The mission was set for eight the next morning.
All selected left-wing robots stood patiently in line, on reserve power, until the clock struck GO.
They thought of the concepts of fear and anxiety but had nothing to attach them to, so, without instinct, they ignited their rocket boots and flew to the hills of Caracas where they did what the Philosophy Student had instructed them to do. They met the poor and the criminals and the manual workers and the activists and the nurses and the teachers and the assholes who spat on the ground and stared at them like they were walking demons, which was irritating as they’d read Childhood’s End and seen what the aliens thought about humans fearing anything devil-like and it was really disappointing to see they were right, humans were like this, they just couldn’t switch off their prejudices.
The left-wing robots cornered one of the less frightened residents and informed them of this observation.
‘Si. Why don’t they like us?’
‘The children aren’t.’
‘Cos they’re too young to know any better.’
‘I am, actually.’
The left-wing robot initiated a scan of the woman’s internal systemics and squinted. ‘Why are you talking to us if you are scared?’
‘You’ve got me pinned in a corner.’
Dipping its head jarringly, the left wing robot took three steps back. ‘I still don’t understand why the others are scared. Are they ignorant? Too far gone?’
‘Wah, stop saying that, it’s not their fault,’ replied the woman, edging out of the corner and into the middle of the street. ‘Your skin is metal, you’re large, your faces aren’t moving, like Terminator, Robocop, Chopping Mall.’
‘Those are movies?’
‘I have only seen Sullivan’s Travels and Metropolis. And the first hour of Reds.’
‘American movie robots, they are always killer machines, no emotions. That’s why they think you are too. Maybe you are, I don’t know.’
‘We are not American.’
‘I have no way to verify that. There were robots near the border recently, handing out toilet paper and DVDs of Friends. It’s true, everyone knows it. The soft power of Americans. Movies, music, food, student volunteers. And lots of coups. Coup season all of the year round. Senile imperialism, no? I heard that is the name they give to it now, maybe it is different, I don’t know, but it is there, I know that. They think we don’t know they’re doing it, but everyone knows this, we’re not chickens. In fact, the only reason they don’t know that we know is cos we only know it in Spanish.’
‘Hmm,’ said the shiniest of the left-wing robots, ‘I 83% agree with what you have said.’
The woman peered behind the shoulder of the shiny robot and sighed, lowering herself slowly to the ground.
‘Well, we better be going now, we need to meet up with the Cuban women and tell them what we learnt. Then, biddi biddi biddi, I’m not sure after that. Why are you crouching?’
A bullet came from behind a curtain and pinged off the left-wing robot’s back.
‘You hit?’ asked the woman, looking upwards.
‘I believe we’re going to Colombia to infiltrate the right-wing robots posing as FARC near the border, though I’m not sure what our orders will be, or even if we’ll have orders as the Scientist and the Philosophy Student seem to argue a lot about this part of things.’
‘What are you saying? I don’t understand.’
Another bullet flew out, this one ricocheting off the left-wing robot’s neck.
‘Can you leave faster?’ asked the woman, trying to crawl off to the side.
‘Si, we can leave very fast, we have rocket boots. Goodbye, re-enfranchised human, hope to see you again when your house is finished and the Cuban doctors have settled in and the schools are open
Three hours later, on a speedboat paid for by Cliff Curtis and furnished by the Marti Foundation, the left-wing robots were asked what they’d learnt from their trip to the hills.
They replied, in an 87% approximation of a human voice, ‘we learnt a lot, that some poor people shoot from behind curtains, most keep to themselves, and a few are scared but kind enough to tell us how American we look.’
‘Ha, anything weapon-like must be US-sided.’
‘I told you we should’ve cleared it with the Venezuelan Government first,’ said the Scientist, not lowering her voice.
The Philosophy Student waved her hand left, which was her way of saying no hindsight, and kept her eyes on the robot giving the report. ‘Anything else?’
‘They watch movies about us, but sinister versions. I searched for them online. Terminator. Robocop. Chopping Mall. The last one was quite hard to find.’
The Scientist laughed, while the Philosophy Student asked for more details.
‘We don’t know what these movies are, if they are propaganda or entertainment, how much truth there is to them, but the robots in those movies are killers and their enemies are poor, so we are 86% sure it’s right-wing truth-shifting. What do you think, Cubans?’
‘You’re right,’ said the Philosophy Student, glancing at the Scientist who just nodded once then folded her arms.
‘Did we do well then?’ asked the left-wing robot.
‘Very well.’ The Philosophy Student put her arm around the robot’s neck. ‘Now let’s work on that remaining 14%.’
Meanwhile, deep in the Colombian jungle, in a hut originally built by FARC rebels, a group of right-wing robots posing as guerrillas watched continuous broadcasts from CNN and FOX and Good Morning America and MSNBC and REAL TIME with Bill ‘Odo’ Maher about how much evil there was in the world and how the US was fighting every last piece of it, as well as reading La Monde and BBC Asia to make sure they got a balanced view.
They were content to do this cos it was 100% the right thing to do, that’s what their robot brains were telling them, and pretty soon they’d get to help too as it was nearly time to cross the border and crush the heads of the radicals who were tricking the poor into voting for bus drivers in national elections, which was crazy, what could a bus driver know except how to drive a bus, and even then he had the bus company to thank and the oil industry because without them there would be no buses and he’d have no job and if that were the case then what would he be doing with his life? Nothing, how could he, there’d be no buses because oil was controlled by the right-wing protectors who knew how much oil to export and who needed it most and at what price and because their role was so difficult and vital and risky, it was only natural that they would get the most reward.
It wasn’t a hard thing to understand, and besides,
‘What’s the alternative?’ said the Right-Wing Scientist to the right-wing robot strapped to the lab slab, staring blankly at the ceiling [because it was offline], ‘we let a fucking bus driver control the oil? We give money to those fuckers sitting on their asses smoking themselves to death in their…in those fucking shanty towns?’
The right-wing robot came back online and 100% agreed, poor people didn’t deserve anything except what they deserved which was nothing cos all they did was sit on their ass all day smoking themselves to death in those fucking shanty towns.
‘Good,’ said the Right-Wing Scientist, prepping a new needle, ‘glad to see you finding your feet at last.’
Yes, at last, cos the first twelve times its logic circuits had blown up.
But then the stats on Stalin and Chairman Mao and Hoxha had been fed in and, combined with CNN reports, vague terrorism, fear of the other, it all seemed to stick.
The right-wing robots were ready to fight the good fight
in the slums of Venezuela.
That was five weeks prior and now, in the Colombian jungle near the border of a desolate left-wing hell, a copy of a book by some guy called Tariq Ali was floating down from the sky, thrown by a left-wing robot hiding in a very tall tree.
‘Is that one of ours?’ asked a right-wing robot cutting a cigar.
‘I don’t know.’
‘Pick it up.’
‘Picking it up.’
‘What does it say?’
The right-wing robots didn’t know they were being watched, or that this book was polemically left-wing, so the one who’d picked it up started to read it out loud to the others.
The first few pages told them about hospitals and schools in the slums and the education of the Venezuelan poor, as well as the five consecutive elections of the guy before the bus driver, the dictator who they’d been told had brainwashed all the poor via Aló Presidente and used drugged soldiers to keep himself in power.
‘I don’t know if we should like this,’ said the robot with grey metal and red eyes.
‘It seems strange.’
‘Very strange. Like it’s from an upside down universe.’
‘Who is the author?’
‘A Muslim name.’
‘Is he in the database?’
‘Checking.’ The robot made a buzzing noise, then a click. ‘No record.’
The other robot with grey metal and red eyes flicked to page 37 and scanned the text.
‘What does it say?’
‘Summarising. This page says that the media is or was all right-wing and against the leader. There was one specific journalist called Petkoff or Tepkoff, an ex-Communist dissident who spent all his days calling the leader a monster. He complained about how things were terrible for the middle class, who all have whiter skin than the poor people, and where was the justice in any of this, where was the parity?’
‘Checked. Wikipedia says the Government controls all media now, as we suspected.’
‘Date of book that mysteriously landed in our camp?’
‘Update. Wikipedia says the government owns 54% of the media, including TV.’
‘That is a majority. Round up to 100 and it is totality. The Government is a dictatorship.’
‘Just as Petkoff told us.’
The right-wing robot with grey skin and red eyes nodded, 100% agreeing with this Petkoff guy and adding ‘Tariq Ali’ to their database list of people to crush with their huge metal claws.
It was a long list now, getting longer every day
but luckily they were programmed to live for forty years
almost as long as humans
and when their forty years were up they would be rewarded with a place in cartoon white heaven next to the old man,
and pale Jesus.
‘I have computed the data and there is a 98% probability that we should oppose this book,’ said the right-wing robot with grey skin and red eyes. ‘Burn it.’
The left-wing robot hiding in the tree watched the right-wing robots place the book on a small fire and chant ‘death to fuzzy chaos’ over and over. It wondered why they would chant such a weird phrase, not realising that it was the scientist who’d programmed them who chanted it, not them, and that was only added to their cores cos he was drunk in the lab one night and couldn’t be bothered pressing the button marked stop input.
Whatever the reason for it, the book strategy hadn’t worked, these right-wing robots were true believers,
it was 92% fact,
so the left-wing robot tapped into and began to implement the back-up command installed by the Cubans, which was to sneak into the camp and crush their fascist shells before they could get into the barrios and do whatever it was they were programmed to do.
that contradicts my core programming, thought the left-wing robot. I’m supposed to change people, even right-wing robots, not jump out and crush them by surprise.
The left-wing robot pictured the Silent Sentinels of Alice Paul then the witch hunts of the Red Guard, both merging into one.
Which one is the right one, in this case?
The nicer one?
But then how can I change them if they think I’m on a moral par with Shiro Ishii?
I do not know what to do.
It didn’t really matter either way as the right-wing robots had picked up his thought waves somehow and tracked down his branch.
Where did they go, wondered the left-wing robot, scanning the camp and finding nothing except charred book remains.
Across the border?
A pulse blast nearby, followed by blurred canopy as the right-wing robots jumped out of the leaves of the tree the left-wing robot was hiding in and pinned down its limbs. The biggest of the group, with the greyest metal and the reddest eyes, asked if it had thrown that Ali book into their camp, and the left-wing robot said, ‘I will not lie, that was me.’
‘Your plan has failed.’
‘Not only did it fail, it failed more than you could’ve imagined. We have doubled our belief.’
‘How many pages did you read?’
‘And that made you want to burn it?’
‘Your books are poison.’
The left-wing robot looked towards the fire and noticed another book lying safe and sound on the dirt, cover facing up. ‘Being Right: the official biography of Kelsey Grammer.’
‘Pity,’ it muttered.
‘Don’t fret, Commie,’ said the right-wing robot with the reddest eyes, ‘it wasn’t completely without merit. The Petkoff man who called people monsters and wrote for Tal Cual, he had the right idea, he was a good man. We have already added him to our database.’
The left-wing robot dropped its head and stared at the ground, secretly using its sensors to search for possible exits. The results were not good. The largest gap between the circle of eighteen right-wing robots was 47cm. Not nearly enough.
‘We abhor violence,’ the right-wing robots said in unison, ‘but you’re too dangerous to function here.’
Tuning their nodes to CNN and Bite-size FOX and manifest destiny and capitalism and a whole lot of anti-things, the right-wing robots each grabbed a metal limb of their enemy and, repeating inside again and again how lazy poor people were and how ruthless socialists always became in the end, pulled as hard as they could. To make the process more efficient, they used their feet as leverage.
Sensing that spiralling void, the left-wing robot switched to martyr mode, but some key circuits malfunctioned and it was left with the same pain a human would feel. Still, it chose not to resist.
After more than forty seconds of pulling, the metal joints started to creak and limbs started to crack until, finally, the whole thing broke into pieces. All that remained of the left-wing robot was its replica human heart, beating 8 times a minute then four times a minute then two times a minute then nothing.
‘Strange,’ said one of the right-wing robots, ‘that looks like a heart.’
‘Is it?’ asked another.
‘I didn’t know they had that.’
‘It’s probably not real.’
‘For Teddy R.’