I run toward the barn, realizing—even through the haze of alcohol, adrenaline, and moonlight—that Frank could turn on me and kill me without a second thought. Or even a first thought. The HADroid program was designed to produce a robot with human empathy, but Frank is an autistic eleven-year-old: empathy is not his strong suit. I knew all this when I made the decision to go ahead with the transplant, and now I’ll get to meet the fruits of my wisdom face to face.
When I step through the hole in the barn wall I see that Frank has found a pile of old steel T-posts. He picks one up, and its six-foot length looks tiny in his huge robot fist. He easily wraps the steel post into a tight ball—like a man might roll up a garden hose or ball up some string—and then hurls it like a baseball at the tractor in the field. The steel shoots across the field, pierces the motor cowling of the tractor, and buries itself in the engine. Then Frank picks up another T-post and begins swinging it wildly, smashing everything in sight.
Until, eventually, he turns toward me.
He’s ten feet tall and massive in every way. And unlike the relatively normal, natural movements he makes while in his human form, in his robot form he moves—well, robotically. When he sees me, his eyes narrow—all menace and anger—and then his lower body rotates so that he can face me head-on.
I begin to wonder if human Frank is even in there. If he has any control at all. Actually, I think, it might be better for me if the computer is in control. After all, I’m not holding any weapons. There are no rules of engagement that would call for the killing of an innocent, defenseless civilian. Still, Frank steps angrily toward me and draws back the T-post to strike.
Despite the scotch, my mind is agile from fear, and in the micro-instant before Frank can swing, I gather in every detail of the scene before me: the robot’s giant form, silhouetted in the moonlight that streams in through the holes in the roof; his midnight black graphene “skin,” swallowing light; his robotic features, cold and emotionless. I realize that his projectile weapon launchers have been deployed, and they now bulge from the robotic “muscles” on each arm, just below his shoulders. Though I know there are no rockets or bullets available to him, the mere fact that the launchers are deployed nevertheless tells me that Frank has somehow activated the onboard weapons firing system—which he should not have been able to do.
And I see his eyes: two glowing blue orbs that meet mine as he winds up to deliver his first deadly blow.
Then he freezes.
My heart pounds. In that split second, when the computer brain of the man-child is silently debating my fate, I reach into my pocket and pull out Frank’s bolt. The one I picked up when I first powered Frank down in the barn. I hold it up, and I speak to Frank in soothing tones.
“Easy, Frank,” I say. “You don’t want to do this.”
Frank’s eyes register that he’s heard me, but he doesn’t appear to care. He’s all rage and hatred as he steps closer. I have to think, but there is no time. I’m grasping for anything.
“The Lord is my shepherd!” I scream.
That’s all I know of the psalm. I told you, I haven’t been to church in years, and even then I didn’t care. But Frank is glaring at me.
“The Lord is my shepherd,” I say.
Frank’s hands tense on the post.
“The Lord is my shepherd! The Lord is my shepherd! The Lord is my shepherd!” I’m screaming now, and involuntarily I have dropped to my knees.
Frank’s hand loosens its grip. He drops the post and his head slumps. Then, something happens that I could never have imagined.
He drops to his knees.
His huge robot head drops all the way to his chest, and he begins to speak to himself in Pennsylvania Deutsch. It sounds German to me, but I know it’s the dialect of Frank’s people.
After the prayer in Amish, he changes to English. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
He pauses and looks at his robotic arms, studying them. His head raises up; he looks at me, then back at himself.
“He maketh me to to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.”
The robot looks at himself again, touching his enormous legs, then examines the robotic joint that we would call a knee, bent on the ground in prayer.
“He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
Frank touches his face, then his hands slide down to the launchers protruding from below his shoulders.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
He looks at his hands and articulates his wrist, working the fingers over and over.
“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.”
Frank looks at me, and a sadness overwhelms his voice.
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”
His head drops to his chest again, and for a few seconds he is silent. I reach over to touch him—to make contact—but his head comes up and his look stops me.
“Except… except I’m not a human.”
“Sure you are, Frank,” I say.
“No,” Frank says. It is like the wind has gone out of him, and a depressive cloud has descended all around him. “No. Not human.”
“All right, Frank,” I say. “Everything is okay. I have your bolt.” I hold the bolt in front of him, hoping he’ll look at it. “And as soon as it’s morning, we can go get your Amish clothes.”
Frank is frozen. He looks up at me and stares. I know he recognizes me. He picks up the fallen post, which is on the ground next to him. Maybe violence is still an option, or maybe he’s considering what he’s almost done.
“Easy…” I say. I know that he shouldn’t want to harm me. So I keep talking.
“Frank,” I hold my hands in front of me, “put down the post. You don’t want to accidentally hurt anyone, do you?”
Frank moves suddenly, so quickly I almost fall back. With a loud bellow that nearly stops my heart, he slams the post against the ground violently, burying it almost to the hilt. He turns toward me again and inches closer.
“Easy, Frank,” I say. “Take it easy.”
Frank’s shoulders drop just the tiniest fraction of an inch, and I breathe a deep sigh. I’m getting through to him.
“Not human,” Frank says. His sadness is pervasive, multiplied by some spiritual grief he’s discovered, and it crushes him.
“You’re Amish,” I say. “You’re human, and you’re Amish.”
“Amish,” Frank says.
“Stay here, Frank,” I say. “Let me give you your bolts.” I scurry, looking around, and I find Frank’s other bolt on the ground near where I’d placed him on the blankets. I retrieve it, and now I have both of them.
“Do you want your bolts, Frank?” I ask.
Frank’s huge head rocks up and down. He’s a child again. An eleven-year-old boy on the inside, a killer robot on the outside.
“Okay. Then change back, please,” I say. I try to sound authoritative, but I don’t know how well I do.
I see the graphene flaps begin to flutter, and then one at a time they scroll back and flip to the inside. Frank shrinks in front of my eyes as he morphs back to his human form.