"Ah, Miss Vasilia, I hope you are well."
Vasilia smiled at the robot who had stepped out of his niche to address her. "Yes, Lansom. And I hope you're well too." She knew it was a silly thing to say, but couldn't help herself.
"Very well, thank you. Your father is waiting for you in the dining room. He wishes to dine with you this morning."
Vasilia raised her eyebrows in surprise. "Thanks, Lansom. I'll go now." She walked into the dining room, yawning and pulling her light sweater tightly around herself.
"Well, good morning!" her father said as she slipped into her customary chair. "Sleep well?"
"Uh-huh," Vasilia said. She watched Trango and Faston bring the breakfast dishes to the table, and peered over the tops as they descended to eye level. "Blintzes?" she said, her eyes flickering to her father's. He was smiling genially over his interlaced fingers.
"Yes? Why shouldn't we have blintzes? I thought you liked blintzes!"
"Of course I do! But why? We hardly ever have them, even though," she stuck her lip out, "you know they're my favorite."
"Well, come, Vasilia, isn't it nice when some things are kept for special occasions?"
She picked up her fork and staved the hungry look overtaking her face. "What's the special occasion then?" The stuffing oozed out of the blintz as she cut off the end.
"You know, my darling," her father began. He settled into his own plate and chewed a bite before continuing. She waiting for him to say more, but was too occupied by the breakfast to be bothered much by the hanging sentence.
Still, after a few minutes, she looked up. "So?"
"Well, I'm very proud of you."
Vasilia didn't know much what to say to that, so she didn't say anything.
After a moment, he continued. "You're a wonderful daughter. You've been so very patient with me, over the years." He chuckled in delight.
Vasilia took a sip of milk. Her father always took a long time to get to the point. "But what's special about today?"
"We haven't talked about it much, but I was merely wondering if you had an interest in robotics like your father."
Vasilia blinked rapidly. On the one hand, she shouldn't have been surprised as her father was always anxious to impress others with his vast knowledge of the field. On the other hand, although she had long been curious about the workings of robots, she considered it beyond her abilities to learn. She hardly knew any math or engineering or any of the other elements she supposed were necessary to being a successful roboticist. She was much more inclined toward artistic design than anything in the realm of science.
Vasilia regained a neutral expression. "I've thought about it a little," she said carefully.
"Wonderful! Thinking about it is the first step to success. I say we should start your education in the field immediately."
"We? You mean you're going to teach me yourself?" Vasilia was delighted at the thought of spending more time with her father. He was often so busy.
"Well who else? No one knows as much as I do!"
"Do you really think I would be a good roboticist?" she said. She couldn't bear the thought of disappointing him later.
"Of course! You're my daughter, aren't you? We Spacers are born roboticists. Under my tutelage, you'll be making waves in the field in no time."
Vasilia was beginning to feel the first waves of excitement. She did want to be a roboticist. Now that the opportunity had come her way, she saw it clearly. She was smart—she'd learn everything in no time flat and impress her father and everyone else he knew. Then all the people who came by would actually look at her instead of pretending like she wasn't there. It would be glorious! Her personally designed and constructed company of robots would delight even the most severe of her father's associates.
She looked over greedily at the robots in their niches and wondered how long it would take her to build her own Trangos and Fastons. The sooner, the better. "Then I want to build a robot right away!"
"Now Vasilia." Her father smiled. "You can't expect to start building a robot at the very beginning. There's much to learn about the positronic brain—and you have to know how the brain works to build the body. Each brain is uniquely designed for the robot, taking into account the body it will have and the task it will perform."
"But I just want to build a normal one. It doesn't have to be specialized!"
He just shook his head. "First the brain."
"Okay," she sighed. Well, that wouldn't take long. Then she'd build the robots. "So when do I get to start?"
"Right after breakfast. I've set aside this time especially for you, today."
Vasilia warmed every time her father put aside his work to give her special attention. She knew it was selfish, that his work was probably important, but she couldn't help it. She wanted to be the most important thing in his life. And she already knew that competing for time with his robotics work was quite the task, especially lately. He had been so absorbed in this humaniform thing that he had been a bit more neglectful than normal, leaving her to the care of Rallon and Basley. And they weren't the most exciting playmates, especially since they'd been ordered to not let her order them around needlessly. She was surprised, in fact, that he would choose now of all times to begin her education, but she certainly wasn't complaining.
"And while we're on the subject," her father continued, "I think that you should have a robot of your own—one you can apply your future studies to. Robotics, is, after all, a hands-on science."
"Really?! You're giving me a robot for my own?!"
"Well, I'll still own him, but for all intents and purposes, yes."
"Which one?!" She looked around, as if the robot in question should be standing right there. Trango and Faston stood in their niches, disinterested. She wouldn't be given some random kitchen robot anyway. But there weren't any other robots in view, so she relaxed against her chair. "Rallon? Basley? Tamaron?"
"No, no, I don't think so, dear."
She thought for a moment. "Lansom?"
Her father looked startled. "Goodness no. Lansom's firmly mine, darling."
Vasilia, while unsurprised, deflated. Lansom was her favorite. He was always with her father, but paid her special attention whenever she was around. But of course her father wouldn't give her Lansom, for Lansom was much too personal and important to him.
She sighed, annoyed at his beating around the bush. "Who then?"
"Well, I was thinking Giskard."
"Giskard?" she said. "Why him?"
"What do you mean 'why him'? Why not him? He's a very good robot!"
"Well," she said, dragging her fork through the sauce left on her plate. "It's just... he's kind of old. And he's awfully simple. He just does exactly what Tamaron tells him to."
"But Vasilia, that's what he's supposed to do. If he didn't, we'd have a rogue robot on our hands."
"But you don't deny that he is old and simple and boring."
"Vasilia darling, you're just starting out. It's better to have a simple robot in the beginning—then it is also a simple matter to introduce improvements, which is good for your education. He is a bit old—I have had him all of my adult life—but come now, you know that means nothing."
Vasilia sighed. "I don't think we've ever even actually exchanged words, though."
"Well, that doesn't matter. As soon as we're done, we can fix that."
"I'm done," she said. She had been staring at her empty plate for fifteen minutes.
Her father patted his mouth with a napkin and stood. Trango and Faston descended upon the table almost at once. Trango stacked the dirty dishes and silverware with graceful ease, then disappeared into the kitchen. Faston remained, producing a small tin of mints.
"Ah, none for me, Faston," her father said.
Vasilia took a mint and Faston snapped the tin shut, then proceeded to begin wiping the table.
As soon as Vasilia and her father left the dining room, Lansom appeared next to them.
"While you have been eating breakfast, sir, Doctor Sarton has called after you," Lansom said.
"Oh? Did he say what he wanted?"
"No, sir. He appeared to be in a state of excitement, and wished for me to impress upon you the importance of returning his call at the earliest opportunity."
"Ah, well, there's no denying the man. Still, I must attend to my daughter at least for a few moments, so if he happens to call once more, tell him that I have heard his message and will call soon."
Vasilia's excitement melted away with her after-meal mint. A few moments was hardly the promised morning that her father originally must have had in mind. And if that Sarton was calling, the likelihood of her father remaining engaged with her was slim, especially if the man had made some great development in the humaniform project.
"Lansom," her father said.
"Please bring Giskard to the den."
"It will be seen to, sir." Lansom bowed his head.
Lansom did not leave, but followed them to the den. The robot, Giskard, was just entering from another hall. He stopped and stood stiffly near the overstuffed chairs which Vasilia and her father were soon sinking into. Lansom retreated to a niche by the door. Vasilia's gaze lingered on Lansom's handsome gleaming form, then drifted to the nearby Giskard. Compared to Lansom, Giskard looked offensively antiquated. He had none of the sleekness, nor the attractive, confident stance. Lansom had been made to be a personal assistant—to improve the image of the human he accompanied, to be an impressive accessory. Her father had seen to that—he was one of his. Giskard looked like he'd been made for work, and the case designer hadn't bothered to burnish a surface soon likely to be afflicted by dents and scrapes. He was also shorter and didn't have much of a presence, which was an intended feature of a robot made for household tasks. She knew her father only had a particular affection for this robot because his brain had been one of his first creations. He kept him out of nostalgia.
She knew she should have been happy to be given a robot that meant something to her father, but she couldn't help but feel that it would be a bit embarrassing to be followed around by something so unimpressive. Everyone knew she was Fastolfe's daughter. Everyone would expect her to have the best.
"You wanted to see me, sir," Giskard said, without even a shade of emotion beyond positive neutral.
"Yes!" Her father looked on the robot with a much fonder expression. "From today on, you are to personally attend to my daughter, Vasilia. Barring orders from myself, she is your overseer. No more household work. Well, unless Vasilia orders it, of course."
"Yes, sir." No my pleasure, sir. No I would be most satisfied to serve Miss Vasilia. But what should she expect? Conversation was not his forte. Maybe she would be able to change that.
"Furthermore, she is soon to begin"—she noticed he did not say today—"her studies in robotics. You are to assist her in any way possible."
"Though while we're on the subject," he turned to Vasilia, "you will undoubtedly feel compelled to play around with him a bit... but try not to do anything without consulting me first. I am rather fond of him, as you know. I'd hate to see him damaged beyond repair because of a small error."
"Of course, I wouldn't, father!" Vasilia's eyes widened under her furrowed brow. "I'm not going to ruin my one very own robot!"
"Yes, of course, darling. I just, well, you never know. Well-meaning intentions can sometimes... but come now, I was where you were once, and I know how hard it can be to resist testing something out as soon as possible."
"I'm not going to do anything without asking first, believe me. That's probably a long way off, anyway," she moped.
"Well, I best not keep the doctor waiting. How about you and Giskard get acquainted? You know, the bond between a boy—or girl—and their first robot can survive centuries if properly maintained."
Her father lifted himself from the chair and left out the door they had come in from, Lansom disappearing after him. She was now suddenly alone in the brightly lit den with Giskard.
He didn't react to the new situation in any visible way. He simply waited there to be spoken to, would presumably wait eternally, never asking what came next. But she was being a bit harsh. Most robots were that way. Vasilia sighed and turned squarely to Giskard. He tilted his head down to her.
"Sit down?" She pointed to the chair her father had just vacated.
"Miss Vasilia, it would not be proper or expected for me to use the furniture in such a manner."
"Well, I don't want you to look down on me, so you can either sit in the chair or sit on the floor."
Giskard stood completely still for a moment, then sank to the floor in front of her chair.
"Good. Now, how old are you exactly?" She looked with distaste on his worn surface.
"I was created by Doctor Fastolfe eighty-eight years ago."
"Do you like doing household chores?"
"I am perfectly suited to such tasks."
"No, I mean, do you like it?"
The robot paused yet again, then said, "I am pleased to be of service."
"How do you feel about being transferred to being my personal assistant?"
"I am pleased to be of service in any way at all, and that includes being a personal assistant."
"So you don't prefer being with me to doing chores?"
"I am satisfied with any task given to me, Miss Vasilia." He seemed like he was finished, but then said, "I prefer tasks which directly serve humans over tasks which passively serve them. In that sense, being your personal assistant might be considered preferable to passive tasks such as household chores."
"Good," she said again. She stared at Giskard. How did one purposefully get acquainted with a robot? What was there to get to know? Robots had no secrets, and their personalities deviated in only minor ways. She knew the other robots just from them watching over her or else, as in Lansom's case, from them showing some interest in her, but Giskard had never approached her or watched over her in any form. Asking questions was likely to elicit standard answers dictated by the three laws. It was no wonder robots weren't considered much more than furniture, and certainly never friends. Perhaps a better way to get acquainted with a robot was to see how far it could be pushed. The precise thresholds of the Three Laws and their interactions varied more often than their personalities—in fact, that was the underlying reason for any difference in personality a robot might have—and the best way to find out what those thresholds were was the direct approach. Call it hands-on psychoanalysis.
She got up out of her seat, and Giskard put his knee on the floor, no doubt wondering if it was better to rise in anticipation of following her or to stay seated as he had been directed to do.
"You can stand," Vasilia said.
He rose easily. She only came up to his shoulders, but it was a bit better than with Lansom, who seemed to tower over her like a majestic silver tree.
"I would like to go outside," she said. She stood and stared at him expectantly.
He stood looking at her, then dropped his gaze to the floor. Still she waited, wondering what he would do in this clearly ambiguous situation.
Finally, he said, glancing toward the door, "If you wish to go outside, Miss Vasilia, surely you have permission to do so from your father."
"Indeed! Then let us go." She walked out the door, feeling like quite the little adult with her very own robot in tow, momentarily forgetting her earlier reservations about his appearance.
The sun was crawling towards its zenith as they walked in single file through the carefully fabricated wild. There were plenty of ways she might test the Laws, but she would have to be clever to learn anything of actual value about their respective weights. She smiled in satisfaction. Her father might not be sitting down with her to formally begin her education on the positronic brain, but she was self-motivated enough to start doing it on her own, in her own way. Surely her father would see nothing objectionable in any kind of test she put Giskard through. He was supposed to be her learning device, after all, and there couldn't be a better way to learn about the positronic brain than to interact with it.
"Isn't it a beautiful day, Giskard?" she said without turning to him.
"The temperature is within the range of greatest comfort for humans," he observed.
"So just say, 'yes, it's beautiful' then."
"That would suggest that I had made a value judgment necessarily made only by humans. I would not want to be misunderstood."
"Well, maybe you can say what you want to everyone else, but to me, I want you to say, 'yes, it's beautiful'."
Giskard hesitated. "Yes, it is beautiful." It was quite unconvincing in his expressionless voice.
"No, you have to say, 'Yes, it's beautiful'."
"Yes, it's beautiful."
"No! You can't emphasize 'it's'! Just say it normally."
"Yes, it's beautiful."
"Yes, like that. Although you could put a bit more emotion into it."
"I do not think I could replicate human emotion in my speech without careful direction on a phrase by phrase basis."
"Well let's start with that one. You have to say it like this: 'Yes, it's beautiful!'" Vasilia loaded the word with perhaps an excessive amount of awe, but it was just as well for Giskard to have a dramatic example.
"Yes, it's beautiful!" he said, mimicking her tone of voice almost flawlessly. Vasilia giggled. It was quite strange to hear a robot speak in such a way. And yet somehow, it was very charming, even if a bit unnerving in how much more human it instantly made Giskard seem.
"That was very good, Giskard," she said.
"I am happy this pleases you, Miss Vasilia," he said, instantly returning to his normal, perfectly neutral tone.
"If only there was a way to apply it more generally," she said. "I wonder if that would be good?"
"I do not know, Miss Vasilia. I have never encountered a robot that regularly mimics human emotion in his voice."
"I guess I'll have to ask Father about it," she said.
They had made it a ways from the house, and no structure could currently be seen in any direction. They were surrounded by short hills and patches of trees. All in all, Vasilia felt secluded enough to attempt the plan that had been forming in her mind during Giskard's voice lessons. She stopped and looked beyond the edge of the grass, where a stand of fruit trees was growing amongst the evergreens. Apples hung on a number of the trees, bowing the branches with their weight. Vasilia looked around behind her. Giskard was there of course, but Vasilia couldn't see any other of the many robots that tended her father's property. It was just how she wanted it.
"I would like to pick one of those apples," she said, heading into the grove. She walked past the apple tree nearest the grass line, and pushed through the minimal underbrush until she reached one growing next to a tall evergreen.
Giskard promptly plucked a ripe-looking apple from eye-level, inspected it briefly, and held it out to her. "Here you are, Miss Vasilia."
"Thanks, but I want to pick it myself. You can take that one back to the house."
"Am I to take it back at this very moment?" he asked.
"No, I mean when we go back." Vasilia tested a low, thick branch and sat on it, then brought her feet beneath her and stood, albeit hunched over to avoid hitting her head on an upper branch. She was now taller than Giskard and looked down on him with some satisfaction.
Giskard looked up at her and said, "It is not safe to climb these branches, Miss Vasilia, particularly as heavy as they are with fruit."
"Don't worry, I know what I'm doing."
Giskard seemed to accept her statement for the moment. She steadily climbed up until she was standing crookedly in the large split in the middle of the tree, and looked down at the robot, now partially obscured by branches and leaves.
"Miss Vasilia, this is dangerous. It would be best to come down now," Giskard said, shifting so that her face was in view.
"No, it isn't! I'm perfectly in control, I said." And she was, for the most part. She had no fear of heights and considered herself to be light enough to not cause a problem. The tree had barely seemed to register the extra weight.
"If you do not come down, I will have to come up for you."
"No. You're too heavy. You might make the branch break and then I really will fall!"
Giskard watched her from between the branches. She defiantly inched along the thickest of the upper branches, and it bowed slightly the nearer she came to the end. Giskard paced around directly beneath her.
"Please come down at once. There is no reason to climb this tree. There are plenty of apples within reach of ground level."
It was a mark of the growing pressure of the First Law that he was attempting to take control of the situation. Vasilia ignored him, and concentrated on creeping along the branch until eventually she could reach the overhanging limb of the nearest evergreen. She grabbed it with relief and pulled herself up onto it.
"Miss Vasilia! You are quite high enough. If you fall at this height, you may break a bone or worse! Come down now or I will be forced to act!"
Vasilia felt some sinister pleasure that she had finally caused Giskard to project some of his own, robotic brand of emotion. It may only have been anxiety, doubtless the most commonly expressed emotion of all robots, but she was pleased nonetheless.
"Don't worry about me. I'm safe!" Vasilia grinned from her lofty perch.
"You are not safe! The branch is not stable! It is bending a great deal underneath your weight!"
"Well, what can you do about it?"
Giskard was directly underneath her branch, pacing and fidgeting as he looked up. "I must retrieve a ladder." He took a few steps away but stopped and turned back around. "But I must not leave in case you fall and need emergency assistance."
It was exactly the conflict she had planned on. She was already pleasantly surprised that he had let her climb the tree at all, but it was clearly not dangerous at first, and by the time it was, she was too high for him to act directly. What would he do now, the poor thing?
He walked to the edge of the grove, not out of her eyesight, and looked out. He was surely hoping to see some other robot that he might call upon to get a ladder. He looked about, left and right, but soon turned back and slowly made his way toward the evergreen.
"Move toward the base of the branch where it is more stable," he directed, and Vasilia began to inch along in the proposed direction. "Then, if you remain still and hold onto the trunk of the tree, it will be reasonably safe for me to leave—"
There was a splitting crack.
Vasilia's branch suddenly swung vertically beneath her. She screamed as she lost her balance and saw the ground coming toward her, accompanied by the loud snapping of brush as Giskard dashed forward. But he was too slow. She landed roughly and felt a nauseating twinge pulse around her ankle, then a sharp piercing pain in her tailbone that sent tears to her eyes.
"Aagghhh!" Vasilia cried as she gripped her ankle in pain from where she lay on the duff. She squinted up and saw the blurry outline of Giskard a few feet away, standing in a rigid panic. Vasilia wiped her eyes and looked again. He should be running to her aid, picking her up and carrying her off to safety, not standing there immobilized. "Giskard!" She cried. But he didn't behave as though he had heard her at all. Vasilia's breath caught. She couldn't have possibly broken her first robot on the first day?!
"Giskard, do something! Anything!"
He moved forward jerkily, as though it took terrible effort to move. "M-m—V—"
"Oh, Giskard!" The pain in her ankle now seemed distant and of minor importance. "I'm alright! I'm okay! It wasn't your fault! Please, listen to me!" She tried to pick herself up to prove her point but her foot felt like it was going to pop off her leg when she tried to put it beneath her.
"Please remain as you are!" Another robot pushed past Giskard and crouched by her side. "You are in pain, are you not?"
The robot, one of her father's landscape maintenance crew, jerked back in confusion. "I heard a human cry of distress. It matched your voice, Miss Vasilia. You seem to be injured in some fashion. Allow me to transport you indoors."
"No!" She repeated. "I'm not injured! I'm fine! Perfectly fine! It was just a little fright, nothing more! Nothing more!" She stared into Giskard's faintly glowing eyes with intensity, willing, begging him to believe her.
The landscaper robot looked at the broken branch hanging by a strip of bark, then knelt by her side. "Have you been struck by this branch? Have you fallen from it? Are you certain you do not need assistance?" The robot stacked his worried questions on top of each other. In any other situation, it would have been strange behavior.
"I don't need any assistance, and even if I did, Giskard's right here to help me," she said firmly.
And slowly, painfully slowly, Giskard's rigid stance relaxed into something more natural. The other robot appraised Giskard briefly, seeming reluctant to leave her in the care of a robot who had obviously failed in his duties to her safety.
"Go away!" Vasilia yelled at the landscaper robot. "I'm fine, so you don't need to worry. Get back to whatever you were doing!" She panted, then added, more calmly, "You did good to come check, but everything's fine."
Finally, the landscaper robot bowed his head, stood, and retreated through the low brush.
"Giskard, are you okay?"
"Yes, Miss Vasilia," he said flatly.
"Your positronic pathways are fine and clear and all that?"
"I am experiencing some difficulty, Miss Vasilia."
"But I'm mostly fine!" Vasilia tried to smile.
"But you are not completely fine, and I am responsible."
"I don't care about that. It was my fault. You were trying to help me, and it was just chance that you weren't right there to catch me, or whatever it is you think you could have done better." She doubted being caught by a robot would be much more comfortable than being caught by the ground.
"I should not have let you put yourself in such a precarious position to begin with."
"Oh Giskard, nevermind about all of that! Now, come here and help me up!"
Giskard knelt and lowered a hand. She grabbed it and pulled herself up on her good foot, wincing as even the slightest pressure on her bad one produced a spasm of pain. She took a deep breath. "I don't think I can walk. Please carry me back to the house." She said it with firm detachment. There was no need to let her emotions affect Giskard's mental state any more than they already had.
Giskard put an arm at her back and lifted her legs with excessive gentleness. "Please tell me if I-I cause you any f-further pain."
"No, Giskard, I'm fine. I barely feel any pain at all like this." She sighed. Why did robots have to be so neurotic about the First Law? She was only thankful that they were a bit more resilient to mental freezeout now than in the past. Still, she had been scared for a minute there. She hadn't even been seriously injured and Giskard was having difficulty adapting to the new situation after his failure to protect her. Maybe he was even more simple-minded than she had first thought. Well, she would fix that someday, someday when she was a great roboticist.