Excerpt from science fiction novel ROBOT TROUBLES, Part 1, A Robot’s Awakening

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Dear readers,

I wanted to share an excerpt from my indie science fiction novella ROBOT TROUBLES.

This following key section is from Part 1, A Robot’s Awakening, where we first meet Luther Allison and Dr. Elaine Corkran and the robot AL-357 which has an awakening that leads to its journey of discovering a different world outside its dreary factory assembly line existence.

Enjoy.

GP

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In a cramped room, just off the factory floor, worked Luther Allison, a robot technician in charge of the robots’ ongoing maintenance and upkeep.

A short and stocky man in his late forties, appearing much older than he was, Luther had dark hair, brown eyes, and a graying beard. He typically wore a skeptical look on his face and his voice boomed when he laughed. He thought of himself as the chief robot technician, but he didn’t have an official title. He was just another technician in the eyes of the company management except for Doctor Corkran.

Luther worked closely with Elaine Corkran, the director of robotic programs at the factory and a famed inventor of innovative robotic technology. Her inventions and patents alone had made herself and the company a fortune. Elaine was a tall slender woman in her late forties, standing a little over six-foot-three, with dark hair and piercing blue eyes. Her studious appearance and distant demeanor belied a compassionate and kind nature that she had to disguise in a cut-throat business world that was still dominated by men.

Everyone at the factory, including Luther, the foremen, and even the robots, called her Doctor Corkran. She figured it was a term of respect and actually preferred it to her colleagues using her first name, which seemed too informal to her.

However, Luther wasn’t impressed with Doctor Corkran or her credentials. He thought of himself as the real talent that backed up Doctor Corkran and made her look good. An underlying hostility existed between Luther and Doctor Corkran.

Although she respected his abilities, Doctor Corkran didn’t trust Luther. She had good reason for her suspicion as Luther was an ex-convict that had hacked numerous servers and websites. He had come to work at the factory five years before as part of an early prison release program.

What Doctor Corkran and the company didn’t know was Luther had been on a quiet sabotage campaign at the factory for years. A little fix here, a little tweak there and one of the robots on the line would malfunction slowing down production. Over time, Luther’s “little fixes” would cost the company millions in repair costs and lost production time.

“The fuckers,” Luther would chuckle to himself. “They still don’t what has hit them.”

Luther was blamed for the production breakdowns from time to time, but they couldn’t find any evidence of his tampering. Doctor Corkran was secretly convinced Luther was behind the series of robot problems, but she also couldn’t discover any trace of Luther’s sabotage efforts. Despite her suspicions, Doctor Corkran had a fondness for Luther. She felt he was a brilliant but misguided soul who had made mistakes in the past and he deserved a second chance.

In his former life, Luther was a famed and feared computer hacker. He called himself “the Black Plumber.” On one weekend, he stole $50 million from the banking system before anyone knew it was gone. They never did get him for that one. A lot of the money was still stashed away in hidden bank accounts around the world and was still unaccounted for by the authorities. Thinking about how he fooled the authorities always brought a smile to Luther’s face.

Clueless fools, Luther thought. One day I am going to disappear and they will never find me.

Luther also had hacked into government defense systems and wrecked havoc. One night he nearly caused an accident as the government’s defense threat level was raised to its highest alert with aircraft and missiles being readied for attack before Luther let them know the gig was up. That last stunt landed him in the penitentiary for a long haul – 25 years to life. However, he was eligible for early release following several years after agreeing to work with Doctor Corkran at the first of several new robot factories the government was pushing as the industry of the future.

The move toward robotics greatly benefitted corporations around the world as the top leaders had already consolidated their countries into one world government many years before. What was once the United States of America had become the leading country in a united world government, which had moved away from democratic principles into a more authoritarian system.

Unfortunately, a lot of Luther’s family and friends lost their factory jobs because of the robots. Luther felt like a traitor sometimes for helping the authorities so he was determined to throw a monkey wrench into their robot plans when he could.

“I’ll be the thorn in their ass,” he joked to himself.

Even though he knew he was an ex-convict and hardly above suspicion, Luther surmised that they wouldn’t think he was capable of messing with their advanced robotic systems. Luther lived for proving people wrong.

Luther’s favorite pastime was altering the robots’ behavioral systems. He saw it as attempting to change how the robots thought about their work and the world around them. It was Luther’s hope that one of his robot projects would eventually escape the factory and cause trouble in public. He figured that if it happened enough times that the company, and maybe even the authorities, might reconsider the robot program and hire back some of the humans.

Luther’s dream was to ultimately create a completely self-aware robot that would resist the factory work altogether and set off a robot rebellion, but AL units were made of basic robotic technology that made it nearly impossible to pull off. Still, Luther was determined to keep trying to surprise “the fools.”

In AL-357’s case, Luther reprogrammed the unit adding conflicting commands to force it to question the entire factory work enterprise. Luther viewed it as bringing a disgruntled worker’s personality to the robot’s functioning to cause it to either rebel, shut off or be forced to be shut down. Either way, Luther expected there to be ongoing trouble with AL-357. He was counting on it.

The workday seemed unusually long for AL-357. Several times during its work, AL-357 stopped performing, eliciting loud reprimands from the human foremen watching the robots’ progress. AL-357 couldn’t reconcile its internal commands to continue working.

The unit was experiencing the robot equivalent of frustration and fatigue. The robot’s systems were on the verge of overload as a flurry of conflicting commands had left AL-357 resisting the order to return to the sleep room, as the humans in the factory called it after its work was completed.

AL-357 watched in the distance a group of human managers walking away from the assembly line area and leaving the plant. It had never noticed them leaving before.

“Where do they go?” AL-357 wondered.

The robot found the urge to explore difficult to ignore.

“What is happening to me?” the robot said as it moved slowly in the direction of where the humans went instead of returning to the sleep room as it always did.

It was scheduled for a systems checkup with Doctor Corkran, but the robot also disregarded this command.

The humans rarely visited the sleep room at night, not even the foremen or factory management except for Doctor Corkran, so the robot would not be missed for a while. AL-357 overheard one of the humans saying that they avoided sleep room whenever they could.

“I have to babysit these robots all day,” the human explained to one of his co-workers. “I am not going to do it at night, too. You know it took a lot to convince the management not to force us to take night shifts watching the robots. I mean where are they going to go anyway?”

AL-357 couldn’t explain its need to break from its programming and not return to the sleep room. An overriding command to leave the factory drove the robot, even though it was forbidden by factory management for any unauthorized robotic worker units to do so. It was all part of Luther’s efforts to muck up the factory’s process.

“There must be another way out,” AL-357 said, scanning a blueprint map of the factory conveniently stored in its memory by Luther.

The robot quickly found a promising exit, an unused door that was an old garbage pickup before the company had put in a newer tube system that sent the plant’s waste directly to the city’s depot.

“Eureka,” AL-357 said, not comprehending why it elicited such a response.

A short time later, AL-357 eluded the detection of the several human guards and electronic security in the factory as the security was designed to bar intruders or possible saboteurs from entering the factory and not for keeping the robots from escaping. As the robots were programmed as basic worker models, escape was figured by factory management to be highly unlikely. No robot had ever tried to escape from the factory…until now.

AL-357 stood in front of a large metal door that was covered in grime and still smelled of garbage even after years of non-use. AL357 reached up to push open the door but hesitated. A warning command from an old program temporarily confused the robot, but it was quickly overridden by another more recent command again urging AL-357 to explore. AL357 was waging a war inside against itself, as conflicting commands again threatened to shut it down. The robot waited there hesitating.

Was AL-357 even a basic robot anymore? Its systems were overloading as it experienced the robot version of what amounted to fear and then exhilaration. Could a robot experience an emotional breakdown? These were human emotions, which despite Luther’s best upgrade efforts, still taxed AL-357’s limited technological capacity only adding to its confusion.

Finally, after a short while, AL-357 straightened up and moved forward, pushing against the old door until it creaked open. AL-357 stepped through the door and into a metallic corridor. The robot stared at the shiny corridor walls for a long time. AL-357’s response was like that of a newborn baby first viewing the world. The robot responded with wonder, but this was a reaction that only high-end androids exhibited, as their systems are designed to mimic and learn such human-like emotions. Wonder was supposed to be beyond AL-357’s capacity, but it exhibited the emotion all the same.

A distant sound abruptly ended AL-357’s reverie with its new environment. The robot turned to look toward the noise and saw two human figures approaching. AL-357 turned away and moved quickly in the opposite direction from the approaching humans. It was fear that drove it, a command for AL-357 to avoid human contact, if possible, on its journey.

AL-357 walked through the corridor for the longest time before seeing a distant speck of light ahead. As AL-357 neared the light, it become a large open space that led to a plaza beyond.

“Humans,” AL-357 said.

However, there was no avoiding humans this time. The plaza was filled with human inhabitants of a large surrounding city.

Everywhere AL-357 looked it saw humanoids. It had never seen so many in one place. The robot had heard that there were other humans besides those that worked in the factory from listening to the foremen and others talking as it worked, but it had no way of knowing until now. AL-357’s memory files contained scant history or basic information about the surrounding world or humans it serviced. That was how the factory management had designed it. Luther had to be careful not to upgrade the robot too drastically to avoid drawing Doctor Corkran’s attention. The factory’s robot breakdowns had to seem organic in nature and not appear to the result of Luther’s tampering.

Looking closely at the humans, AL-357 noticed they seemed different from those it had contact with previously. The humans in the plant, except for Doctor Corkran and a few others, appeared grisly and hideous by comparison. A lot of them had facial hair, wore old and torn clothes and usually carried on in a loud and abusive manner. These humans fascinated AL357 with their beauty.

Dispelling any lingering doubts, AL-357 left the corridor and entered the plaza. Although it wasn’t illegal for robots to roam in public on their own, it was not a typical occurrence, especially with AL units. They were usually accompanied by a human guide. Some of the humans in the plaza stared at AL-357 in disbelief, while others hardly noticed.

Nearby a huge visual digital map display of the city stood. The city was called New Los Angeles. It was completely rebuilt where the old Los Angeles existed by the new government many decades before. All the landmarks of the past city were removed and the only access to the Pacific Ocean was granted to the elite members of its society. The authorities completely remade the former City of Angels into a modern marvel that didn’t resemble the previous destination. There was no trace left of the Los Angeles that was built on top of a desert. It rarely rained as in the past, but drought was hardly an issue now for the city’s wealthy inhabitants as water was created and recycled through the development of new technologies to supply the city with an endless water supply.

AL-357 was not aware of the city’s past history as it moved toward the map, stopped and scanned the details into its memory. Leaving the digital map display, AL-357 continue to navigate its way through the plaza which widened into a large green area. AL-357 was curious to explore this green expanse and discover its purpose.

Soon after, AL-357 moved along a large stretch of grass and among huge trees. It was a stark contrast from the drab and colorless environment of the factory. It was autumn, but the air still retained some of the previous summer’s heat. It was commonly referred to as an Indian Summer. A slight breeze rustled the trees and some leaves fell to the ground. AL357 was spellbound by the falling leaves.

“Hello,” it said to some of the fallen leaves it had picked up from the grass. The robot was unsure what the leaves or trees were. There was no record of leaves or trees in its memory. Only humans were described as organic beings to be obeyed, but the robot experienced conflicting commands when it came to humans. It was not so clear-cut anymore. It wanted to obey but then sometimes it didn’t. Such confusion threatened its breakdown, but AL-357 couldn’t ignore the mysterious demands that conflicted with its main directive to serve humans’ needs above all.

“Are you organic beings?” AL-357 asked the leaves.

Abruptly hearing a sound, AL-357 turned from the leaves and trees and saw a group of humans on the grass nearby. AL-357 headed toward them and noticed that one of the humans held a small wooden stick and another had a small white round object in its hand. AL357 wondered what kind of human ritual this was and if it resembled the robot ritual of the sleep room. As AL-357 watched the humans at play, chasing a white orb around the field, it experienced something beyond curiosity. AL357 realized it was free from the factory, even if only for a short while, and finally aware of a new world around it, hinting of new discoveries. The robot didn’t fully comprehend what it was watching, but it was recording everything into its memory for later review and analysis.

Hours later, Al-357 was reluctant to return to the factory even though it knew it had to. This was only supposed to be a short journey and AL-357 couldn’t override this command developed by Luther or it would automatically shut down. It was a fail-safe function Luther created in case the robot got lost or refused to return. This was the initial exploratory phase of Luther’s larger plan to determine if he could devise a robot to venture from the factory. Luther knew it was risky to attempt a longer trip until he had developed a more advanced robot model. He also continued to worry about having his plan discovered before he had enough time to fully implement it.

AL-357 had been exposed to a human world that it never knew existed. Now it wanted to know more about this human existence beyond the factory confines. AL-357 returned to factory and sleep room later that evening without being detected by factory security.

Later in the sleep room, AL-357 resisted shutting down for the night. It kept reviewing the images of its journey it had stored in its memory. The humans the robot encountered on its adventure fascinated AL-357. The robot continued its review until the start of next work day, which it began with another strong bout of robot malaise and disgruntlement just as the previous morning.

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Q& A with George Pappas, Author of Science Fiction Novella ROBOT TROUBLES

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I was recently asked to put together a Q & A by a digital magazine about my long writing journey to create my latest book, science fiction novella ROBOT TROUBLES for a potential podcast. The podcast opportunity has yet to materialize, but I wanted to share the Q & A anyway to provide more insight into my writing process and background.

Enjoy

GP

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Tell us about your 38-year writing journey in creating your novella Robot Troubles?

Science fiction books and films intrigued me during my youth.

One author, the brilliant Isaac Asimov, so captivated and inspired me, that I decided as an ambitious 18-year-old, to write a robot story of my own in the late 1970s. That initial story titled, TROUBLES, is the basis for my new science fiction novella and tenth book, ROBOT TROUBLES, which is available on Amazon and Smashwords . It is also available in a paperback version on Amazon in the same format as the books that originally inspired me.

This novella, which is my first published science fiction work, has only been 38 years in the making. The original story focused on the awakening of a robot assembly line worker model called AL-357 who eventually escapes the factory to discover a human world beyond the factory confines. After the robot returns to the factory and is inspired by what it saw, AL-357 begins to question its purpose further and has an altercation with a company foreman. The robot’s creators Luther Allison and Dr. Elaine Corkran are forced to take it off the line and put it to sleep by the end of the story.

Now, as an audacious youth, I was so taken with my story I boldly sent it to Isaac Asimov’s science fiction magazine in Philadelphia dreaming of my story being published by one of my science fiction heroes.

You can imagine my disappointment when the rejection note arrived a couple months later. However, the note from the publication’s assistant editor John Ashmead was hardly encouraging, but it seemed to make sense to me at the time. I have included the rejection note in my novella’s introduction and below.

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However, looking at the editor’s note many years later, I have to disagree with his main premise that a robot couldn’t have an awakening or feelings just as another appliance or machine such as a lawnmower wouldn’t.  It is strange his lack of imagination considering his magazine featured science fiction stories about fantastical worlds, etc.

Unfortunately, I shelved my short story for many years and moved on to other writing projects. However, in late 2009 I returned to the story and updated it. Yet when revised my original short story, I added an explanation and motivation of why AL-357 experienced its awakening. Once, I had updated the original short story and retitled it ROBOT TROUBLES, I was so impressed with the results I decided that one day I would expand it into a three-part novella using the first story as a launching point. I was also inspired by the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2010 and wanted to use my story as a means to comment on the growing economic inequality in our country and world and as an ominous warning of what can happen if this economic divide continues to go unchecked.

For years, I avoided tackling this novella idea as I worked on other novels and poetry collections. I believe it was out of fear, which is truly the worst enemy of a writer, and this has kept me from pursuing my writing dreams more times than I would care to recount.

Not too long ago, I was laid off from my public relations job and decided to finally tackle my science fiction novella idea. This coincided with my recent discovery of the liberating benefits of indie publishing. There was nothing to stop me now except my own fear, but the first draft came quickly, and I never looked back.

Tell us more about the story of ROBOT TROUBLES?

ROBOT TROUBLES is a science fiction novella set in a dystopian future where a ruthless authoritarian global elite government runs a corporate society driven by robot labor while most of humanity lives in squalor outside sleek cities in tent camps. ROBOT TROUBLES takes place in New Los Angeles, a future version of the famed city. The story’s protagonist and unlikely hero is Luther, a former infamous hacker and robot technician at a robot factory located in New Los Angeles. Once imprisoned by the government for his hacking activities, Luther is released from prison to work at the factory under the watchful eye of famous robot inventor Dr. Corkran. Unbeknownst to Dr. Corkran and the rest of the factory’s executive management, Luther has been quietly conducting a sabotage campaign at the factory for years, creating small “robot troubles” that slowed down the factory’s robot project. Driven by guilt for playing a part in the government’s robot labor initiative and feeling as if he has let his fellow humans down, Luther hatches an audacious plan to ignite a robot and human revolution against the ruthless authorities. Luther begins creating a series of robots, each more advanced than the next, to escape the factory and to reach his brother Ezekiel, an activist who has been banished to the tent cities, with his rebellion plan. One of Luther’s robots, AL-457, does escape and contacts Ezekiel with his plan but is captured by authorities. Luther knows time is running short for him as he is temporarily suspended from his duties by Dr. Corkran. After things begin to fall apart at the factory without Luther’s expertise, Dr. Corkran is forced to bring back Luther to set things right again.

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Yet knowing it was probably his last chance, Luther developed an advanced robot model, AL-BR88TOR, which proved a kind of “robot whisperer,” to advance the final phase of his plan.

Unlike many science fiction stories, the robots in my story are benevolent and work closely with the human characters to create a more just world for everyone through rebelling against an unfair system. The robots are also being exploited, which is explored in my book as well.

My novel’s main protagonist, Luther, is also the conscience of the story, discreetly creating the robots to be a kinder version of himself and to help him launch his dream of a robot-human revolution.

My novella is also a dark commentary on the current economic inequality in our country and world and a warning of what can happen when such policies run amok.  However, my story remains hopeful as well.

What inspired you to return to science fiction writing?

I was greatly inspired by science fiction novels and short stories during my youth in the 1970s and 1980s. The works of authors Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Frank Herbert, Richard Matheson, Harlan Ellison, Ursula K. LeGuin, Robert Heinlein, Phillip K. Dick, to name a few, beguiled and fascinated me beyond description. I knew one day I would try to attempt my own stories.

With ROBOT TROUBLES, I feel I have finally come home as a writer, tapping into my youthful love for science fiction and its endless possibilities.

Also, please note that this book is adult with complex themes, but it is not an adult erotica work as with my recent novels. In these pages, you find no depictions of raw sex and erotica and the only mention of sex is just an aside of how robots were being used for sex and in brothels in the world the book is set in. Also, there is some cursing in the story but not too much. This is not a repudiation of my earlier erotica books and past writing of which I am very proud. However, this time, I wanted to go in a different direction and write a book that is more accessible to a wider range of readers in dealing with adult themes.

What can we expect next from you? More science fiction?

I am currently editing a collection of short stories, also based on work I had created in my teens and college years, that I am planning to bring out in early 2019. This will be a mix of literary stories about my childhood, including a new one addressing racism and a racist incident that occurred during my youth to end the book, and updated science fiction and fantasy/sword and sorcery tales. I am editing another poetry collection based on my lyrics that I will publish later this year.

At some point, I will write a sequel to ROBOT TROUBLES picking up where this story ends.

Tell us how indie publishing has impacted your writing career?

Indie publishing has opened a whole new world of writing possibilities for me.

Indie publishing has truly proved a liberating revelation for me as an author. In past couple of years, I have written and published novels MONOGAMY SUCKS, RELATIONSHIPS SUCK, DEAR HEF, YOUNG, HORNY & MORMON, SWINGING WITH THE SUPERNATURAL, and the poetry collections BACKYARD POETRY, THE HOLLYWOOD HOMELESS and MIMI’S DILEMMA AND OTHER POEMS ABOUT SEX, WOMEN AND MODERN ROMANCE.

Where can we find out more about you and get your books?

You can find me on Twitter tweeting about my books or posting blogs about my work on book and poetry blogs at the links below or check out all of my books on my Amazon author’s page.

Twitter: http://twitter.com/gpwriter

Blogs: https://robottroubles.wordpress.com

http://monogamysucks.wordpress.com

https://backyardpoetry.wordpress.com

Amazon author’s page: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B004FBKNHA

ROBOT TROUBLES

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2GUliKC

Paperback:   https://amzn.to/2J86lVZ

Smashwords: https://bit.ly/2GgMV