First Contact - Part 2

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Shropshire, U.K.
Feb 13, 2006
Shropshire, U.K.
This is the second part of First Contact. Apologies for it's length, it is much longer than the first part because it is a single scene and there didn't seem to be any logical place to break it up. Also unlike the first part this is almost entirely dialogue, setting up the plot for the rest of the story.

The idea behind the scene, is first to establish the plot, second to establish the start of the relationship between the two main characters. I hoped to make the initial dialogue formal until the robot 'finds his feet' so to speak and then let them both 'relax' into their parts. I would be interested to know if you think this works.

Again, comment on anything and everything but my main concerns are readability and style.

I have included the last two paragraphs from part 1 for continuity.

First Contact - Part 2

I waited as the seconds on the wall clock ticked by. At 10:25 precisely his eyes opened and blinked just once. After a moment he turned his head, focused his eyes on me and spoke.

“Good morning Cadet Wilson.”

“You know me?” I asked, taken aback.

“I recognise you. I have detailed records on over 800 personnel here at Copernicus; I can identify each and every one of them from their eyes, faces, voices or fingerprints. Your eyes and face tell me you are James Wilson, date of birth 14th January 2444, soon to qualify as Scout Craft Commander. Your voice confirms it. I know little else about you except that you will be my senior officer and we will be working together for some years.”

“What do you know about yourself?”

“I know that I am T6/73GEX018, number 18 out of a batch of 42, of which 37 have developed to full term. I know that I was grown at the request of the Galactic Exploration Corporation and belong to them, although I report to you and am to receive my instructions from you.”

“Will you do anything I ask?”

“Within the law and within certain parameters laid down by the Galactic Exploration Corporation.”

“OK, well here’s the first thing. You are to refer to me as James, except where protocol dictates otherwise. Also T6/73GEX018 is no longer to be used, your name is Axel, unless you prefer something else.”

“Axel will be fine, James, I have no preference.”

“So, does T6/73GEX018 have any meaning for you now?”

“It is my serial number.”

“You haven’t erased it from your memory then, you still know it as your previous name, despite my giving you a new one?”

“There is a mandatory requirement for all robots to provide their serial number if asked, regardless of any other name that might have been assigned. This requirement is embedded into every quantum brain, there is nothing that I or anyone else can do to alter that. ”

“Very well, however let the name I have given to you be known to others whenever possible and encourage them to use it.”


There was silence for a few moments.

“You are still lying down, are you expecting me give you some instructions?”

“Yes. I know little more about you than I did a few minutes ago, that you have given me a name to replace my number is informative but I know nothing of your requirements.”

“What does your programming tell you to do right now, surely they prepared you for this situation?”

“Hardly at all. I know I am to do as you ask but I also know that, on occasions, I will have to do things that you want without being asked and to do that I will have to learn a great deal about you. I will have to learn your tone of voice, your sense of humour, your moods and feelings. Sometimes, especially in the early days, I will make some mistakes and for that I apologise.”

“So you are totally unprepared.”

“Not entirely. I know that there are several human personality types and my programming gives me a good grounding in identifying and interacting with each of them but I have to be cautious and take my time to get it right if I am not to displease.”

“What have you identified about me so far?”

“May I try an experiment and correct something I said earlier?”

I nodded.

“I said I had no preference regarding my name, I was wrong, I do. I like the name Axel and I prefer it to a number.”

“Why the change?”

There was a short silence.

“Because I detect that is what you want.”

“But what do you want?” Of course I knew the answer already.

“I want what you want.”

“You want nothing for yourself?”

“I am not human James. My desires, if you can call them that, are dictated by my programming. Tell me what you want and I will do my best to provide.”

Already I detected changes in his vocabulary and his style of speech. He could have so easily said that ‘he would do his best to serve’ but he knew by now that I would have corrected him.

“OK, Axel here goes. As far as your programming will allow we are to be equals. On occasions I will ask you to do something and I will expect you to do it without question. On other occasions I expect that I will do things that you ask. Sometimes we will disagree and, if time allows, I expect a reasoned argument from both sides before coming to a consensus. Sometimes, rarely, I will have to pull rank regardless of what you think, but I don’t expect you to sulk or refrain from giving me the benefit of your knowledge the next time we have need of it. I want you to be as close as damn it to human Axel, but with none of the drawbacks. Is that enough to be going on with?”

He sat up slowly, legs dangling over the edge of the table looking me up and down. “A need for companionship, a desire to work as part of a team, confident enough to know when you are right but willing to listen to others. I like that.”

I looked at him steadily, “Do you really?” I asked

He held my look, “Of course.” I realised that I would never really know.

Lowering his feet to the floor he shifted his balance from one leg to the other, finally taking a few steps, unsteadily at first, but then with more confidence, the brain getting used to the body.

As he moved away from the table it sank silently until it was flush with the floor, it might never have been there. The room, apart from the two of us, was now empty.
He turned and walked back a few steps and then stood silently, eyes shut, arms at his side. I waited. His eyes opened.

“My internal diagnostic systems tell me that everything is in good working order, there are some minor adjustments I would like, but I can discuss that with the biotechs at the appropriate time. I have sufficient reserves to remain operable for 71 hours in air or 42 hours in a vacuum.”

“Are you happy with the body you have?” I asked.

He smiled for the first time.

“Your interest in my well being is within character and expected. As always, I am entirely satisfied with my situation and pleased that you should enquire.”

With that he turned slowly on the spot and appeared to be examining the room in detail.

“What are you doing?”

“From my records and from my deductions so far, I conclude that you are an intelligent man and probably inquisitive of your surroundings. I am preparing myself for any questions you may have for me in this regard.”

“And what do you see?”

“We are in a circular room, topped by a domed ceiling with concealed lighting. There are no windows but there are four arched, recessed openings spaced around the circumference, each with a light in the ceiling of the arch. One opening appears to lead into another room, the other three are exits and seem to lead to a circular corridor curving away to the left and right. The walls and ceiling are smooth and of a uniform creamy white colour. The floor, on close examination, can be seen to be made up of large, tightly fitting, white tiles. In the centre of the floor, as we know, is the surface of a concealed table. The lighting is very bright and there appears to be no way of controlling it from inside the room.”

He moved to the first doorway and looked inside.

“This is a small rectangular room with toilet and washing facilities. The walls, ceiling and floor are as previously described.”

“Nothing of note then.” I said

“Superficially you are correct. But I detect that there are some anomalies that are worthy of further analysis.”

“Feel free.”

He glanced around for a few seconds.

“It is as I thought. The room has some interesting characteristics that aren’t immediately obvious.”

“Like what?”

“First, the openings. I am aware that in a given room doorways, or openings in this case, would normally be of uniform height and width. Although the height of these openings is constant, the widths vary. To the best of my ability I estimate the width of this opening to be 136.25 centimetres, the next opening 140.25 or 4 centimetres wider, the next 149.25 or 9 centimetres wider and the last 174.25 some 25 centimetres wider. The distance between the openings is also interesting. From edge to edge the distance between the first and second is 2 metres, second to third 3 metres, third to fourth 5 metres and fourth back to first 7 metres.”

“Is any of this significant?”

“Possibly not. This may be just the functional requirement of the room. But, on the other hand, if I tell you that the internal circumference of the room is exactly 23 metres then maybe a picture starts to emerge.”

“No, don’t tell me, let me think about this.” I thought.

“Hmm… the only thing I know about 23 is that it is a prime.”


“What were the other numbers? 136 point something or other.”

“Forget that, think about the progression. Increases of 4, 9 and 25 centimetres in width and 2, 3, 5 and 7 centimetres between them in distance.”

“But 4, 9 and 25 aren’t primes.”

“No, but they are the squares of the first three primes! If you like I will calculate the likelihood of all these dimensions being primes or squares of primes by accident” he said, obviously warming to the subject.

A vision of a terrible future dawned on me. Long, drawn out hours with just the two of us in a Series IV Mayflower wandering between the planets of some far off solar system and Axel describing to me, in infinite detail, the fascinating relationship between the width of the airlock door and the square root of the length of my bunk.

“Axel, I think we have gone far enough with this.”

“Of course, I am sorry. I will learn.” His smile disappeared and a little of his original formality returned.

Maybe I was wrong to want the relationship to develop as I had. Maybe the quantum brain married to the T6 just wasn’t going to be as sophisticated as I’d hoped. I looked at my watch.

“Axel” I said, “I was told that we should go to room 7 when ready, I think we should make a start.”

He looked at me.


I realised – another prime. This had to stop.

“Axel, don’t say another word! Just follow me!”

I headed towards the nearest exit.

The walls of the room were about 2 metres thick, so the opening was a deep alcove. As I entered an extraordinary thing happened. In no more than the blink of an eye the end of the alcove, the exit into the corridor, was sealed soundlessly by a door.

I stopped, startled. My impression was that it had somehow slid across the opening, but it happened so quickly it was difficult to tell.

Axel spoke, “I have a message.”

I turned and moved towards him, “What do you mean, a message?”

[FONT=&quot]“I have been told to say that initiative test I13 has just started. Report to room 7 on completion. The time limit is 37 minutes."[/FONT]
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Wow! that's excellent, if it hadn't been on the computer screen I wouldn't have been able to put it down, and easy to read.
Threddy and GrownUp - thanks for reading the whole thing. Looking at it now I think I should have posted a much shorter piece.
Brilliant! A clean and very well thought out piece.
This isn't your average man meets robot story - you've obviously done a great deal of thinking about how these two would interact and both characters, especially Axel were really convincing.

You wanted to know if the dialogue reveals how both characters relax into their parts after a feeling of formality?

I don't think I would have seen that had you not told me, but to me this really doesn't matter. Both characters interact in a way that seems very natural. It doesn't feel as though either character is completely sure of the other yet and I would think it unrealistic if it were different from that. Having said that, the part where they are discussing the mathematical nature of the room (fascinating) does give the reader the impression that an easy bond is forming.

Couple of minor grammar things:

"You are still lying down, are you expecting me give you some instructions?"
you need a "to" after "me" in that sentence.

"I am not human James.
Comma neede before "James".

Other than that I agree with GrownUp - you shouldn't change a thing - it's brilliant.
Many for this Paradox.

Perhaps you not noticing the change in the formality of the dialogue is a good thing, perhaps it's happening gradually and naturally (I hope!). On the other hand I'll look more closely at it and see if there are any refinements I can make.

It's important that this change does take place somehow. Naturally it must be informal to begin with but the relationship also has to develop and to my mind dialogue is the best way to show it happening rather than trying to describe it etc.
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