R.M. Ahmose Presents Tales You Never Saw Coming is a collection of three stories, each of which is meant to delight with its imaginativeness, quirkiness, and sometimes eyebrow-raising social commentary. While robots are the stated central characters in the lead story "Better Design," this tale actually highlights features of human society. "Saved" blends religion, devoutness, doubt, agnosticism, and ill fortune. The final story, "Psychotherapy and Desserts," presents a tale of intrigue based on an experience at a community mental health center.
A suspenseful collection of stories, R.M. Ahmose Presents Tales You Never Saw Coming pays heed to the idea that nothing is as it seems.
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Tales You Never Saw Coming
By R.M. Ahmose
Universe, Inc.Copyright © 2009 R.M. Ahmose
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Better Design
* * *
A report by journalists Lefty Person and Dee-Dee Day
Be advised: This tale is mainly about the behaviors of two groups of robots. However, the people whose brains, sweat, and tears went into making, maintaining, monitoring, and manipulating them are of some importance, too. Thus, a measure of time is sacrificed to shed light on the sapiens, as well, in this account. In an odd twist of circumstances, the humans in many ways proved more predictable than the "nuts and bolts" characters presented.
On the other hand, it comes to mind something said in a promo for the 1969 film, "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" People, it was suggested, are the ultimate spectacle. So, we, the presenting journalists, leave it to you to decide whether man or machine steals the show in the drama to follow. But, again, from our perspective, this tale is mainly about the behaviors of two groups of brainless automatons.
The story opens with a view of its secondary "players," the humans. Included is a brief look at their educational and other backgrounds. From two rival institutions within the same state hale the robot makers. Spotlighted first is the more remarkable cadre of engineering professors and students, among the duo of sets. That would be the group representing LeBlanc University.
In its seventy-year existence, LeBlanc launched careers of some of the most distinguished professionals of the past half century. Its scholars excel in areas ranging from science-related disciplines to politics. Framed LeBlanc doctoral degrees have adorned office-walls of the most influential women and men in our nation. Enjoying the bestowed honor have been, and are, those running the gamut from corporate executives to world renowned theologians, from oceanographers to astronauts.
While new compared to its other academic programs, LeBlanc's school of robotics engineering is fast becoming nationally respected. Indeed, the professors who founded and nurture the program are completely dedicated to enhancing that recognition. Whispers abound that an elitist faction of educators, in general, at LeBlanc are given to enormous pride and pompous affect. By all accounts, LeBlanc engineering professors not only condone such hubris, they aspire to be among LeBlanc's so-called "egotistical tenth."
The avenue to achieving that status: outstanding research. Consequently, they conduct their work with fierce, almost hostile, dedication and resolve. They appear not only to aim for irrefutable success, but also in the end to be held in awe. Whether or not the professors intended it, their students seem to have adopted the same drive for achieving glory and renown.
Names and descriptions of the LeBlanc robotics team are presented for later reference. Comprising the five robotics professors are: 1) Dr. Demorest Box, micro-circuits and wiring; 2) Dr. Lumus ("Lu") Haxsaw, functional programming; 3) Dr. Glef Hortzenstal, casing and structure; 4) Dr. Brianna ("Bree") Quietly, mechanical motion; and 5) Dr. William ("Bill") Trimolke, remote signal transmission. Their ages span a neat fifteen-year range, from forty-one years on.
Dr. Eazl Attababy oversees LeBlanc's entire engineering department. While the fifty-eight-year-old is especially fond of robotics, he is not formally part of the team. However, with specialties in fields as wide-ranged as architecture, integrated circuitry, and bionic-parts design, Attababy often contributes useful ideas to the team.
LeBlanc's nine robotics engineering students all have impressive academic records. There seems no question but that each is a credit to both the robotics team and LeBlanc itself. As was done for the professors, the students are presented below in alphabetical order, rather than order of significance. To foster an appreciation for how "3-dimensionaal" each is, a word or two about their looks, locks and home-lives, is included. Descriptions correspond to the time that interviews were being conducted, to gather information for this report.
Ivan Api, twenty, reportedly can boast a IQ eight times his age. Two of his standout features are blondish scraggly hair and his height of only five feet, eight inches. His mom's a zoo director, his father a co-owner of several daycare facilities. Saul Caristmas, nineteen, in contrast stood over six feet tall with light-brown, curly textured hair. In relation to his height, his arms appear slightly short. His father directs a charity organization that is active the world over. The owner of several lucrative pawnshops, his mother had the far-greater income of the two.
Sarah Chichingski, twenty, wore her brown hair cut stylishly at medium length. Her father got rich from clever stock trades and now lectures nationally about it, for pay. Mrs. Chichingski is a top level official in the U.S. Federal Reserve. Tasha Heffergel, another of the four females of the student team, was also twenty. She sported long, dark-brown hair, held in place from day to day with a variety of schemes and tethers. Her mother's a surgeon, her father a retailer in expensive draperies. In contrast, Lindsey Jipper, nineteen, is a natural blond with shoulder-length hair. Both her parents were in t.v. advertisement.
Brian Noos, twenty-one, has a lot of long, unruly, medium-brown hair which falls constantly over his round face and spectacles. His mother, a former attorney, disappeared mysteriously two years prior in a boating incident. His father is an international shipper of twine and chord. He also owns and leases marina boats.
For what it's worth, Mr. Noos was rumored to be of key interest to police in his wife's disappearance. However, from what we could tell, investigators of the case made no such admission.
Mona Novapovka, twenty, has the look of a seductive, dark-haired siren. However, by all accounts she's both socially lofty and academically immersed. Accordingly, fellow students get little more, socially, from her than fleeting attention. Her mother's an airline pilot; her father a balloon manufacturer.
Vander Sanbo, twenty-one, is tall, blond, athletically built, with a chiseled, determined face and intense facial expression. Although unaware of it, he often ogles those with whom he chats with an odd stare. Some say it is as if he were viewing an evil presence or something. His mother is a highly successful mystery-suspense writer. His father is on the board of a toy-making corporation.
The ninth, and last-presented, student is Jon Smitten. He was nineteen at the time of this writing. Overall, the impression held by professors and fellow students was of his having been a generally wholesome young man. Stable, reliable, well-groomed, he seems never to have had a hair strand out of place. His mother works with a team of scientists who find and classify new species of birds and insects. His father owns a company that makes precision tools.
Before giving mention to LeBlanc's rival in the showcasing of robots, a preliminary description of the contest is presented. The idea for it was born in a science center/museum complex. Not just any-but the premier one within the state: the InnerGalaxy Science Center. Its director, a Mr. Miteus McPeak, actually proposed the match.
McPeak was aware, as many were by this time, of LeBlanc's pioneering work in a new procedure. While the storage of solar energy, in cells, is nothing new, the re-radiation of it after storage is. In other words, LeBlanc researchers were in effect capturing energy from the sun and distributing it later, within a specialized environment. So, for limited applications, it was like having access to solar radiation over a period beyond actual sunlight. It is perhaps foreseeable that the practice will someday be a routine matter with much more advanced production and utilization. For now, however, the LeBlanc technology is considered both novel and state of the art.
Everyone at the InnerGalaxy, including McPeak, took great interest in a somewhat anomalous development in their state. A mid-status, state-run college had put together a fledgling robotics program within its school of engineering. Actually the planning had been underway for years. But its quiet start occurred around the same time as LeBlanc's. Even then, few knew of its existence. Surprisingly, this "new" program over time received two good reviews from visiting scientists. Like many science-related happenings in his state, the miniature kudos referred to were likewise brought to McPeak's attention.
At this point, the "gears" of Mr. McPeak's "mental apparatus" began to turn. Finally, it churned out an idea he thought might gain great national press for his center. Like many other science-minded folk, he had watched on t.v., and also attended, intra-collegiate robot competitions. What if, he wondered, in his state a way was found to combine LeBlanc's new solar research with something new in robot competition? Of course, just the right relation between the two would have to be conceived in order to stir maximum curiosity and attention. After days of thought, he came up with a plan. He called a meeting with the relevant officials at both schools of interest.
Believing fully in the merits of scholastic competitions, McPeak proposed that a robotics match be held right within InnerGalaxy. The center would provide the area required and bear the expense of the needed props and set-up.
Soon, he announced his overall vision to a group he convened. It was of robots devised to operate from first- and second-hand solar energy supplies. Immediately, at his pause to reorder his thoughts, it caused murmurings within his audience. McPeak continued.
Since the robots could be "fed" continually without constricting electrical hookups, a much neater, less jumbled arena could be constructed. Requiring neither power-feeding wires nor remote control functioning, the machines could be programmed to operate with greater autonomy, he said.
Beyond the creation of little radiation-powered machines, McPeak stated another challenge to be met. It concerned finding the right task at which the two separate teams of robots would compete. This, of course, was a standard in robot contests. But McPeak envisioned a match slightly more exotic ("sexy," he jokingly called it) than the typical "low brow" robot endeavors.
These latter, he cited, with intentional dismal affect, include the old, run-of-the-mill, dull robot activities. Examples he gave were such as having robotic arms vie for scores in pitching balls into a net. Others, he reminded the audience, involve "awkward contraptions" engaged in "boring quests." Examples he gave, now, were of vehicular robots maneuvering across, through, and over obstacles, or avoiding them altogether. And in these, the robots were often battery-powered having only so much energy to burn in the tasks. He evoked the memory of other contests wherein strange-looking machines slogged around attached to thick electric cords.
McPeak's imagined robots, on the other hand, would receive energy constantly, through invisible waves. And it would be thanks to solar work pioneered and conducted at LeBlanc. Now, with this novel and fabulous technology, a whole new set of exciting activities of robots in competition could be devised.
When McPeak finally revealed the full scale of his vision of robot functioning, the listeners around the table sat in thoughtful silence. In a nutshell,McPeakpresentedthis:Hewantedtoseerobotsfromtheuniversity and college, respectively, compete in not one but two categories. The usual mechanical task, of one sort or another, comprised just one of them. In addition, McPeak suggested that the machines be required to demonstrate learning, i.e., category two. This acquiring of "knowledge" should occur alongside the robots' obligatory kinesthetic doings.
The fact that McPeak was politically well-connected gave some weight to his recommendations at the conference. But that accounted for only a fraction of the appeal his proposal generated.
As McPeak was well aware, his audience was largely composed of academic researchers. That being the case, the essentials of his scheme had two clear benefits: First was the face simplicity of it in the midst of a lofty objective. No aspects of the proposal seemed dauntingly unmanageable. Second, it had a quality such as to inspire a spirit of challenge. While the robotic skills involved were in present-technology range, it was clear that the project would require much thought and planning. In addition, the prospect of inducing mechanical learning, and having it displayed, always brought excitement.
The proposal's academic seductiveness and lure of excitement were one thing. But it had another attractive feature-namely, its seeming ability to garner much national interest and publicity. Notably, officials from both schools found that appealing. There were always benefits to accrue from that level of exposure. They ranged from heightened school enrollments to increased private, state and federal funding.
So far, only one group of the competitors has been highlighted, along with the school that spawned them and the man initiating the contest. Finally, LeBlanc's rival in the robot competition was state-financed Hughe College. The seven robotics students in the Hughe engineering program were under the tutelage of five talented professors. Altogether, though, their ordinary lives and circumstances contrasted sharply with those of their counterparts. They certainly were of far less financial means. Forgoing, here, a special presentation of them, the Hughe members get introduction as they appear in the unfolding of events in this report.
The teams were given a year to prepare for the competition. At least one local t.v. station had signed an agreement to air it. Depending on the level of publicity and interest stimulated, however, many believed coverage could go national.
As had been earlier stipulated, LeBlanc would make Hughe familiar with the properties of radiation to be emitted throughout the robot "work" area. The robots, you will recall, were to get their energy requirement from this source. There was nothing for LeBlanc to be concerned about in this sharing of information. Engineers were careful, in the information transfer, not to disclose secretly-held processes of acquisition, storage and reemission. Understandably, LeBlanc had ambitions to develop, unilaterally, their technology farther and market it wisely.
The issue of just what physical task the robots would undertake had been decided early. It needed to be simple-these were, after all, just robots. It needed to be entertaining-human audiences, as the teams knew, love a show. It needed to show imagination-Mr. McPeak's public image was on the line. As one might imagine, the choice of deeds assigned the machines would also influence their designs. Sixty days of hatching ideas, and hashing through mixtures of proposals and reformulations, finally bore fruit.
For sure, there were many matters to be considered. Learning, regardless of the recipient in question, often requires numerous trials. Thus the overall competition would have to involve repetitive sessions. McPeak envisioned, for maximum effect, robots performing over several meters of distance. For this application, smaller sized robots were favored-30 centimeters in height. The robotic task chosen was that of pushing and maneuvering small, three-dimensional geometric figures. By design, robots would "learn" to be more skilled in positioning these to drop into matching floor slots.
Eventually, the decision makers had to tackle head-on an issue they seemed to be avoiding. The energy absorption feature for the robots, it was known, was going to significantly damage their parts. In address of this matter, robots were to be composed of materials inexpensive and disposable. However, this decision impacted directly the plan for having the robots undergo repetitive sessions for learning.
The solution came from the mind of LeBlanc's Dr. Attababy. He confidently proposed robot-memory transplantation. After a set of robots, he explained, had its trial in performing the desired task, their programs would be removed. Within each program was a "memory" of the last adventure. For each robot, its collection of memory bytes would then be inserted into the program of its replacement robot.
It was Professor Sheila Deal of Hughe who expanded and refined Attababy's ingenious scheme. She did it by tying into an initially-laid requirement in the robot tasks. Her proposal was as follows:
Dr. Deal suggested that one hundred of the inexpensive robots be designed for each team. However, both sides would require only ten "pieces" of insert-capable memory-hardware. These would be the most expensive parts of the robots, so limiting them to ten-per-team satisfied cost concerns. For each team, the ten memories, within the first ten robots, would be reused nine more times. In total, these ten usages would correspond to each team's set of ten robot trials. So, again, there would be ten robots per trial, per team. This summed to two hundred robots, one hundred built by each school.
Excerpted from Tales You Never Saw Coming by R.M. Ahmose Copyright © 2009 by R.M. Ahmose. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents
ContentsThe Better Design....................1
Psychotherapy and Desserts....................170