Going Immobile

By Craig J. Clark


Invasion going precisely as planned and on schedule. Entire population of planet now enslaved and subjugated to the will of the robots. All able-bodied slaves have been put to work in factories making robots for next invasion wave. All non-able-bodied slaves -- including the very young and the elderly -- have been put to death. Once the planet's resources have been used up, all surviving slaves will be put to death. Cannot estimate how long that will be at this time.

Will transmit again in six Earth days. End transmission.


Six weeks. That's how long the robot had been on Earth. (The robot week was only six days long because the Robot God, having no need of it, had never rested.) Six weeks was also how long it had been embedded in the sidewalk in front of the city hall of the small Midwestern town where it had landed. This, it must be said, had not been part of the plan.

As per protocol when conquering a planet inhabited by intelligent beings, the robot had chosen a sparsely populated area as its site of first contact and homed in on its place of central government. Unfortunately, it had failed to take into account the increase in gravity on its descent and had slammed into a patch of wet concrete with such force that its systems had been knocked offline for several hours.

In a way it was lucky because if it had hit dry concrete at that speed it would have surely been irreparably damaged on impact. It was equally unlucky, though, because the concrete had dried while it lay dormant and it was completely unable to extricate itself. Maybe if its arms had been free it could have chipped away at the concrete that imprisoned it, but they were held fast at its sides, leaving only it head (which could still rotate, miraculously enough) and upper torso exposed to the elements -- and the curiosity of passersby.

There had been a certain amount of that when it was first discovered the following morning, with the onlookers -- most of whom were senior citizens -- wondering what it was.

"Do you suppose it's some kind of pubic art thing?"

"Strange that they would spring it on us overnight."

"I thought this was supposed to be a plain old stretch of sidewalk."

"Whatever it is, it looks like it was dropped from a crane or something."

"What makes you say that?"

"Look at how the concrete is rippled."

"Probably one of them modern art installations."

"Yeah, but who installed it?"

Before long, a small boy who was attracted by the crowd pushed his way to the front and started pelting the robot with stones. When it came to life, whirring and beeping, the seniors scattered, leaving only the boy to watch as the robot futilely tried to move any part of its body apart from its head.

"Hey, Mr. Robot," the boy said. "You need any help?"

The robot ceased its flailing momentarily and fixed its attention on the boy. As it did so, it charged up the heat ray with which it planned to incinerate the whelp.

"Yes, young human. Please fetch a hammer and chisel," the robot droned. "And a strong human skilled in the application thereof."

"Gee, Mr. Robot. I don't know anybody like that."

"Then you are useless to me. Prepare to die."

With that, the robot fried the boy to a cinder -- or rather, it would have if the heat ray hadn't malfunctioned, another casualty of the hard landing.

"Hey, you're funny, Mr. Robot. Well, I gotta get to school now. See ya later."

The boy skipped away, leaving the robot fuming -- literally. And that's how it had started every day since then, roused to anger by a group of ruffians and unable to unleash its violent potential upon them. And every sixth day it had transmitted a fraudulent account of its progress to the Robot High Command.

In retrospect, it should have sent out a distress call that first day, but the Robot High Command has always been unforgiving when it came to failure. Besides, eventually the humans would send somebody with the right tools to get him out. Surely the city did not want a malevolent robot blocking the sidewalk in front of its government building indefinitely.

Finally, the day was at hand. Five Earth weeks after its arrival in their town, the city council had called a closed-door meeting to discuss what they termed "the robot problem." A partial transcript follows:

"--hereby call this emergency session to order. We will dispense with the reading of the minutes since this isn't a regularly scheduled council meeting and I'm sure everybody present would rather be home watching Monday Night Football."

"Hear, hear."

"So, let's get down to it, this robot problem--"

"Why haven't you dealt with it before now?"

"I'm sorry, this is a closed-door meeting."

"Yes, I know. And the door is closed."

"I mean it's supposed to be closed to the general public. Who are you, young man? Identify yourself."

"Grant Parker, sir. Times-Messenger-Intelligencer."

"No press allowed, either."

"I'm also a citizen of this town. I believe we have a right to know why it's taken you this long to act. This robot has been a menace from day one."

"If I may field this one, Mr. Mayor?"

"By all means, Jack."

"Mr. Parker, when the town council was first asked to look into this matter, it was believed that this was no more than a prank that had been pulled by some students at the local university."

"That's some prank."

"Indeed. Of course, if it had been, then surely someone would have come forward and taken credit for it by now."

"Then you don't seriously believe--"

"That it's an emissary from a robot world many light years away that was sent to conquer the Earth? No, of course not."

"Well, no matter where it's from, it's started becoming verbally abusive of anybody who comes within ten feet of it."

"Mr. Parker, I assure you, we on the city council are all too aware of that."

"So what are you going to do about it?"

"That is precisely what we're here to discuss. Now, if you would please excuse us..."

At that point, the intruder was ejected from the council chambers, crying "Freedom of the press" -- the last intelligible words captured by his micro-cassette recorder. Soon after, the council voted unanimously to contract the construction company that had poured the sidewalk in the first place to take care of the problem. By sheer providence, they were available the following morning to do so.

The workmen arrived at city hall soon after the robot transmitted its latest report. As soon as it saw them pull up, the robot knew that its liberation was at hand. One way or another, this day it would be freed from its concrete prison. It waited anxiously as the five men got out of the van and pickup truck.

The first order of business was the setting up of barriers and caution tape around the work area. This took a good half hour. A worker was then stationed at either end of the sidewalk to direct pedestrians around it. The foreman, meanwhile, took stock of their options, which the robot didn't make any easier with its "helpful" suggestions. Finally it was determined that they lacked the proper equipment for the job, so the three who were not on guard duty got back in the van and left.

By the time they returned it was time for a coffee break, during which they endured the insults of the robot, which was incensed that they hadn't gotten down to work yet. After they had finished their coffee, the foreman had the two workers take the jackhammer they had retrieved out of the back of the van. Then he had them relieve the ones station on the sidewalk and gave those two their coffee breaks. The stream of invective continued.

Finally, either to appease the robot or because the appointed time for stalling had come to an end, the workmen fired up the jackhammer and set to work extracting the robot from the concrete slab. To its dismay, though, they left about a two-foot radius around it. Thankfully, the ear protection they wore to prevent any damage from the jackhammer also saved them from hearing the names the robot started calling them. (It had clearly built up a colorful vocabulary in its time on Earth.)

When this phase of the operation was complete, the crew put the jackhammer away and broke for lunch. Naturally this incensed the robot, but by this time it was getting accustomed to the laborers' laborious laboring. Despite being prime candidates for factory work, it decided to kill these five layabouts first as an example to the others.

Left to its own devices, the robot tried shifting its weight to see if it was possible for it to free itself before they got back, but it was still no use. While it did so, the young boy that it had met on its first day on Earth came up to him, ducking under the caution tape and skipping around the loose chunks of concrete.

"Hey, Mr. Robot," he said. "Whatcha doin'?"

"Ahh, little Jimmy. I am waiting for the construction workers to come back and finish the job they started."

"What are they doing?"

"Why, they are freeing me from this slab of concrete. Soon I will be able to move around under my own power again. Then you'll see. Then you'll all see." With that, it emitting a hollow, metallic laugh that it didn't even try to check.

"Does that mean you'll be leaving us?"

"Oh no, little Jimmy. I'm planning on sticking around for a long, long time."

"That's good. Otherwise I would miss you."

"Yes, and I would miss you, too, little Jimmy." Miss your throat with my sharp pincers, that is, it thought.

"Before you ask, I'm not at school right now because it's recess and I slipped away so I could see you. I was hoping to see the construction men at work, too."

"Me, too, little Jimmy. Me, too."

"So, did they bring one of those hammers and chisels like you asked me for?"

"They may have, but that's not what they were using this morning. Say, would you check for me?"

"Check for what, Mr. Robot?"

"A hammer and chisel. The tools are over there."

It swiveled its head to show Jimmy where the men had left their tools. The boy looked and came back with a hammer and a screwdriver.

"Is this them?"

"You mean 'Are these they?' and no, they are not. The hammer is right, but the other is a screwdriver."

"Oh, sorry. I don't know what a chisel looks like."

"Try again. There must be one over there."

The boy looked again.

"What do you want with a hammer and chisel anyway? You still can't move your arms, can you?"

"No, little Jimmy, but I'm hoping you'll be able to free them for me so I can finish the job myself."

"I thought you needed somebody big and strong to do that."

"Right now I'll take what I can get."

"Okay, Mr. Robot," said the boy as he returned with the hammer and a monkey wrench.

"Oh, for the sake of Metalinear-8 of the Zarquon Quadrant! How imbecilic does one have to be to not know what a chisel is?"

The boy dropped the tools he had in his hands, his bottom lip trembling. Realizing its error, the robot tried to be contrite, but it was too late.

"Little Jimmy, I--"

"I need to get back to school, Mr. Robot. I think I just heard the bell ring."

"No, little Jimmy. I heard no bell."

The boy stared at the robot for several seconds, then his expression changed from tearful to angry.

"I don't want to be friends with you anymore. Goodbye."

With that he ran off, leaving the robot to wait for the construction workers to come back and finish the job. They must have taken a long lunch, because it was well after two when the crew returned with, the robot noticed, little Jimmy in tow. That was also when the crane arrived. And the flatbed truck. And when the men got out of their vehicles, they all seemed to be carrying sledgehammers.

All of a sudden, the robot regretted many of the things that it had said that morning about the construction workers' mothers.


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Nicely played indeed, Mr. Clark.

Your assignment for next week: THE YETI. And no, this theme was not chosen because the Yeti's been in the news lately. I've been a Yeti fan since I was a child, and the creature was mentioned on an episode of "The Electric Company." Now I want a Yeti story.

Craig, I think this is your best use of the obstruction yet. For some reason, I thought of the immobility of the robot as a manufactured quality, not an accidental one. I really like your take on it. I also like the way you projected your character style onto a character that seems at the outset to be quite powerful and confident. All in all, these robot stories are my favorites of the month so far and this is one of my all-time favorites of yours, Craig.

Star for you.

Thank you, Mr. Leavens. And thank you for suggesting this theme. I can't speak for Joe, but I enjoyed the challenge of coming up with a plausible reason why a robot would not be able to move.

The lack of rest needed by the Robot God totally made this story for me. Good stuff.

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This page contains a single entry by Craig J. Clark published on October 23, 2008 5:55 AM.

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