think and know again. I could see that time had passed, but I did not know how much time.

  I thought for a while. It was odd, but I knew how to run a Writer and I seemed to understand more words. For instance, I knew what “gibberish” meant, and it was embarrassing to think I had shown gibberish to my master, thinking it was a story.

  I would have to do better. This time I had no apprehension-I know the meaning of “apprehension,” too-I had no apprehension that he would keep me from using the old Writer. After all, he would not have redesigned me to be capable of using it if he were going to prevent me from doing so.

  I put it to him. “Master, does this mean I may use the Writer?”

  He said, “You may do so at any time, Cal, that you are not engaged in other tasks. You must let me see what you write, however.”

  “Of course, master.”

  He was clearly amused because I think he expected more gibberish (what an ugly word!) but I didn’t think he would get any more.

  I didn’t write a story immediately. I had to think about what to write. I suppose that that is what the master meant when he said you must make up a story.

  I found it was necessary to think about it first and then write down what was thought. It was much more complicated than I had supposed.

  My master noticed my preoccupation. He asked me, “What are you doing, Cal?”

  I said, “I am trying to make up a story. It’s hard work.”

  “Are you finding that out, Cal? Good. Obviously, your reorganization has not only improved your vocabulary but it seems to me it has intensified your intelligence.”

  I said, “I’m not sure what is meant by ‘intensified’.”

  “It means you seem smarter. You seem to know more.” “Does that displease you, master?”

  “Not at all. It pleases me. It may make it more possible for you to write stories and even after you have grown tired of trying to write, you will remain more useful to me.”

  I thought at once that it would be delightful to be more useful to the master, but I didn’t understand what he meant about growing tired of trying to write. I wasn’t going to get tired of writing.

  Finally, I had a story in my mind, and I asked my master when would be a proper time to write it. He said, “Wait till night. Then you won’t be getting in my way. We can have a small light for the corner where the old Writer is standing; and you can write your story. How long do you think it will take you?”

  “Just a little while,” I said, surprised. “I can work the Writer very quickly.”

  My master said, “Cal, working the Writer isn’t all there-” Then he stopped, thought a while, and said, “No, you go ahead and do it. You will learn. I won’t try to advise you.”

  He was right. Working the Writer wasn’t all there was to it. I spent nearly the whole night trying to figure out the story. It is very difficult to decide which word comes after which. I had to erase the story several times and start over. It was very embarrassing.

  Finally, it was done, and here it is. I kept it after I wrote it because it was the first story I ever wrote. It was not gibberish.

  The Introoder

  by Cal

  There was a detektav wuns named Cal, who was a very good detektav and very brave. Nuthin fritened him. Imajin his surprise one night when he herd an introoder in his masters home.

  He came russian into the riting office. There was an introoder. He had cum in throo the windo. There was broken glas. That was what Cal, the brave detektav, had herd with his good hering.

  He said, “Stop, introoder.”

  The introoder stopped and looked skared. Cal felt bad that the introoder looked skared. Cal said, “Look what you have done. You have broken the windo.”

  “Yes,” said the introoder, looking very ashaymed. “I did not mean to break the windo.”

  Cal was very clever and he saw the flawr in the introoder’s remark. He said, “How did you expect to get in if you were not going to break the windo?”

  “I thought it would be open,” he said. “I tried to open it and it broke.”

  Cal said, “Waht was the meaning of what you have done, anyhow? Why should you want to come into this room when it is not your room? You are an introoder.”

  “I did not mean any harm,” he said.

  “That is not so, for if you ment no harm, you would not be here,” said Cal. “You must be punnished.”

  “Please do not punnish me,” said the introoder.

  “I will not punnish you,” said Cal. “I don’t wish to cause you unhappiness or payn. I will call my master.”

  He called, “Master! Master!”

  The master came russian in. “What have we here?” he asked.

  “An introoder,” I said. “I have caut him and he is for you to punnish.”

  My master looked at the introoder. He said, “Are you sorry for wat you have done?”

  “I am,” said the introoder. He was crying and water was coming out of his eys the way it happens with masters when they are sad.

  “Will you ever do it agen?” said my master.

  “Never. I will never do it agen,” said the introoder.

  “In that case,” said the master, “you have been punnished enogh. Go away and be sure never to do it agen.”

  Then the master said, “You are a good detektav, Cal. I am proud of you.” Cal was very glad to have pleased the master.

  The end

  I was very pleased with the story and I showed it to the master. I was sure he would be very pleased, too.

  He was more than pleased, for as he read it, he smiled. He even laughed a few times. Then he looked up at me and said, “Did you write this?”

  “Yes, I did, master,” I said.

  “I mean, all by yourself. You didn’t copy anything?”

  “I made it up in my own head, master, “ I said. “Do you like it?” He laughed again, quite loudly. “It’s interesting,” he said.

  I was a little anxious. “Is it funny?” I asked. “I don’t know how to make things funny.”

  “I know, Cal. It’s not funny intentionally.”

  I thought about that for a while. Then I asked, “How can something be funny unintentionally?” “It’s hard to explain, but don’t worry about it. In the first place, you can’t spell, and that’s a surprise. You speak so well now that I automatically assumed you could spell words but, obviously, you can’t. You can’t be a writer unless you can spell words correctly, and use good grammar.”

  “How do I manage to spell words correctly?”

  “You don’t have to worry about that, Cal,” said my master. “We will outfit you with a dictionary. But tell me, Cal. In your story, Cal is you, isn’t he?”

  “Yes.” I was pleased he had noticed that.

  “Bad idea. You don’t want to put yourself into a story and say how great you are. It offends the reader.”

  “Why, master?”

  “Because it does. It looks like I will have to give you advice, but I’ll make it as brief as possible. It is not customary to praise yourself. Besides you don’t want to say you are great, you must show you are great in what you do. And don’t use your own name.”

  “Is that a rule?”

  “A good write
r can break any rule, but you’re just a beginner. Stick to the rules and what I have told you are just a couple of them. You’re going to encounter many, many more if you keep on writing. Also, Cal, you’re going to have trouble with the Three Laws of Robotics. You can’t assume that wrongdoers will weep and be ashamed. Human beings aren’t like that. They must be punished sometimes.”

  I felt my positronic brain-paths go rough. I said, “That is difficult. “

  “I know. Also, there’s no mystery in the story. There doesn’t have to be, but I think you’d be better off if there were. What if your hero, whom you’ll have to call something other than Cal, doesn’t know whether someone is an intruder or not. How would he find out? You see, he has to use his head.” And my master pointed to his own.

  I didn’t quite follow.

  My master said, “I’ll tell you what. I’ll give you some stories of my own to read, after you’ve been outfitted with a spelling dictionary and a grammar and you’ll see what I mean.”

  The technician came to the house and said, “There’s no problem in installing a spelling dictionary and a grammar. It’ll cost you more money. I know you don’t care about money, but tell me why you are so interested in making a writer out of this hunk of steel and titanium.”

  I didn’t think it was right for him to call me a hunk of steel and titanium, but of course a human master can say anything he wants to say. They always talk about us robots as though we weren’t there. I’ve noticed that, too.

  My master said, “Did you ever hear of a robot who wanted to be a writer?” “No,” said the technician, “I can’t say I ever did, Mr. Northrop.”

  “Neither did I! Neither did anyone as far as I know. Cal is unique, and I want to study him.”

  The technician smiled very wide-grinned, that’s the word. “Don’t tell me you have it in your head that he’ll be able to write your stories for you, Mr. Northrop.”

  My master stopped smiling. He lifted his head and looked down on the technician very angrily. “Don’t be a fool. You just do what I pay you to do.”