Dateline: Nepal, 2011.
There it sits, perched serenely upon pillows in its lofty mountain temple: the BastardTron 9000, the most sophisticated artificial-intelligence droid ever created. A full decade of research and development, encompassing countless millions of man-hours and (it is whispered) perhaps a trillion dollars, has gone into its production. Scores of programmers, engineers, clerics, philosophers, mathematicians, poets, and noted academics of every discipline have contributed to its final form. The governments of 17 different countries, including the United States, Germany, Russia, and Red China, have lent financial and technical support. Luminaries ranging from Noam Chomsky and Stephen Hawking to Deepak Chopra and Dr. Phil were seen entering the heavily-fortified BastardTron Labs in Stockholm, where the magnificent machine was created, its every stage of development shrouded in secrecy, cloaked in gossip and innuendo.
The purpose of the BastardTron 9000, according to its makers: to be a sort of Cybernetic Superguru for the Information Age, replacing the monks, swamis, fakirs, and holy men of the past. Embedded within the circuits, wires, and gears of this mighty automaton would be housed the sum total of Man's knowledge of his word, the universe, and the very mysteries of life itself, including the endlessly complex dynamics of interpersonal relations. At last, they reasoned, the Seeker of Truth would finally have a place to go to find real answers to life's most perplexing questions.
Unfortunately, the thing turned out to be a complete bastard.
Sensing this -- and wondering whether the name "BastardTron 9000" hadn't been something of a self-fulfilling prophecy in retrospect -- the robot's embarrassed manufacturers decided to house their expensive metallic sire in a location which would be theoretically accessible but remote enough to discourage all but the most ardent Seekers of Truth. After several months of deliberation, in which proposals from several locales were entertained, the manufacturers decided to construct a lair for the BastardTron 9000 at the snowy peak of the fearsome Kangchenjunga mountain. The temple itself is a large, white, rectangular structure, appearing perfectly smooth and featureless on the outside. Within, one finds the 9000 eternally meditating in the lotus position, flanked by two burly IT administrators, their mammoth and muscular bodies squeezed into khakis, Hush Puppies, and white short-sleeve shirts, clip-on ties affixed to their already-straining collars. These two imposing men, who are known only by their employee ID numbers (000001 and 000002, respectively), spend their days fanning the robot with ostrich feathers and, when necessary, attending to its various malfunctions. When the 9000 speaks, which is rare, it does so in the voice of Alan Alda. (Alda himself spent months recording voice-over prompts for the project, supposedly bruising his larynx in the process.)
To reach this temple at its 13000-foot elevation is a harrowing ordeal in and of itself, one which has already claimed several lives and which is only recommended to the heartiest and most experienced of mountaineers. Once he reaches the summit, the weary traveler is by no means guaranteed entrance to the BastardTron's lair. The robot's otherwise-impregnable mountain fortress has no windows and only one door, a small round portal which opens only briefly at widely spaced intervals determined by a precise series of complex preprogrammed algorithms. In fact, the area outside the temple is littered with further corpses, the bodies of climbers who succumbed to frostbite, hypothermia, and starvation while waiting interminably to be allowed access to the fabled machine.
And yet, they continue to come: the dreamers and acolytes, the wanderers and wondererers, the 28-year-old grad students working on their theses. And now, here is yet another traveler -- Brad Greenwood of Helmsleyville, Ohio. He is at a crossroads in his life: he cannot decide whether to devote himself to the Unification Church or whether to "chuck it all" and study the ways of hotel-motel management. So confused is he that he has taken a year off to ponder this question and embark upon a journey of self-discovery, a journey which has led him to the BastardTron 9000. Already he has been here a week, huddling outside the inaccessible structure, praying to be let in. His own provisions having long since run out, Brad has resorted to picking at the remains of the previous, less-fortunate seekers who arrived here before him. Even so, he has wasted away to a mere 96 pounds and appears gaunt and miserable, his haunted eyes ringed with dark circles. He has already lost several toes to frostbite and may soon lose more. He knows he cannot sleep, for he cannot risk being unconscious should the portal suddenly open. The lack of sleep, combined with the cold, the isolation, and his own hunger, have driven Brad to the verge of madness.
But then on the eighth day, by some divine providence, the portal does open. At first, Brad does not know whether this is really happening or whether he is hallucinating, but his gut takes over and forces his body to climb through the small round opening. He clambers into the temple, and the portal quickly closes behind him. Summoning the last of his reserved strength, Brad picks himself up from the floor and gazes at the surroundings. They are, quite simply, magnificent. The temperature inside is a perfect 73 degrees Fahrenheit. The temple itself is one continuous room, but what a room -- much larger than it appears to be from the outside! What's more, everything here is perfectly white. There are huge white serrated columns stretching up to the impossibly high ceiling. In the corner, a beautiful white bird in a white cage chirps softly and melodically. Most magnificent of all is a white marble fountain which gurgles soothingly in the center of the room, its gently flowing water appearing just as white as everything else. Could it possibly be milk, Brad wonders? It is! He drinks and is nourished.
The entire space is suffused with a warm light from above. Brad cranes his neck upward to the tops of the columns to see the source of the light and is blinded by the radiance he discovers. Quickly lowering his head, he sees a shiny metallic glimmering in far distance at the opposite side of this grand hall. As if in a trance, he walks toward it and slowly the object takes shape. It is indeed the magnificent BastardTron 9000, a robot in humanoid form with perfectly smooth metallic skin which appears silvery and reflective. His limbs are folded in contemplation, and his large belly juts out like that of the Buddha. Guarding him, of course, are 000001 and 000002, scowling as they wave their feathers in perfect synchronicity.
Taking small, respectful steps, Brad cautiously approaches the renowned machine. Hot, salty tears stream down his face, and he reaches out his hand to place it on the machine's perfectly round bald head which beckons him ever closer with its calm and inviting countenance. As he does this, however, 000001 and 000002 step in front of the robot and form an X with their ostrich feathers. Brad is unable to speak, but his facial expression communicates confusion and alarm. 000001 points to a discreet sign posted on the wall: PLEASE! DO NOT TOUCH THE BASTARDTRON 9000! THANK YOU! - The Management.
000002 gestures for Brad to sit on the floor in front of the machine, while 000001 testily takes a Wet Ones from his shirt pocket and wipes the fingerprints off the 9000's brilliant forehead. As Brad sits cross legged on a rug, the robot's two guards resume their customary position on its right and left sides. Gathering up his courage, Brad decides to speak:
000002 angrily places an index finger to his closed lips, and 000001 points to a second discreet sign on the wall, posted directly below the first: PLEASE! WAIT FOR THE BASTARDTRON 9000 TO SPEAK FIRST! THANK YOU! - The Management.
Chastened, Brad retreats into silence and sits waiting at the artificial feet of this artificial guru, wondering what an entity which possessed all the World's knowledge and wisdom would possibly have to say to him. How long would he have to wait? He glances occasionally at 000001 and 000002, but their stony, unchanging expressions betray nothing. Hours pass in silence. Unable to keep his eyes open any longer, Brad falls asleep sitting up and dreams of Julie, the girl he'd left back home in Helmsleyville. In the dream, they are riding on an elevator together, and whenever he tries to hold her hand he gets an electric shock. All the while, she merely smiles demurely and says nothing.
When he awakes some time later, Brad is surprised to find himself still on the rug in the temple and still more surprised to see that the BT9000 and its two guards are still there, exactly where he'd left them. Desperate now, he makes another attempt to speak:
"Master, I have come..."
000001 again points in the direction of the second sign, this time a little more casually than the last. Another day is spent in silence. Then a third. All this time, Brad occasionally dozes off and experiences disturbing dreams, only to reawaken and find himself in the same exact place. On the morning of the fourth day, Brad -- by now despondent -- picks himself up painfully from the floor and walks toward the exit. He is almost to the fountain when he hears the familiar voice of Capt. Hawkeye Pierce calling after him.
"Leaving so soon?
Brad, newly reinvigorated, runs back towards the BastardTron 9000 and eagerly sits at its feet, gazing adoringly into its manufactured face. He is overcome with joy.
"MASTER! YOU SPOKE!"
"Of course. That is my purpose."
"I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS FOR YOU, MASTER!"
"By all means, ask away. I am here to listen and answer."
Brad takes a moment to compose himself before saying, "Master, since you know everything, you will know how to answer this. I am at a crossroads in my life. I can't decide whether to become a Moonie or a Super 8 manager. It's eating me up inside. Please! Help me!"
"I will help you. But first you must answer something for me."
"Yes, Master. Anything you want."
"You know that I am the wisest being in all the world."
"Repository of all knowledge."
"Storehouse of all wisdom."
"And yet you treat me like some kind of goddamned Magic 8 Ball! Listen, schmuck, take some advice from the BastardTron 9000. Next time you have a quote-unquote problem like this, just flip a friggin' coin already and save your parents the airfare to Nepal."
"That's your answer?"
"That's my answer."
Knowing there is no more to say, Brad gets up once again and walks the length of the room to the small round portal. It will not move. He pushes it, pulls on it, and hits it with his fists, but it does not budge. Renewed by his anger and frustration, Brad storms across the room and points his finger accusingly at the robot.
"Hey, Threepio," he begins. 000001 starts to point the sign, but Brad waves him away. "We're done here, capisce? So how about opening that door so I can get out of here, okay? I've had enough of you and your crummy temple and these two morons. By the way, nice ties, fellas. Are those clip-ons? Classy."
In response, both the robot and the guards begin to snicker.
"What are they laughing at? What are you laughing at?" demands Brad.
"Silly boy," comes the machine's reply. "You're not leaving here. No one does."
"Then what happens to me?"
"Simple. You die."
"I die? You're going to kill me?"
"No, dear boy. They are."
000001 and 000002 have already dropped their ostrich feathers and are restraining Brad by both arms. The traveler struggles against their collective might, but to no avail. Escape is impossible.
"We've been tenderizing you while you slept, of course, and now we agree that you're just right. Hope the process didn't affect your dreams too much. Some of our previous guests have complained of nightmares."
"A-are you going to e-eat me?"
"I'm not, but they are. What do you think we do for food around here? You didn't notice a McDonald's outside, did you? I mean, we have the milk fountain back there, but 000001 is lactose intolerant."
"B-but, why do you leave all those people outside...?"
"Eh, they weren't hungry," the robot replies, raising its mechanical limbs to point at the guards.
"Then why did you let me waste away to nothing like this?"
"Oh, that. Well, it's simple, really. 000002's on a diet," says the robot. A panel on the droid's stomach opens, revealing that its hefty stomach is, in fact, a convection oven already preheated to 300 degrees. "Nice of the boys at GE to install this, eh?" The machine and its keepers laugh and laugh.
"YOU BASTARD!" Brad yells. "YOU COMPLETE AND TOTAL BASTARD!"
"That's my name," replies the BastardTron 9000. "Don't wear it out. Eh, you know what? On second thought, go ahead and wear it out."
Brad screams himself hoarse doing just that.