The Castaway
A short story by
David Jackson

A short story giving a rationale for why we might have put a robot toy on a beach…

Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8

Chapter 1: An Unexpected Email

 

The day started unusually for Dan Defoe. He was staring out of the window on a gloomy autumnal morning as the rain tat tat tatted on the Wing Lee office roof. He was working on a client’s logo development when an email announced itself on his computer:

‘Very Important email for D. Defoe’

A polite voice from the computer added ‘URGENT’.

This caused a few people’s heads to become raised in the office and Dan was not thinking of the rain anymore.

How strange, his computer did not normally announce emails. He knew it had voice recognition but he had never heard it talk independently.

Peering at his screen he noted the strange email and its contents.

Sent: 13/03/2215

ROBOTSON CRUSOE 13

SHIPWRECKED ON BEACH REQUIRE IMMEDIATE RESCUE.

Under any normal circumstances Dan would have just consigned it to the junk mail folder but there was something about it that piqued his interest.

It was just so wacky and implausible that it made him wonder who had sent it.

The email was dated 200 years in the future… a glitch no doubt.

Was it one of his friends having a joke about his name and the link with the island castaway of the past?

On checking the coordinates clearly stated on the email, it pointed to an address on Staten Island off New York City.

Nigel, head of IT, thought the email was everyday spam that had somehow got through the firewall. As to how the email had announced itself through his computer, that was an impressive feat. Dan had the latest Apple MacBook and you never knew what the latest updates in software might bring.

Replying to the SOS email seemed to be the last thing you should do in these kinds of circumstances but that is exactly what Dan did.

The reply sent said he would start the rescue process immediately. He also asked what the weather was like on the beach and had some chit chat about how he had ended up on Staten Island.

Surprisingly he started to get replies almost immediately detailing all kinds of odd stuff.

Robotson, it appeared, was particularly concerned about the air quality and its especially high salt and caesium 137 content that would lead to the deterioration of his metal casing. Even though he was the latest and most advanced model that the robotic industry could create, he was concerned his retro suit was already showing premature aging. For sure, he had almost certainly missed the pharma conference he was supposed to be attending and his recent back-up data was not one hundred percent as it should be.

Robotson Crusoe explained that as well as being a scientific robot he was also a ‘fashionista robot’ and was currently sporting a classic radiocon robot suit from the 1950’s.

QPEG pictures (quantum pictures) accompanying the text from Robotson had come out a little blurred but it looked like a palm-fringed beach with the statue of Liberty sticking out of the sand. A picture of Robotson showed something that looked like a children’s toy with a grinning smile. This was Robotson.

Dan had a thought. Wasn’t there something entirely familiar with this image? Something from the end of a popular film from over half a century ago?

It was bizarre.

Another email then landed.

ROBOT-SON CRUSOE 13 here.

‘Thank you so much for organising my imminent pick up. I cannot see anything of the other human travellers or AI Robots but it looks like quite a bit of wreckage has washed up further down the beach which I will now go and take a look at.

Dan stared bemusedly at the communication and replied:

“What time of day is it where you are?”

“My time drive is saying 15:16 GMT 13th March, 2215.”

Dan showed the email to the others in the office, Nigel, Ross, Aaron and Anil, and they all looked at each other quizzically.

The original email had come up as 200 years to the day in the future and now it was being confirmed by whoever Dan was communicating with.

“How could this happen?” Ross asked Nigel.

Aaron pointed at the engine that had sent the file. It was called the ‘Help Directory’.

 

 

Chapter 2: Sometime in the Future

 

Out in space an orbiting satellite packed with a massive array of subatomic quantum-puters went on its elliptical orbit around Earth. The extreme cold and comparative nothingness of space made it a perfect place to have such a facility.

Processing the millions of communication messages it received about all kinds of different topics, the ‘Help Directory’, as it was known, was the ultimate source of knowledge of everything on earth. You could call it the modern Pharos Lighthouse of Alexandria in terms of the qubits and qualits of information it contained and the light it shed on the world beneath. The subatomic particles inside the carbon synthetic outer shell of the space station whirred and whizzed in defined algorithms. The space station was maintained by a flow of life-giving photons that allowed the Font of Knowledge to despatch helpful communications all around the world.

One day, while the sun rose over the Earth as it did every day, there was a distinct change to the look of the surface and the weather patterns seemed to have changed. Even the magnetic field associated with the earth got very confused. The beautiful, blue planet was still fantastic, but now had little holes burnt in it with clouds of gas emanating from these pockmarks. Various trails criss-crossed the surface and the volume of ‘Help Communication’ had almost gone off the scale.

The ‘Help Directory’ had received alarming amounts of traffic for a few days after the so-called ‘Black Day’ and then petered out almost as quickly as it had risen. The ‘Help Directory’ could easily cope with vast amounts of data because its quantum make-up meant it opened up possibilities in other universes. Truth be known, it did most of its factoring and computation in other places. We might understand it as umpteen parallel universes where every possibility of everything could happen or have happened. The humans who had built the ‘Help Directory’ technology didn’t quite understand how it worked but by logical deduction they concluded that the ‘Help Directory’ was working mostly outside our plane of existence.

It had made early investors in the technology some of the richest people on the planet. They were the first people to harness the work hypothesised by the scientist Richard Feynman, the first to figure how waves and particles could be one and the same, and to understand how this multi–larity could be commercialised. They were ‘Google’ and ‘Facebook’ with Turing-style insight.

As the data pouring into the ‘Help Directory’ started to ebb to a trickle after the ‘Black Day’ the machine started to explore other dimensions, storing data and linking data across different periods of time.

Still the primary purpose was as a place of knowledge rather than for action.

Etched on the side of the space stations side in small but distinct letters was the modus operandi of the ‘Help Directory’:

Help Directory

‘Your ultimate helpful repository of everything about the Earth and everyone living on it’.

Meanwhile back in 2015 when ‘AI’ and quantum computers were still in their infancy, Dan and his colleagues were musing on how they might rescue Robotson.

A few emails were sent and with a great leap of faith it was concluded that they may as well presume Robotson Crusoe was an indeed ‘AI’ (an artificial intelligence) robot working in the pharma industry of the future. In Dan’s opinion he may look like a clapped out Japanese toy but he was still as living and intelligent as anything made of flesh and blood. For some reason he felt an attachment and even empathy for the robot even though his appearance and predicament seemed odd to the extreme.

It was difficult to figure out exactly what had happened to Robotson, but it appeared a severe weather event had forced his electric zeppelin from the sky while he was on a journey across the Atlantic to New York.

Dan was interested in the ‘Help Directory’ where the email had been forwarded from and wondered if they could contact the Directory themselves.

Clicking the link on Robotson’s email revealed a spinning logo in space.

Help Directory

‘Your ultimate helpful repository of everything about the earth and everyone living on it’

Founded 1st June, 2016 by Mavis Hardnutt and Oscar James 2nd.

It seemed that mathematical algorithms and constructs governed everything on the site including a section called ‘Pinball’. This was fronted up by a virtual figure called the ‘Pinball Wizard’ for deeply intractable problems involving crisis, love, rescue and emotions.

Robotson’s request for help had been channelled to this part of the ‘Help Directory’, because it did not fit the norm.

The Pinball Wizard had come up with the unusual solution of delegating Robotson’s rescue to a problem-solving creative marketing agency, called ‘Wing Lee’, who just so happened to be operating two hundred years in the past. The reasons why it chose this course were complex but let’s just say it was not by mere chance.

Working in the multiverse was an everyday activity for the Pinball Wizard and thinking outside the box was its speciality. Still it kept coming back to an old theory of ‘Chaos’ and how humans were particularly good at solving seemingly unsolvable problems. You might say a touch of genius was required.

 

 

Chapter 3: Hot Work

 

Robotson had shuffled along the sand of the beach as the waves crashed onto the reef off the shore. An odd insect landed on his hot metallic body with a sizzle. He broke a couple of palm fronds and made a makeshift shade, which he propped on his arm.

He had tried to contact his company but to no avail. It appeared that all current communication on Earth was subject to interference from background radiation, which with the time disorder and power outage gave him a right hangover. Here he was looking up at the half-submerged Statue of Liberty that showed clear evidence of many years of decay.

He was sure that he had been on the beach for a long time because his joints were showing serious signs of wear.

What had happened?

Robots and humans got on very well since the approved development of robotic artificial intelligence. Almost all routine medical operations were carried out by robots and, with these significant improvements to healthcare systems, most people in gold star countries could hope to live until they were at least 110 and some even up to 125.

Great steps had been made in silver and bronze countries in healthcare and Robotson was particularly proud he had worked without stop on a project that would help millions.

Having got in contact with Dan from Wing Lee, who thankfully seemed like the reliable sort, he felt sure that if something could be done to get him picked up, it would be done. It was indeed novel (excuse the pun) to be dealing with somebody who lived over 200 years in the past.

He was however highly impressed with Dan as not many people would be willing to help a complete stranger.

While Robotson mulled over his interesting encounter with the man from the past, the sun started to set and he detected a storm system on the horizon

It appeared quite violent as the lightning forked an unusual purple colour.

As he tracked up the beach into the tree line, his legs ground to a halt and he engaged the small air thrusters that allowed him to levitate above the ground. This vintage fashion statement suit was not ideal for trekking around and certainly not in polluted air.

After travelling for perhaps four miles, his range finders detected what he first thought was a cave. It would be better to have some shelter as the storm approached.

An email came in from Dan saying he had been in touch with the Pinball Wizard at the Help Directory and various plans were in discussion.

Robotson had never experienced the Pinball Wizard but suspected he might be in the ‘action’ part of the Directory programming for extraordinary situations.

Looking at the cave he noticed something odd – it was ornate. Soon it became clear that this was a structure with a cavernous opening designed for many humans and AIs.

There wasn’t any sign of life. This was disturbing as, although showing signs of its ornate grandeur, everything was crumbling to pieces. It was surely unnatural to see this level of decay.

Had humanity really finally destroyed itself and all intelligent life on the planet?

How had he survived on the beach for what must have been years of inactivity?

A decaying branded oilotron dispenser could be seen in the corner of an auditorium that was full of seating. Moving over, he kicked the machine and a capsule of oilotron formula mist fell on the floor. He pushed his retractable arm forward and eased the capsule inside the service slot in his chest. The oilotron vapour seeped into him and he felt revitalised. It had a ‘use-by’ date of 48 years ago. Not bad… vintage oilotron.

As he scanned inside the structure, he could hear the great storm starting to rage outside. The air whipped up and funnelled through the structure causing some of the contents to move.

The pressure was dropping and the air was being sucked at an ever-increasing rate. Robotson had an uneasy feeling that soon he would be joining the rest of the dilapidation if he didn’t quickly anchor himself to something.

Scanning the structure, he found a shaft which must have been an old levitator funnel to higher floors. He would hide in the heavy-duty metal storage room that held the power plant for such devices.

He pressed the “open/close” display, but it wasn’t powered, so Robotson pulled the safety lever releasing the heavy steel doors. Placing his back to the complex cabling, he shut the door as the wind outside notched up in intensity.

Turning his head to one side, his scanners caught the glistening body of a new Robotron titanium F4 “Gaiety Bot”. It was slumped against the wall with its eyes open, but with no life.

Maybe this gaiety robot had the same idea as he had?

Looking further up and down he wondered if a charge might jolt the bot into life so he could find out what was going on.

Pushing the jump umbilical cord into the navel of the bot, he fired a course of electrical pulses into it.

The impact was immediate as the eyes flickered and the gaiety bot raised itself up from the ground with a surprised expression. You might even call it fear.

“Careful Above”, came the words from the cultured, croaky voice.

Robotson immediately felt the temperature drop as if something very cold had entered the space above his head. The temperature had dropped rapidly to near absolute zero.

Looking up he could only see the infinity of space and the stars. There was no shaft anymore and above him there was nothing more than a swirling vortex of deep space. The extreme temperature reflected the new environment that had no air or gravity – it was the temperature you would find in deepest space.

Closing down all his systems quickly, Robotson became a completely sealed unit.

In the very shortest of time he was able to function in this new situation. The gaiety bot had also closed her systems down and operated from the hard crash tested shell. Her eyes, although crystal and synthetic, seemed to have a human quality and Robotson felt a little skip in his twin power supply which registered on his operating system as something not quite normal.

The storm, if it can be called as such, was over after twenty minutes or so. Opening the door the two robots emerged into the dark room to find the seating was rearranged and the entrance was now in a different place.

The gaiety bot was known as Freya Friday.

She started to outline what had happened on Broadway on 13th March, 2165. Robotson had been a castaway for 50 years! His incredible vintage fashionista suit had survived everything this environment could throw at him. His pharma meeting had just been obliterated with everything else. Leaning forward he picked up two cans of oilotron and passed one to Freya Friday. Looking over at his new companion he scanned his old movie files for something suitable to say:

“Here’s looking at you babe”. He said with a broad smile.

Freya’s head did a complete 360 turn and she gave a smile.

The moment had gone.

Robotson was now thinking of an entirely different movie.

 

 

Chapter 4: A Hardnutt to Crack

 

Back at Wing Lee it was all getting very confusing indeed.

On questioning the Help Directory it appeared that when it came to ‘Help’ the Directory had a limited mandate. For example, it could not supply information that might result in somebody getting hurt or the like. The Help Directory was a bit like a heavyweight boxer with big furry gloves.

A great ream of legislation on robotics and computers and this and that countersigned by many august bodies over a hundred years had tied the Directory in procedural knots so that if it had a shadow, it might be scared of it.

Since his email chat with Robotson, Dan’s thoughts were full of the little robot trapped on the beach. He was indeed taxing the creative resources of the agency to come up with a solution. Was it even possible to rescue Robotson?

Was it 2215 or 2165 AD?

Did it make any difference and what had happened to Earth if the Statue of Liberty was smashed up on the beach?

Ross, one of Dan’s colleagues, had pointed out an interesting fact. The inventors of the Directory were presumably alive now. Maybe they could be contacted?

The Help Directory had outlined the founders.

It said:

Founded on June 1st 2016 AD by Mavis Hardnutt and Oscar James 2nd

Where were they now?

Looking on social media, Dan found that there was a Mavis Hardnutt who studied at MIT. She was a 32-year-old PHD studying qubits and the application of quantum theory in computers.

In contrast there were numerous Oscar James 2nd .It would be more difficult to track him down for sure.

Hardnutt and James were probably working on the Directory as they were talking in the office.

It was a bit like being introduced to Mark Zuckerberg before he came up with Facebook but knowing what it was going to become.

Dan discussed with Anil, Nigel, Ross and Aaron how they could use the information. Questions were raised.

Was it morally correct to try and help Robotson?

Would it change the course of history?

Everyone would have to be sworn to secrecy and put aside the idea of becoming rich beyond belief. Hadn’t the Directory said that Hardnutt and James had become incredibly rich beyond any other entrepreneurs in history?

They had been awarded the Nobel Prize for the study of quantum mechanics fourteen years hence.

They had founded the ultimate successor to Facebook and Google and it was the Help Directory.

And there the name and face of Mavis Hardnutt stared at Dan Defoe from his iPad.

Ross had another idea, which might just help solve the problem.

“We know that the Directory will be founded on a certain date. If we sent a note now or left a note that gave something to Mavis, maybe she could use it. In return she would build something into the machine of the future, which might require us to give it a pass code.

Say the word ‘Wing Lee’ and this will happen. It will unlock our rescue device or programme for Robotson.”

Dan nodded approvingly. “Yes it could work, but it would need to be fully formed into a plan that stood up to the most rigorous of challenges.”

How can we convince somebody we don’t know that she needs to do this small favour to save an AI in the future?

At this moment, Robotson’s metallic body and face appeared in his mind and made him ponder some interesting questions:

Why had Dan Defoe at Wing Lee been contacted?

Was Robotson related to Dan in some way and was the Crusoe story somehow imprinted on the fabric of time repeating itself in some endless loop.

What was the back-story of the famous book and why was it being played out in the future?

Even the assembled creative minds that made up Wing Lee would be taxed to put together the various threads.

Dan decided to ask a question to the Directory:

Was Robotson Crusoe somehow related to him?

What was the connection?

The Directory immediately sent over a family tree, which outlined a series of branches of molecular symbols, what looked like interlinking DNA and names. It started with the name Foe and the date 13th March, 1715. It had the word ‘Origin’ on the document.

Something had happened 300 years ago, which linked him in the office with Robotson Crusoe.

He knew back home his father had an original copy of the famous castaway book, which had been passed on to him from his famous ancestor. He had to confess he had not studied his famous De Foe ancestor greatly.

In the meantime Dan was still receiving emails from Robotson. The latest message said that he was no longer on the beach because of an approaching storm.

He had found a companion but also something very odd was happening on the Earth of the future. The position of matter was changing and from what he could gather it was being rearranged differently.

The Pinball Wizard at the Directory had suggested that Dan should travel to York. The Crusoe story had links with this city and maybe some clues existed as to why the original story had been written.

The next day Dan boarded the early train to York at Stevenage. At the same time he had asked Ross to get hold of Mavis Hardnutt via LinkedIn.

She had added Ross to her professional network and was intrigued by his email, which talked about an interest in IT. Ross had also picked up the correct Oscar James 2nd.

So they knew now that even though all the events seem extremely odd, they were part of a real situation. Mavis and James may have already made the breakthrough because a scientific journal said they had received $5m in Angel funding a year ago to develop their ideas in quantum computing.

The backers were called Wizard Inc.

Dan meanwhile arrived at York railway station and made his way to York Museum.

He was looking for a specific cabinet containing a letter from an Alexander Selkirk to a James Moon of the Golden Fleece public house.

In this letter Selkirk spoke of meeting a Dan Defoe and a wager they had in which Selkirk gave up something very precious.

In the display cabinet the supposed history of the story was outlined.

Alexander Selkirk had a dispute with his captain over the seaworthiness of the ship and had been left marooned on an island off the coast of Chile. Finally rescued after 4 years, new evidence had been uncovered of where Selkirk had made camp during his time on the island.

The small display put most emphasis on the lawlessness of the time and how pirates still operated in the late 1600s. the captain who Selkirk sailed with was alegedly a bucaneer.

Dan was mostly interested in the letter because of the date and the mention of a ‘log’.

Undoubtedly the inspiration for the story had come from a chance meeting by Dan’s famous relative and this Scotsman those years back.

Phoning his father who lived in St Albans, he asked him about anything that the family had on the Crusoe story. Was there a diary or something from the period which he knew of?

His father replied, of course, there was a battered old notebook which he had.

He didn’t know where it came from, but it was in very poor shape because some worms or the like had eaten some of the pages.

It was in a metal chest with some old watches and deeds if he wanted to come over and take a look. Dan’s father didn’t know whose diary it was, but his mother had said it came from a ship.

Dan was getting engrossed in work as the train sped back down south. He wondered what the metal box might contain at home.

The significance of the 13th March, 1715 was not lost on Dan and he knew that this must mean something.

The world he lived in had been turned a little on its head in the last 24 hours. Even his girlfriend Becky was worried about him.

In the meantime Ross and Nigel had started to have a tentative conversation with Mavis Hardnutt.

How much could they tell her about what was going on without giving too much information.

All sorts of thoughts were going through their heads.

Would they influence the future if they started telling Mavis and Oscar what they knew?

 

 

Chapter 5: Truth Revealed

 

Venturing out of the old theatre Robotson and Freya saw the jungle scene had now been partly cleared and you could see the shapes of other buildings merged into the landscape. The storm had created a much wider concourse which helpfully made the trip down to the sea much easier.

The two robots spoke of what had happened and what their data logs said:

Freya Friday had hidden fifty years ago when the theatre was being destroyed.

The old power unit storehouse with its solid doors was somehow immune to the changes wrought by the aggressive matter-changing storms.

From what Robotson could see, the storms reorganised matter so that what you saw was an approximation of what had existed before, but not an exact copy.

It was difficult to get his robot logic circuits around what was going on. It was like somebody jumbled the pieces of civilization and ended up with a different result. The vegetation seemed untouched by the storm, but who could tell?

Freya had only become aware of the problem as human- and robot-kind faced the so-called ‘Black Day’ of the temporal shift on the 13th March, 2165. Scientists had hypothesized that our galaxy was jolted out of position.This movement jarred against the known inflation of the universe and caused splits in the fabric of time.

The fabric of space which was mostly dark matter was extremely thin in certain parts of the universe. It was so thin that you could come across so called anomolies through worm holes. They were not tunnels, but more the fraying of the strata that made up alternative existences. Something had cut into the fabric of our universe. You now had a large rift in the part of time we existed in.

Earth was happily spinning in an open wound. Like most wounds it got worse if it was not treated. Without some form of healing material, call it a drug if you like, there was no way of counteracting the problem.

What had caused the problem was unclear but it needed to be reversed or there would be nothing left of the old Earth. The friction and multiple imprints were now in many tens of thousands and you could not expect even time itself to have endless unplanned storage. It would get to the point where space would heal itself and the Earth would be consigned to aimless matter splashed across the canvas of the immediate galaxy. Like as not, the original perpetrator of the problem would be consumed just as the death knell sounded on Earth.

Robotson took all this in with a new-found appreciation of the deductive powers of his companion.

So it wasn’t just a case of picking him up from the beach and dropping him some place that constituted ‘normality’.

This was the new abrasive reality and the only way to get over it was to take a course of medicine that either cured the complaint or at least kept it in check.

Well he did think he was slightly qualified to think on such matters.

Was this hole or rent like an old fashioned bullet hole ? Was it an infection that this part of the universe had?

Was it a mechanical shifting that was needed. Were the proverbial universal cogs out of sync?

Was the cause of the problem something that could be removed or had whatever caused the problem made irreversible changes to the structure of this part of the galaxy?

Why had the Wizard felt obliged to contact an agency that existed two hundred years ago?

How had he survived on the beach for that matter?

He sent a qmail to Dan detailing the situation as it now stood.

Dan had now reached his father’s house having driven through the back roads of Hertfordshire until he reached the house tucked behind the ancient Cathedral. Its pantiled roof covered in moss seemed to blend into a past bucolic existence.

Henry Defoe had the metal box waiting on the kitchen table.

“I thought I would let you open it, Dan”.

Taking out the papers and the odd watch and precious cuff links in a box, he came across a plastic bag that contained an old leather-bound book.

It was dated 1704.

‘Log of Alexander Selkirk esq. First rate carpenter. The Pinball out of Romney’

The crumbling pages detailed the voyage from the Cinque Port of Romney.

The dangerous journey had ended on the mysterious island of ‘Mas a Tierra’ some seven hundred miles off the coast of Chile in the South Pacific.

A half decaying page outlined the nature of the dispute he had with Captain Paterson who hailed from Blakeney in Norfolk.

It referred to how he had been left by mistake as he sorted suitable timbers while a storm approached. Paterson had not meant to leave him he thought, but his bitterness was evident in the tale that unfolded. A long four years and four months had been spent on the misty island from 1704 to 1709.

Being alone for all those years, he had a constant fear of starvation and kidnapping by pirates, who sometimes stopped by to provision their ships with fruit and water.

Here were detailed the even more frightening occurences on the island and how Selkirk had to hide every time the island rearranged itself with the lethal storms.

He detailed the madness which afflicted him until he saw the boat that finally rescued him.

On one occasion a group of pirates had been caught out in the harbour thinking they would shelter from the approaching storm. Instead the boat had been reshaped and the crew disapeared. The only living creature that remained on board was a parrot.

Selkirk had swum out to the boat and lowered its tender to find it had a flat bottom and would not cut through the water. A table had 5 legs. A lamp had no opening to light it. Still Selkirk had harvested pieces off the ship and drunk something equivalent to rum… but not rum.

It was a long way from the Robinson Crusoe story which Dan’s long dead relative had written. He wondered if the story had been changed to protect Selkirk who had obviously gone through a lot. Relating what was going on in this log, you would think that the author was under the influence or certainly destined for the lunatic asylum.

The parrot that had somehow remained unscathed on the pirate ship was his only company.

The occurences on the island reminded Dan very much of what Robotson had outlined in his latest qmail. The next morning, Dan and Anil had to put together a presentation for a client in the office. Of course, things had changed. The message from the future had now taken on a greater importance than even intially thought. If the qmail from Robotson had been amazing, these latest revelations were taking on an earth-shattering aspect.

If Robotson and Freya were right, the same storms that Alexander Selkirk had encountered on the island off Chile were now affecting other parts of the Earth in the future on a bigger scale.

 

 

Chapter 6: Questioning the Wizard

 

Robotson Crusoe now considered all the aspects of his predicament.

He considered questioning the Help Directory.

Did it know what had caused the current problems experienced on Earth?

The Pinball Wizard did indeed know what had caused the problem and was very sorry for the problems caused.

The exercise of entering other dimensions to use their space and quanta had caused a stretching of the hole they created. The hole became so big that particles from other dimensions started to pass across the divide. The heat generated caused vortexes which passed through the layered multiverses causing widespread destruction and re-ordering of one plane of existence with another.

You could say that Picasso and his form of art might have suited the new reality. Soft tissue did not get on so well with the re-ordering process so most of the humans on Earth had been transported to other planes of existence which unfortunately could not support human life.

Robotson took on the information with horror. The human race had probably been wiped out because a form of computer designed to help people had overused the time/space in other dimensions? The conservation of mass and delicate balance our universe existed in was counterbalanced by immense forces which sought to equalise an unstable quantum position.

Why had the human Selkirk experienced similar properties on the island known as ‘Mas a Tierra’ in the South Pacific ?

It is simply that a single pinhole existed in 1715 which over time would have healed itself. The sailor Alexander Selkirk saw more of the problem than any other human and his diary was more of a scientific journal in terms of the phenomena. It had the potential to help future generations but like other early scientists he did not have the equipment or fellows to discuss how to record the phenomena. When he lost the log while gambling in York he asked for the contents to be kept safe and not aired until he was dead. The diary unfortunately, even though as important a study as say that by Darwin or Galileo, was lost to the world. It did however become the inspiration for Dan’s ancestor, who created the fictional story of Robinson Crusoe.

In a period before subatomic theory was even mildly understood, nobody would have understood what the storms were about. Anyone too close to them would not have survived in any case. Put simply, Selkirk did not wish to spend his days in jail and hence the Robinson Crusoe story was published with none of the strange quantum phenomena mentioned.

Robotson continued questioning the Directory.

“Can the situation of the Earth be reversed?”

“At the Help Directory we had always considered we could not really ‘help’ as much as we often wanted. In fact, as has been seen, we are responsible for more harm on Earth in total than good.

The creators anticipated there may be a problem and that is why the Pinball Wizard part of our Directory was created.

The Pinball Wizard has only been able to use a part of its capability because it requires an authorisation code to try and correct any harm that has been done.

It has already diagnosed the problem which it has termed a ‘universal cancer’ eating its way across the multiverse. It has grown since it was accelerated on the 13th March, 2165 at an exponential rate greater than current universal inflation.

Recent research has revealed that the phenomena was first noted around the time Selkirk was on the island in the South Pacific. At that point however the rift was healing and the system was righting itself. It is not a localised problem and does often occur in areas of the universe where thinning or touching of different planes of existence converge.

We had often heard of strange occurences in the Bermuda area when the site of the hole moved for some reason. In most cases these imperfections in the weave of space time proved that even the universe is not perfect.

These anomalies proved one of the age-old questions of humans. Was there a creator and was the universe perfect? All available facts pointed to many universes without end and there being a creator who tried to get it right, but did not quite hit the mark. Hence we have all the disturbance and conflict in the mulitiverses even though all were set to correct themselves. The destruction on Earth was a localised phenomena which highlighted a much bigger issue.”

Robotson considered what had been said and what he needed Dan at Wing Lee to do.

All the evidence suggested that humankind was not as alone as maybe they thought they were. It appeared something or somebody was working on a solution to help them.

At MIT in the USA Mavis Hardnutt lived for her work in the very complex world of quantum mechanics. The subatomic world was the basis of the layered quantum-puter she had developed which converted data into 0 and 1s, but in many dimensions in contrast to very slow silica-based computers.

She had received an unusual email detailing a particular equation which perplexed her. It was as if somebody was reading her mind, because it completed a piece of a jigsaw. It wasn’t entirely critical but it showed that somebody understood the small world she lived in every day. It was somebody across the pond on her wavelength.

She had shown it to Oscar and he was amazed. It was as if she was in touch with Paul Benioff the man who theorised quantum computers back in 1981.

The email from Ross Jackson at Wing Lee had suggested the following:

“In the future you might want to consider some failsafe code to be used to do something exceptional. This exceptional thing might involve enabling a machine to take instruction and override everything.

It would superscede any command even if the machine became intelligent. It would need to be built into the core of its very being. It was only a thought but it might need to have the ultimate security so that nobody would be able to access it. Maybe it could be hidden in a location that everyone knew… the top of the Statue of Liberty for example?”

 

 

Chapter 7: the Island

 

Dan spoke with his father at length about sending the Selkirk log to Mavis Hardnutt in the hope that at some point she would understand its significance.

Even though he was reluctant to give away this family heirloom, they both agreed that it had not been read in nearly three hundred years so might be better if it was used for this positive purpose.

Talking through the events of the last two days, they decided that the precious log should be despatched by courier from the office for consignee only to Mavis Hardnutt.

On day three of events, Mavis was sitting having coffee in the small coffee house bookshop called ‘Biblios’ opposite her campus appartment. The owner, Paolo, knew Mavis as the tall, elegant lady who always quizzed him about the speed of the internet connection.

Seeing The DHL van pull up opposite, she popped out and signed for the parcel which had come from the UK.

The sender lived In Hitchin, Hertfordshire and his name was Ross Jackson. The one and same person who had sent the equation which had her mind spinning.

Opening the parcel she found a compliment slip from Wing Lee. On it was a cryptic note about Robinson Crusoe and how this was the original manuscript of what really happened on the island when he was stranded.

Mavis’s friend, the owner of the Biblios bookshop, looked at the faded worm-eaten pages and exclaimed when he read the name.

‘Alexander Selkirk – 13th March, 1715. With regret lost in a wager’.

Paolo looked at Mavis and explained that Alexander Selkirk was supposedly the inspiration for the novel Robinson Crusoe.

Daniel de Foe had been inspired by Selkirk to write his novel which was one of the first adventure stories ever printed.

Mavis should keep it very safe because it looked authentic.

It was probably worth a small fortune if the provenance could be proven.

More likely it was a very good copy or the attribution had been written later but it was a nice thing indeed.

Back in Wing Lee they checked the status of the delivery.

Ross sent another email.

He hoped this castaway’s diary might be an inspiration for those who maybe felt a little out on a limb… scientists working on the edge.

Scientists after all had to stretch the boundaries and getting encouragement for new ideas was never the easiest of things.

He hoped that the diary was useful and just to remember his advice on the failsafe mechanism if things were to go wrong with any project and keeping it in a safe place that was also public – the top of the Statue of Liberty for example.

Mavis drank her skinny latte and wondered about this man ‘Ross Jackson’ from the UK who had helped her with the equation and given her this unusual book with the cryptic advice.

She had phoned Oscar and it was a perplexing thought that quantum computing might lead to some disturbance outside this plane of existence. They had never considered that their ideas might need a safety mechanism.

It would need thinking on in some detail and might affect the architecture of their idea.

Robotson spent another night holed up in the steel-plated room buried in the theatre. It was a quiet night with Robotson and Freya reminiscing on the films they enjoyed.

‘Metropolis’… that started everything you know.

The gaiety bot took a lot of its looks from those early movies. Even ‘I Robot’ and ‘Ex Machina’ were landmarks. Robots were naturally made to look human if they came in contact with humans. Artificial intelligence was really no longer ‘artificial’. It was as real as you could get and a powerful force on the planet.

Dan had sent an email detailing that Robotson should go back to the Statue of Liberty and maybe look for something unusual. Perhaps it was a door or place where something could be stored. It might be a code or something written. He just didn’t know exactly what but they should investigate.

Freya Friday understood that Robotson was looking for something that might offer a clue that might engage the Help Directory more fully via the Wizard. Making their way up the Statue of Liberty staircase with difficulty they moved debris until they reached the viewing deck near the crown. Having scanned the area for two hours, they found there was nothing to report.

Dissapointed Freya passed the old brass plated optical viewers that were now broken and tangled. How many humans had used these ancient devices she wondered? Examining the inscription she noticed that a plaque read.

‘Restored by Help Directory. 13th March, 2035.’

The words ‘Help Directory’ stood out.

Just maybe this was the clue they sought.

Robotson viewed the green oxidised metal and looked at the base.

The stand of the viewer was weighty and had a heavy plate screwed on it.

Robotson scanned the brass plate. Placing his optical viewer on the surface he could make out the following:

‘Made in Selkirk, Scotland. Patent Number: 51713031’.

He looked at the numbers and saw a simple pattern which coincided with the reverse of ‘13-03-1715’.

Qmailing the Pinball Wizard, Robotson considered what the plate meant.

This could be the activation code that the Pinball Wizard required.

Firing the three permutations the one that glowed was ‘SELKIRK51713031’.

This code initiated an entirely different form of response from the Directory.

An old recording was played which showed Mavis Hardnutt and her business partner Oscar James 2nd talking about the importance of keeping Earth safe. The Help Directory was designed to help our world and its people. Mavis had in her hand a book and she explained that the name of the boat that had carried Selkirk to the island was called the “Pinball’.

Oscar James 2nd had come up with the name ‘Wizard’ because a great spell would need to be cast to undo what had been done wrong. He could only think that quantum wizardry would be needed.

The Pinball Wizard simply asked Robotson what needed to be done.

I need to resume my journey and the earth needs to be put back as it was. All energy and mass anomalies need balancing across the hole in the fabric of time.

The response came back. ‘Help is authorised’.

A countdown sequence started and advice was given to Robotson and Freya that they should retire to the shielded room because modification would undoubtedly cause a lot of disturbance.

Robotson just had time to send an email to Dan.

Tracing back their tracks along the beach in the direction of the abandoned theatre something unfortunate happened.

A disturbed tree fell and trapped Freya. Robotson tried with all his strength to remove the large branch, but it was too heavy.

There was only one thing for it.

They agreed to disconnect her leg and leave it under the large trunk.

Freya hobbled along leaning onto Robotson and the pair made it to the steel-faced storeroom in the battered theatre.

Well, either rescue or oblivion faced them. The Pinball Wizard programme was now activated and change would happen in less than fifty earth seconds.

43… 42… 41…

As the Help Directory opened its vast quantum-puting power the very existence between the first minute of the 13 March, 2165 and the time the activation code had been given was being assessed.

This would involve re-engineering time itself and sewing back the rent and halting the cancer-like expansion of a splitting multiverse.

The creator had given the passcode and the real reason for the Help Directory would probably come into play.The help Directory would feel a sense of fullfilment.

5… 4… 3… 2… 1…

All went cold and Robotson’s last memory was Freya Friday’s hand in his.

 

 

Chapter 8: Altered Reality

 

Robotson boarded the electric Zeppelin to New York. Everyone was encouraged to wear period costume from the 1900s. He was carrying with him a presentation to the American pharma body DCAT. His company had developed DNA targetted drugs which gave a cure for an acute form of arthritis found in human/AI hybrids. Indeed he was one of these, so it was a cure very close to his synthetic heart.

On landing at the Zeppelin park on the outskirts of New Jersey, he made his way by mass transit to Manhattan.

He had booked a place to see the opening night of a new musical on Broadway.

He loved the old movies and loved the music hall even more.

His advice from the Help Directory said that he would be at the theatre in two minutes. Just time for a little oilotron.

There it was, ‘Broadway’.

‘The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe’, blazed out in laser light.

As he passed into the glossy foyer, he noticed a very well appointed gaiety bot selling downloads of the story.

“Hi, my name is Freya Friday, would you like a download?”

“Absolutely, yes please.”

“Is that your real name Freya?”

“Of course!”

“I thought you might be in sync with the show. My name is Robotson Crusoe 13.”

“Wow, what a coincidence that we are at this show.”

“Have we met before Freya?”

“Is that a chat up line Mr Crusoe?”

“It would be a great week in NEW YORK,” he thought.

Back in the Wing Lee offices the client work had definitely taken a back seat with recent developments.

Dan sent a message to the Help Directory and asked what had happened.

A qmail came back with another blurry picture.

It showed two smiling robot faces in front of an art deco fronted building.

Emblazoned on the top were the words, ‘The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe. Opening night 13th March, 2215’.

Dan showed the screen to the guys in the office. The team’s work had been disrupted in the last few days for sure but everyone had pulled together.

Rescue accomplished, I guess.

“By the way, shall we put our friend Robotson on our logo to remember this day?” suggested Aaron.

All agreed it was a great idea.

“And the beach”, rejoinderd Nigel.

That was the last they heard of the Help Directory.

Almost at that instance all communication from Robotson disappeared. It was like it had never happened and Nigel could find no logical reason why the record had evaporated.

Ross did receive an email a few days later from Mavis Hardnutt to see if they could meet some time if he was in New York. She did not like travelling herself.

As Robotson walked down 5th Avenue with Freya he wondered what was this strange feeling of attraction. Was it he thought ‘LOVE’ that differentiated humans over the AI’s. If so a new age was dawning.