By S. Joan Popek ©

"Why do I let you talk me into these hare-brained schemes?" Jonas shook his thin forefinger in front of Gordon's broad face, then ran his hand across his own receding hairline. Static electricity pulled his sparse hair to attention on top of his head where it stood straight up like an emaciated shock of wheat and waved gently at Gordon.

Gordon chuckled, "Nice Freudian choice of words there, Jonas. Especially since you're losing all of yours." He laughed and tauntingly patted his own full head of hair.

Jonas snorted, "Well, at least its not dead-mouse gray like that mop on your head. And that has nothing to do with my question. Why are we here? Why didn't you let Amalgamated Electronics send one of their young, flashy geniuses to fix Terra-4U?" He waved his thin hands in the air, screwed his face into a grimace and mimicked, "'Let _us_ go to Mars', you said. '_We'll_ fix old Terra-4U,' you said. 'We built him. We'll fix him,' you said." His voice rose to a high pitched sing-song, then subsided to a growl, "Gordon, you know I hate weightlessness, and the Mars colony is just about the dullest spot in the universe. They recycle everything. Even some of the food, for heaven's sake. Why do I let you put me through this torture for a stupid machine?" He shook an accusing finger again just inches from Gordon's nose.

Gordon dodged his friend's stabbing digit and said, "Machines aren't stupid. Or smart either. They're just machines. They follow orders. Hell, you know that. You designed Terra-4U."

Jonas' fine-lined lips pulled into a leer. "Yeah. And you built him, but obviously not very well, or we wouldn't be here."

"I just followed your specifications. Unmistakably the fault is yours, not mine," Gordon shot back.

"Oh yeah? Any technical engineer with half a brain could follow the schematics and figure out what's wrong with him. Which brings me back to my original question. Why did we have to come?"

"For the money, Old Pal. We're broke. This free-lancing scientist stuff isn't as lucrative as we thought. And put those wild hands of yours away before you give me another black eye. Someday I'm gonna' handcuff your hands behind your back just to see if your mouth works without 'em."

Jonas crammed his hands into his pockets where they jiggled in confinement. "Well we wouldn't be broke if you hadn't insisted on that Singapore fiasco. Big ideas. Always big ideas," he mumbled as he turned to stare out the view port at the red planet below.

"Oh come on, you old goat. Get in the landing boat. The sooner we get down there and fix the robot, the sooner we get to go home." Gordon turned and strode toward the hatch. He glanced back at Jonas just in time to see him make an obscene gesture in his direction.

Gordon's large, blue eyes grew round in mock surprise as he grinned. His craggy face displayed traces of heavy lines beginning to etch themselves into the corners of his mouth and eyes. He returned the gesture good-naturedly. "Promises, promises."

Jonas' grudging laugh at the two men's long standing signal that the disagreement was ended and it was time to go to work rang against the whirring whoosh of the opening hatch. "All right. Let's do it, you old pervert," he grumbled as he followed Gordon into the landing boat.

The short, bulky redheaded engineer who met them at the port smiled, but his blue eyes flashed anxiety. Countless freckles appeared stark against his pale, young face. He shook hands with the two middle-aged men and introduced himself as Charles, the head engineer of the Mars Terra-form project.

As he turned sharply to take them to their quarters, Jonas mouthed to Gordon, "It's happened again. He called us, Sir." Are we that old?"

Gordon grinned and whispered, "To him, we are." Then he said aloud, "Charles, hold up a minute."

The young man stopped and turned to them. "Yes, Sir?"

Jonas scowled, and Gordon said, "Forget quarters for now. Take us to see the robot, and tell us what's happening on the way."

Charles smiled and said, "I was hoping you would get right to work. This thing has us all spooked."

Jonas asked, "Spooked?"

"Yeah, we've never seen a robot behave this way before. Especially one as large and heavily equipped as Terra-4U is. We thought about shutting it down, but no one wants to get that close to its evacuation pods."

"Where is he now?" asked Jonas.

"Same place it's been for the last four days. Just inside the bay door. It hasn't moved. Just sits there and...."

Gordon frowned. "And what?"

"It sings songs, and then it cries."

Jonas' mouth fell open, "Sings and cries? A robot can't cry."

"Well this one does. Not tears, of course. But sobs. Loud, wailing sobs. I tell you, sir, it gives me the jeebies."

Charles' shoulders shivered as if he was suddenly attacked by a chill wind, which was impossible in the absolute, 68 degree temperature of the underground city. He led them through a maze of seemingly unending corridors walled with metallic, grey alloy.

Gordon and Jonas had begun to think he was leading them in circles because the tunnels all looked exactly alike, but finally, the young man stopped in front of an inner air lock.

"Okay. Here we are. Brace yourselves." He palmed the door for identification, and it instantly slid open.

Before the door settled itself into the wall, a keening moan assaulted the three men's ears--a sound that sunk deep into their visceral sections and vibrated like a electric food chopper. It sounded like all the lost souls in Limbo were crying out in unison.

"Christ!" Jonas yelped. "Is that what he's been doing for four days? No wonder you're nervous." He glanced at Gordon, "Close your mouth, Gordon, you look like a corpse."

Gordon shut his gaping mouth and took in the scene inside the airlock.

Hunched near the far wall, its gleaming alloy shell the same shade of gray as the wall, was the ten foot tall, five foot wide Terra-4U. Its twenty limbs flailed indecisively in the air, reminding Gordon of Jonas' habit when he talked. "You've modified him," he accused as he turned questioningly to Charles. "Where did those four extra arms come from? And that thing on his head. What is that?"

Charles blanched. The freckles etched against his white face looked like someone had dotted his face with ink.

"I--we--uh--we just added a couple of extra soil excavators and a sort of jackhammer. The rocks here are pretty hard, you know." His voice became defensive and loud as he strained to be heard above the shrieking din of the robot. "And that *thing,* as you call it, on its head is a very expensive, highly technical sonar tracer that I designed so we could trace him--uh--it if it ever got lost."

The deafening wailing stopped. Terra-4U turned all twelve of his viewer stalks toward them as if he had just become aware of their presence. Each stalk supported a one inch, red sensor globe that acted as an eye. His limbs still waved aimlessly in the air. He seemed to choke back a sob with a tinny growl from his voice plate and rumbled from his digitized sound synthesizer, "Dr. Gordon. Dr. Jonas. How nice to see you. Did you come to see me? No. Of course not," he answered himself. "Who would want to see me?" He brought a limb with a digging tool on the end up to the side of his square head, then laid another limb tipped with a spotlight on the other side, squatted on his foot treads, and looking like a giant, misshapen child who had lost his favorite toy, he began to moan and sing in doleful, tinny notes, "Oh woe is me. Oh I am so woed."

Jonas looked accusingly at Gordon and snapped, "Woed?"

"Well it wasn't important that he understand the rules of grammar. He's supposed to help transform this dustbowl of a planet into a habitable world. You know, like he's a glorified tractor. . .sort of."

Jonas' voice was chilly. "It was in the design layout. You didn't use that part?"

"Well, the company was in a hurry for a working model. Okay, so I cut a few corners."

"How many other corners did you cut?"

"Nothing very important, and, anyway, these guys modified him. I didn't. He was working fine until he got here." He waved an accusing hand at Charles.

Charles said, "Hey. Don't blame me. We didn't change anything vital. Just added a few tools. That's all."

Terra-4U's tinny voice interrupted the blaming-go-round. "Oh, don't fight over me. I am not worth it. I am just a useless hunk of junk. A pile of scrap metal. A heap of...."

Jonas sighed and turned to the metal giant. "Terra-4U, you are not worthless. You're a multi-million dollar project. A prototype."

"Oh, I am so sorry that I cost so much. I am not worthy. Just dismantle my useless frame, and make garbage cans out of me. At least that way, I will be useful." He started singing. "Nobody knows the trouble I have been. Nobody knows but meeeee. ..."

Charles made weak excuses about duty calling and quickly left the two scientists alone with the robot.

Two hours later, after extensive circuit testing, bolt tightening, schematic perusal and listening to endless renditions of Nobody Knows, Your Icy Heart and assorted other depressing tunes, Gordon threw his hands in the air and shook his head. "4U, enough with the songs already," he shouted.

His outburst had little effect as the giant robot began a rendition of a popular Earth tune, Loneliness Is a Mile-High Mushroom Cloud.

Gordon turned to Jonas. "I can't figure it out. I'm stumped. A depressed robot is what we have here." Jonas pursed his thin lips. "Robots can't be depressed."

"Well this one can. And I swear, if he sings one more song, I'll dismantle him personally."

"Gordon, shut up. I'm trying to think." Jonas bent over the com-screen. His brown eyes skimmed the rapidly rolling equations. Suddenly he leaned back in the chair, took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes. "I give up," he said. "I can't find any circuit that enables Terra-4U to recognize music of any type. Or anything that explains how he can be depressed. Depression is a feeling. He's not supposed to have any. Feelings, I mean." He turned to look at the hulking giant in the corner and studied him silently for a while.

Terra-4U sobbed quietly and hummed bits of It's All For Nothing, another popular Earth song.


At the sound of Jonas' voice, the robot looked up and wailed, "Oh woe. Now I have upset my creators. Oh worthless me. I forgot to stop singing like you said, Dr. Gordon." He waved a spiked limb, designed to act as a moisture probe in the dry desert of Mars, at Gordon as if to remind himself of who told him to shut up.

Gordon shrugged his shoulders. "You can't forget an order, 4U, your ROM circuits won't let you. That's directive two. You also cannot disobey an order. That's directive three, so we have a paradox here. You can't, but you did. You bypassed both directives, but that's impossible because of directive one which prevents you from bypassing directive two or three."

Jonas frowned. "That means only one thing. Directive one has been eradicated or replaced."

"By what? And how?" Gordon asked.

"If I knew that, we would be on our way home now," Jonas growled. "Terra, when did you first start feeling--uh--like you feel?"

"Do you mean when did I first realize that I was a worthless hunk of bolts and wires? Good for nothing but scrap?"

"Okay. If you want to put it that way. When?"

Both men fell silent as Terra-4U un-hunched his massive frame and stood up. He placed one of his gripping limbs, with four metal appendages vaguely resembling human fingers, against his cubed forehead and tapped an alloy finger against his metal cranium as if the action would stir memory. A slight whirring-clicking sound filled the silence of the room as he concentrated. "Four days, three hours, thirteen minutes and fifty-four seconds ago. Right after that nice engineer, Charles, made my modifications," he finally chimed.

Jonas nodded. "And do you remember what you were doing immediately before you felt the urge to sing--or cry--whichever came first?"

Silence again as the giant tapped his forehead. "Listening to God."

"What!? Listening to _who_?" Jonas gasped.

Gordon's jaws gaped like a fish's on a hook. "He--he said God, Jonas."

"I heard what he said," Jonas snapped.

"Then why did you ask?" Gordon growled back.

"Would you just shut up a minute?" Jonas turned from his friend back to the robot. "Terra, do you still listen to God?"

"Yes, Dr. Jonas. Wretched unworthy that I am, He still talks to me."

"Terra, how do you hear him?"

"In my brain."

"You don't have a brain, Terra. You have a CPU. You have a hard drive. But no brain."

"Oh woe. I forgot. In my CPU then."

"Does he sing those songs--the ones you sing?"

"No. They come when He is silent."

Jonas thoughtfully stroked the bristle on his chin that he had been trying to cultivate into a beard for twenty years with little success. Finally, he asked, "Terra, when does--uh--God talk to you? Does he have a schedule?"

Gordon snapped his thick fingers. "Jonas, it's a--"

"Shut up, Gordon," Jonas bellowed. "Terra, answer my question."

"Yes, Dr. Jonas, but you really shouldn't talk to Dr. Gordon like that, Sir. He did, after all, build me, and he is your friend, you know."

Jonas waved impatiently with his flying hands. "Yes. Yes, of course. I'm sorry. Now when does God talk to you?"

"I'm sure that Dr. Gordon forgives you," Terra-4U whined. "Wretch that I am for even mentioning it to you."

"Terra! When?" Gordon bellowed before Jonas could.

"At 0700 new Mars time."

"Every day?" Jonas asked in a hushed, controlled voice.


"Does God tell you that you are worthless? Is that why you stopped working?"

"No. I stopped working because God said to stay tuned for his next message, so I must wait. It is an order. I must wait and stay tuned."

Gordon's face held a puzzled expression, "But, 4U, why the songs?"

"They come when God stops talking. I listen while I obey the order and wait."

Jonas cupped his chin in his hands, leaned on the computer and studied the robot. Finally, he asked, "If God didn't say it, why do you think that you are worthless?"

"I reasoned that out from the music. I must be of no use because I have no heart, icy or otherwise, and no one has loved me and left me, and I can not see the gables of my true love's castle because I do not know what a castle is, and I am not worthy of a true love--and--and oh--I can not go on. Ohhhh....Nobody knows the trouble I've been. Nobody knows but meeee..." He fell into the clanking song again and settled back on his treads. He rolled to the wall and turned all twelve eyes away from the two men standing behind him. "Do not look at me, Doctors. I am not worthy." Then he began humming a tinny tune to himself as he faced the wall.

Jonas and Gordon stared at each other. Gordon started laughing first. "It's the darned broadcasts from Earth. Somehow he's picking up the signals from some Evangelist show, and he thinks they are orders directed at him. Directive one isn't gone. It's operating perfectly. He's just obeying orders. But why did he suddenly start picking up the broadcasts?" Jonas grinned and waved his hands at the robot. "It's the sonar tracer. It's tracking more than our robot. Let's find that Charles kid, get the damn thing off of Terra-4U and reprogram him so we can go home."

"I knew it wasn't our fault. I knew it had something to do with that kid's meddling. Maybe we should have a no unauthorized modifications clause in our contracts from now on," Gordon said.

Jonas glared at his lifetime friend. "What contracts? This was the only call we've had in months."

"Yeah, but when they hear about our brilliant deductions and our expertise in robot trouble shooting, the industries will be begging us to work for them."

"Robot trouble shooting? You idiot, we're not troubleshooters. We were just lucky this time because we built Terra-4U."

Gordon laughed. "Yeah. But they don't know that. We'll be rich, I tell you. Rich!" He turned, still laughing and strode toward the door.

Jonas looked at the gray ceiling as if pleading for it to fall on his friend, then at the ponderous robot in the corner. He had a fleeting thought of staying on Mars and sending Gordon and his schemes back to Earth alone until he remembered that Mars recycled everything. Then there was the other thing. Except for Jonas' one short marriage, and Gordon's brief affair in Singapore, neither had taken the time from their careers to cultivate other relationships. They seemed to be the only two people in the universe who could tolerate each other's idiosyncrasies for very long. Sighing, he reluctantly followed his friend out the door in search of Charles, the young engineer.

Many times in later years, Jonas would look back on that fleeting thought and wish that he hadn't been so hasty in his decision. After all, there are worse things in the universe than recycling.


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