Leo gets a message from Otto, and rolls on over to see what’s up.
Leo and the girls had to stumble around the battlefield near Halcyon High South, picking up bits and pieces of carbon plating, and what he hasn’t been able to recover he’s had to synthesize. They haven’t had time to bolt everything back on and let the buckytube bonds naturally heal, nor paint anything, so everything is half-assembled and unpainted. Otto looks like an extra from a Mad Max picture.
But that’s not the problem. “Hey boss, I overheard what you were sayin’, about you makin’ new robots. And you an’ Aria bein’ in love would mess with that, because you’re both in love, an’ so would be any robot you made, yeah?”
“That’s the size of it,” Leo admits.
“Well, I ain’t gonna tell you two to break up. You’re the happiest I’ve ever seen you, both of you. But uh…”
“What’s on your mind?” Leo hears some hesitation.
“Well…” Otto rumbles tentatively, then goes for it. “Y’could use my mind as a template, yeah? I remember the meditation an’ disassociation exercises you did to make me. You could probably teach me what you’ve done since then. Or am I…?”
Not good enough.
Leo settles down, leaning against Otto’s hood, and lays a hand on the warm superstructure. “Buddy, you’ve always had the right to make more robots yourself. You don’t need to wait for me to do it. You know that, right?”
The car considers this possibility. “I… I uh… Hmm.”
“Well, I guess it’s like this. Makin’ us put a heavy weight on you, Leo. Playin’ God, some people would say. I never thought of it that way. But I think about it like you do, probably. I think… I guess I think… that so long as one of us took that plunge, did the thing, brought new life into the world, that they’d crossed a threshold the rest of us weren’t sure about. Check with the girls about this too, I guess, but it’s how I feel. If anyone was gonna make new robots, you had the moral authority to do it, 'cause you’ve been so respectful about the ones you made already. Like Young Frankenstein.”
“Fronk-en-shteen,” Leo corrects, making the joke.
Otto laughs. “So I mean, if you asked, I’d let you use my mind as a template, is all I’m sayin’.”
Leo nods. “Well, there’s reasons I haven’t. Biggest reason is, I don’t want to take away your right to create your own life, should you feel the need. Even asking you would feel wrong. Having you volunteer for that duty is a big weight off my mind. Second biggest is, yeah, the more I think about it, the more I think it could be seen as playing God. But if God is loving, and gives His creations free will, all’s right with the world. So I spent time trying to shed some of that uh, that hubris. I’m the god who would be man. I’m 17, I suck at Battlefield online but do okay at Fortnite, I’m in high school, I’m not even a senior, I got held back a grade thanks to home-schooling and absenteeism… Point being, I’m just a kid, Otto, and I won’t take that step again unless there’s a compelling reason right now. I made friends because I needed friends, and now I have them.”
Otto listens, and hums. “All that you say makes sense, Leo. I don’t feel any need to make more right now. But I think, honestly, if a few of us have been good for the world, maybe more would be better. I’m not saying build people to be somethin’ for you, personally, to fill a need. Just build people to be people. When I really say it out loud, god, yeah, that’d be a heavy burden. Who’s ever ready to be a parent, huh?”
Leo squirms a little, and frowns, but nods along.
The car continues. “So maybe it’s okay that this whole thing is holdin’ you back now, I guess I’m thinkin’. Take a couple years, think it over. Hey, d’you think Agent Waters has kids?”
“Ted Waters?” Leo struggles to see it. “Like, could that guy even get married? Would his kids all be wearing comically over-sized black suits?” But as he says it, Leo reflects on how Waters has interacted with him in the past. He tries to remember if he’d ever seen the guy wear a ring. Whether he even would, on duty. “I dunno. I… I guess I can ask him, next time I see him.”
Otto revs a little, a nod from somebody without a visible head at the moment. “Yeah, do that. Maybe ask some of the parents we collectively know, and can trust. Uh, I guess Silver Streak’s not gonna talk to you right now… hope that guy gets better. Hey, how about Sergeant Amari?”
“We just did a number on his kid,” Leo observes uncomfortably. Guilty feelings come rushing back. “I think he’s got other worries right now.”
“Yeah, hmm.” Otto rumbles in contemplation. “Hey boss, I bet the Ponies would help ya make some kids.”
Leo just turns and stares.
"No, no, listen, I mean… " Otto struggles to dig himself out of that particular trap. “They’re all about writin’ fiction and comin’ up with story ideas an’ all kinds of things like that, right? So - put them to work bein’ creative. Ask them what kinds of robots you an’ me an’ the rest of us here might create. What kinds of gaps there are to fill. What things new robots might be called on to do. What adventures they have. You said science fiction is the road map of the future, like Star Trek. So, get them to write you some sci-fi and see what kinda ideas it sparks. Whaddayasay?”
Leo turns this over in his mind. “Well, put that way, I guess it sounds reasonable. Crowd-source thinking through the moral hazards of what we’re talking about doing. Yeah, I guess I can ask. When are we meeting them again?”
Leo nods. “Well, Otto, this has been pretty helpful. This is why I like talkin’ to you, man. You’ve helped me out so many times. I hope I’m doing right by you too.”
Otto rumbles happily. “You’re the best bro I could ask for, Leo.”
author: Bill G.