by Alvin G. Burstein
General Legget removed the cigar from between his teeth and stared at the battered, ragged end. He shifted his gaze to the humanoid form and then to the white-coated, bespectacled robotics expert with whom he was talking. Cocking one bushy eyebrow skeptically, he growled, “You sure this damn thing will work?”
“Absolutely, General. The robot speaks unaccented, idiomatic Persian and Turkish flawlessly. As you can see, the plastiform skin is indistinguishable from the real thing; it is complete with functional hair follicles. He even smells real, given the artificial sweat glands. The robot can transmit what it records visually and auditorily via hyper-secure wireless media that appear to be ordinary cell phone chatter in real time. I have no doubt that our friend can find its way into the site at Arak, or anywhere else we want to send it.”
“Yeah. Humph. What if it is detected. We need deniability and we don’t want to make the bad guys a present of high-tech gear.”
“In a pinch, it will kill and, if necessary, self-destruct.”
The general clamped the cigar back between his teeth. “Aren’t all robots programmed to be unable to injure humans and to avoid self-destruction?”
“We have very expert programmers…and de-programmers,” smiled the lab-coated scientist. “Do you want to see it activated?” When the general nodded, the robotics expert pressed a button on the remote device he had been holding.
The robot opened its eyes and smiled. “All systems are go. I await your commands.”
“Humph,” the general grunted around his cigar again, “I’ll need to brief POTUS.”
Within the hour, the general was in the Oval Office, speaking to the slender shirt- sleeved man behind the desk. “Is the security bubble activated, Mr. President?”
“You’re secure, Zeke. What do you have?”
“The techies have a humanoid robot that they think can get us real time info on the bad hats’ nuclear sites. Despite the Azimov laws of robotics, it has lethal and self-destructive potential. I guess the question is whether we deploy it or do test runs.”
The president nodded. “The Israeli’s are chomping at the bit. If we are going to deter a preemptive strike we’ll need rock hard evidence soon. Thanks for the update, Zeke. I’ll get back to you.”
The president watched the general leave. Then he walked to the window and looked out. He tugged at the lobe of his right ear, and feeling the small lump in its lobe, squeezed.
Transmission complete. Now in inactive mode awaiting instruction. Automatic re-activation when auditory or visual stimuli within 10 meters are detected.
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Alvin G. Burstein
Burstein is a retired psychologist and psychoanalyst, an emeritus professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and a former faculty member of the New Orleans-Birmingham Psychoanalytic Center. He is a member of Inklings, a writers’ critique group in Mandeville, LA, that meets weekly. He is a committed Francophile and, unsurprisingly a lover of fine cheeses and wines. He is also an unrepentant cruciverbalist.