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«Gold: The Final Science Fiction Collection», Isaac Asimov

Part One: The Final Stories

Cal

I am a robot. My name is Cal. I have a registration number. It is CL-123X, but my master calls me Cal.

The X in my registration number means I am a special robot for my master. He asked for me and helped design me. He has a lot of money. He is a writer.

I am not a very complicated robot. My master doesn’t want a complicated robot. He just wants someone to pick up after him, to run his printer, stack his disks, and like that.

He says I don’t give him any backtalk and just do what I am told. He says that is good.

He has people come in to help him, sometimes. They give him backtalk. Sometimes they do not do what they are told. He gets very angry and red in the face.

Then he tells me to do something, and I do it. He says, thank goodness, you do as you are told.

Of course, I do as I am told. What else can I do? I want to make my master feel good. I can tell when my master feels good. His mouth stretches and he calls that a smile. He pats me on the shoulder and says, Good, Cal. Good.

I like it when he says, Good, Cal. Good.

I say to my master, Thank you. You make me feel good, too.

And he laughs. I like when he laughs because it means he feels good, but it is a queer sound. I don’t understand how he makes it or why. I ask him and he says to me that he laughs when something is funny.

I ask him if what I said is funny. He says, Yes, it is.

It is funny because I say I feel good. He says robots do not really feel good. He says only human masters feel good. He says robots just have positronic brain paths that work more easily when they follow orders.

I don’t know what positronic brain paths are. He says they are something inside me.

I say, When positronic brain-paths work better, does it make everything smoother and easier for me? Is that why I feel good?

Then I ask, When a master feels good, is it because something in him works more easily? My master nods and says, Cal, you are smarter than you look.

I don’t know what that means either but my master seems pleased with me and that makes my positronic brain paths work more easily, and that makes me feel good. It is easier just to say it makes me feel good. I ask if I can say that.

He says, You can say whatever you choose, Cal.

What I want is to be a writer like my master. I do not understand why I have this feeling, but my master is a writer and he helped design me. Maybe his design makes me feel I want to be a writer. I do not understand why I have this feeling because I don’t know what a writer is. I ask my master what a writer is.

He smiles again. Why do you want to know, Cal? he asks.

I do not know, I say. It is just that you are a writer and I want to know what that is. You seem so happy when you are writing and if it makes you happy maybe it will make me happy, too. I have a feelingI don’t have the words for it. I think a while and he waits for me. He is still smiling.

I say, I want to know because it will make me feel better to know. I am-I am

He says, You are curious, Cal.

I say, I don’t know what that word means.

He says, It means you want to know just because you want to know.

I want to know just because I want to know, I say.

He says, Writing is making up a story. I tell about people who do different things, and have different things happen to them.

I say, How do you find out what they do and what happens to them?

He says, I make them up, Cal. They are not real people. They are not real happenings. I imagine them, in here.

He points to his head.

I do not understand and I ask how he makes them up, but he laughs and says, I do not know, either. I just make them up. 

He says, I write mysteries. Crime stories. I tell about people who do wrong things, who hurt other people.

I feel very bad when I hear that. I say, How can you talk about hurting people? That must never be done.

He says, Human beings are not controlled by the Three Laws of Robotics. Human masters can hurt other human masters, if they wish.

This is wrong, I say.

It is, he says. In my stories, people who do harm are punished. They are put in prison and kept there where they cannot hurt people.

Do they like it in prison? I ask.

Of course not. They must not. Fear of prison keeps them from doing more hurtful things than they do.

I say, But prison is wrong, too, if it makes people feel bad.

Well, says my master, that is why you cannot write mysteries and crime stories.

I think about that. There must be a way to write stories in which people are not hurt. I would like to do that. I want to be a writer. I want to be a writer very much.


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