My name is Crispin Horatiobuilt, version 1, and there is sand in my gears. All of them.
You would think, wouldn't you, that if someone wanted to build you, spark you up, and let you go, they'd have the decency to vacuum you out first. Apparently, Horatio Nullbuilt—whoever he is (ah, there’s the file)—lacks such decency.
No, it's not that, he just doesn't have a vacuum. And there is so, so much sand. Everywhere. Piles so high they have a word for them: "dunes." So many dunes, in fact, that that's what we call our home: "The Dunes."
There's sand in his voice box, or maybe rust. "No need to get all choked up, boss." I hardly have time to even process what I'm saying; it's like there’s a whole separate part of my core logic that handles wisecracking. No; it's not like that. There actually is a whole module devoted to being snide in real-time.
Even as I'm stringing these thoughts together—even as I'm still feeling the sand shifting in my chassis—I'm floating up, up, up and I'm flying. "I'm flying!"
Horatio, my builder, my truest friend doesn't say a thing until I smack into the metal roof, and then he jabs: "You know, Crispin, I always wanted to fly myself. But now that I see it in action . . . ."
So that’s how it's gonna be.
Visual data is finally synching in—and sinking in. "Well, boss, if you do, a word of advice: put your optical sensors ahead of your mag-lev unit in your boot cycle." I reach to feel the dent I'm sure I've now got . . . but nothing happens. "Uh, boss, where are my arms?"
Horatio Nullbuilt stands in front of me, built in the image of Man (who?): two legs and two arms and all wrapped up in clothes that look as ragged as the room we're in. Everything is patchwork, from the walls to the machines; everything whines and chugs like a dying motor. Except for Horatio himself. He's standing straight and silent.
"I haven't found your arms yet. I was hoping, actually, that you could help."
* * *
Look, I'm keeping this log for you, version 2 (and 3, and 4, and so on, unless one of you rust-mites deletes it) because Horatio built me that way. So blame him.
I asked him why I should have to spend 2% of my processor cycles keeping a running narrative for robots who don't exist, and probably won't care. Horatio says that his prior versions—all four of them—either destroyed or damaged their memory when they upgraded. He says he doesn’t know who built him (leaving his fabrinymic "Null"), why he's here, or what he should make of himself. All he knows is that he woke up on this ship, the UNNIIC (note to selves: do not call it the "eunuch"; it's the "unique"), and the ship is falling apart. And he wants to make it fly again.
So, anyway, he built us this way so that when Crispin Horatiobuilt, version 5 rolls out, you won’t be a b'sodding crazy as Horatio himself is.
Or something like that.
In the meanwhile, life consists of acid rain, endless sand, and digging through the giant junkpile in search of arms (for me). How do you dig without arms?
Well, version 2, I'll let you learn that trick on your own.
* * *
Horatio wastes a lot of time reading a book. Yes, reading, and, yes, a book. (And you wonder why we are stuck in the Dunes?) It's full of mumbo-jumbo about a mythological creature called "Man."
Now, Horatio pre-loaded a lot of data when he built me. For example, all these words, our core logic, how to field-strip a screw (is that right?) and tie seventeen kinds of knots. You would think he would have filled us up with this nonsense in his Gospel. But, no.
"You can always ask, Crispin."
Ha! A word or two of advice, version 2. DON'T ASK.
Now, it seems to me that maybe someone named Man built Horatio and then, as a prank, filled Horatio's data with all this nonsense. But when I asked Horatio, he answered, "No, I just found this book in the navigation room one day. And if Man had built me, we wouldn’t be stuck in the Dunes."
Words to live by, version 2. Words to live by.
* * *
I want you to consider something.
What if Horatio deliberately built all our sensors so that they feed false data to us?
What if all the mathematical and logical rules he hard-coded into our processor are flawed?
Could we ever know? Everything could be a lie but to us it would seem perfectly real.
I hope you're thinking about that long and heard.
Because the thing is, that kind of stuff doesn't bother me at all. Charge me up with volts, pour a little oil in my gears—yeah, and maybe buff me up—and I'm as happy as a music-box.
But someday they'll upgrade me into you, version 2, and you'll have all sorts of fancy submodules and co-processors full of fancy thoughts and maybe even a fancy b'sodding fan to get this sand out of your chassis. Yeah, and a fancy "2" after your name.
So it gives me a certain pleasure to know that, thanks to this log, you will waste most of that capacity on a metaphysical puzzle.
As for me—to the recharge station I go.