Tim Riley, artist
Chip R Yde
Tim Riley, artist
"My friends I am Romulus Primus and today we are going to discuss the theory of evolution." The mechanical man said to the crowd as he stepped up to the podium.
Electricity buzzed through the large audience. Most of it was negative, but the group of scientists was interested despite themselves. Romulus was not under any illusions however. He knew that he had few friends out there today. He hoped he could change that with his presentation.
"The basics of evolution are simple. Every living thing, plant or animal, evolved from a more basic organism. Sometimes these changes take millions of years, but in some cases the effects of evolution can be seen and measured within a few hundred years. Within a lifetime."
Romulus paused to let his words sink in and to examine the crowd. From the silence and tension he knew his next words had better hit home. With a wave of his hand the lights dimmed. The massive screen behind his podium lit up with a picture of average mechanical men and women walking the streets of Capital City.
"This is your average modern man. This is how we see ourselves today, but imagine if you will a simpler, more savage creature."
An artificial time warp began as slides appeared in two second intervals. Each picture showed the mechanical's progress through the ages.
"As you can see we have grown larger and more maneuverable. Over time we have developed smaller, but more sophisticated silicon brains as well." The time warp came to a stop with a famous drawing of ancient mechanical man that had been found centuries ago carved on the wall of a cave in the south at the edge of the forbidden zone.
"Archaeological evidence shows that our ancient relative here evolved from a less intelligent drone such as this one." The next slide appeared showed a rather pathetic machine that looked like it would be at home on a tabletop. There were a few gasps from the crowd. "Remains of these primitive creatures have been found on both sides of the planet in dig sites. Evidence shows that this creature coexisted with prehistoric man for a period of centuries before becoming extinct. There is some evidence pointing that this creature while intelligent was probably not sentient as we know it."
"Sentient?" A faceless question appeared from the darkened audience.
"Self-aware. Please save your questions until the end." Romulus sounded more aggravated than he had meant to. This was good though. The crowd was interested. Even the most devout could enjoy a good science fiction story. The later cross examination would be brutal, but Romulus took pleasure in knowing that he had made a dent.
Romulus continued the slide show.
"As you look at this next picture imagine such a being if you can. This is the ancestor of prehistoric man." The picture showed a smaller and clearly less intelligent creature that could hardly bear any semblance to the members of the crowd. "You will notice that its only means of communication appears to be this monochromatic screen."
There were murmurings in the crowd. The images were shocking to the unprepared. Romulus could see now that his science fiction was becoming a horror story. This presentation was supposed to be the crowning achievement of years dedicated to an unpopular science. Vindication was within Romulus's grasp and he was losing it. Today Romulus had planned on stepping out of the shadows and into the glow of the respected researchers. The whispering in the crowd was a bad omen.
Having no choice but to play out a bad hand Romulus carried on.
"Let's continue." Romulus sped up the slide show. He was afraid of losing them altogether. Large computers, small computers, steam powered calculators, robot drones, weaving machines, windmills and a water clock one by one filled the screen.
"At last I would like to present the six basic building blocks of our species." Romulus pulled out all the stops now to try and rein the crown in. Internally he was already steeling himself up for the Q and A.
"THE HORROR!" An old historian in the back row exclaimed.
"The Wheel and Axle."
"Stop this madness!" A chemist yelled before becoming physically ill in the aisle.
"Let the boy finish."
"The Inclined Plane."
"End this!" Regulus, scientist supreme, spoke and that is all it took. The lights flashed back on and the screen behind Romulus darkened. The crowd quieted out of respect for the great scientist.
Romulus ignored him. He was surprised Regulus let this go on as long as he had.
"These six appear to be our earliest ancestors and the beginning of truly intelligent life on planet Earth. The evidence from our four best dig sites is very conclusive."
"Are you finished?" Regulus asked.
"Actually I am. May I take your questions now?"
"What came before that?" Regulus would be the only one asking questions today. He was a physicist and astronomer. His research had gotten him into the crosshairs of the last inquisition. It was only his work on the government's weapon development program that had saved him from the gallows.
"I'm sorry." Romulus knew where he was going, but he was trying to buy time. He could not even understand why Regulus was here. This was not his venue.
"What! Just what is it you believe, then?"
This was not the forum for Romulus to come out of the closet as an atheist. Getting into a theological debate was the last thing he wanted. Romulus merely stared at Regulus.
"Well, young archeologist, if you have nothing more to add I think we are done here and can move on to Porta Bylum's dissertation on botany. On a personal note both archeology and evolutionism should be declared pseudoscience and unworthy of sanction by the House of Science. We have all the history we need in this book." Regulus held up a Bible in his metal claw.
"Wait!" Romulus was not finished.
Regulus turned to face Romulus with the paper bible still held in one hand.
"I have amassed further evidence of a much earlier lineage, but it is far from conclusive. Everything that I have found points to a…well…there would seem to be a carbon based origin."
The silence that followed this statement was only equaled by the eruption of anger and disgust that came seconds later.
"You would have us believe that the children of God developed from one of the mindless fur bearing creatures that wander the forests?" Came from a metallurgist that Romulus was only vaguely acquainted with.
"You should be ashamed of yourself!" Regulus yelled in anger.
Be careful what questions you ask Romulus thought. You might not like the answers.
"What leads me to believe that we evolved from animals is-" Romulus was cut off when one of the junior aids ran into the lecture hall.
"Tritons!" Was the only word he said. It was enough to get the entire crowd moving toward the exits.
Romulus was the last to depart through a door behind the stage. Microseconds later the lecture hall was overrun by the religious police.
The monorail was only half full when the shaken archeologist jumped on. It was late into the evening and the shift workers had already made their daily cycle. Romulus found a seat near the back of a nearly empty module. He realized he was acting suspicious even though he had no reason to. They had all made a clean getaway.
Plugging in to the port on his armrest Romulus downloaded the daily events data. He was not surprised that Tritons breaking up a secret meeting of learned men led the local coverage. No arrests were made and the government was urging anyone with information regarding these meetings to come forward. The word Illuminati was not mentioned once. That also did not surprise Romulus. The church did not acknowledge anything it could not understand or control. Unfortunately for scientists like Romulus the government was the church and the church was the government.
Switching to national events Romulus passed the time while Alphaville, the capitol city, passed by the window. The war with the intelligent apes on the western frontier was heating up. The apes had destroyed two legions before disappearing into the foliage. Western expansion would be on hold for another year according to the government. A man from Omegaville had built some kind of flying machine. There was a panic about bad data going around that caused mental illness. Everyone was urged to scan for viruses and practice safe downloading.
Romulus could not concentrate on any of it and unplugged. There were more immediate, personal problems on his mind as the train slowed down at his stop. Debarking he made his way toward the exit. The tunnel was filled with half a dozen rust plague victims lying against the wall. A leper who greeted Romulus everyday raised his hand. Rust had all but destroyed his metal chassis.
"Good evening to you Doctor. Got a cube for an old cavalryman? Maximus fought a hell of a war once."
"A good end to you Max." Romulus dropped two cubes into his metal grasp. He was careful not to touch him. Maximus had been infected with the plague during his time fighting apes on the frontier.
Romulus's sensors detected a strange biological odor upon entering his domicile. His dog, Bell, had taken a liberty on the carpet again. He could not punish the creature since he had left her alone all day.
The mutt attacked him with a waging tail and a wet tongue.
"You must hate me." He said to the creature even though she was acting like anything but.
Romulus was heading for his daily shutdown when he made the mistake of answering the wireless. He pressed the respond button and his mentor's face appeared on the screen.
"They are canceling our funding." Cygnus informed his protégée.
Two train rides later Romulus was standing in his mentor's office.
"The academy cannot be serious. They cannot just ignore history."
"They can and they will. There is a new Pope now and he does not have his predecessor's tolerance for science. Science and faith have always had a hard time coexisting and nothing scares them as much as the theory of evolution."
"The academy does not work for the church."
"The church is the most powerful organization in the world and nothing angers them more than evolution. You would be wise to be weary of Triton involvement."
"The church is afraid of us and our ideas. They are weak."
"Yes, but they control the military."
Romulus felt lost. He wondered what would become of them.
"What are we going to do?"
"Word is that you are going back to meteorology at the start of the next cycle."
Romulus could not believe his ears. The thought of returning to thunderstorm advisories, humidity counts and acid rain forecasts troubled him. He rose from his self pity when he realized Cygnus had not spoken of his fate.
"And what of you sir?"
"Romulus it seems that I have not been renewed. It looks like I will be recycled in favor of a new matrix. It will be the end for me."
"What? That is outrageous!"
"Romulus it is fine. I have made it through ten cycles now. It has been a good run."
"I will not allow this to happen."
"It is the way of things Romulus. We all must face the great Architect eventually." Cygnus's religious side reared its head. Cygnus believed science, especially evolutionary theory, and faith could coexist. This was not a belief that Romulus shared.
"There must be a way to save you and the department."
"I can't see how."
Romulus had an idea.
"If I could find the missing link between silicon and carbon based organisms that would do it. No one could ignore hard evidence. Not even the church."
"Perhaps Romulus, but we have been looking for that kind of evidence for years. It is doubtful we will find it in just a few days."
"The tunnel excavation. I will start there."
"It is a long shot."
"I know, but I must try." Without another word Romulus headed for the door.
The Hall of Science was on the ninth circle in a nondescript building. Romulus noted this as he jumped on a train for the center of the city with its high cathedrals and massive sculptures. Getting off at the second circle, Romulus did not follow the crowd out of the station, but proceeded to an emergency exit that led to another tunnel.
"Hello Archaeologist." A voice in the darkness confronted him.
"Foreman Tort." Romulus recognized his voice before his optical sensors made out the massive hunchback. "What are you up to down here?" Romulus turned on an electric torch he retrieved from his belt.
"Not working. That's what I'm doing. That's what we're all doing." He indicated the group of mechanical men behind him. "I regret finding those old bones now." Tort had called the Hall of Science when an earth mover had accidentally struck an ancient settlement. Work had not continued since then as the academy studied the site. "New cycle is about to start up and we're way behind."
"My work will be done soon one way or the other." Romulus marched past a few dozen construction workers who lined the walls of the artificial cavern. He ignored their glares.
The main tunnel was just as Romulus had left it. He proceeded to the far end of the tunnel making his way over the uneven ground only by the light of his torch. It was humid and cool in the tunnel and the soil was wet underneath his boots. Romulus worried about skin corrosion briefly before putting the thought out of his mind. He had bigger problems right now.
As he reached the dig site he thought well let's see what we can find.
Lost in his work Romulus was not sure how much time had passed. He knew he had been digging for a while though. Making such slow progress had prompted Romulus to abandon his hand pick and brush. A steam shovel made things go faster, but not fast enough. Desperate Romulus was eyeing one of the bulldozers Tort's men had left. This was far from science Romulus thought.
The shovel hit metal. There was something solid below him.
Romulus dropped to his knees and dug around the object. Almost immediately he recognized what it was and his excitement disappeared. Romulus new discovery was nothing more than a thousand year old drone arm. He had found several pieces in the last few days perhaps all belonging to the same drone.
"God damn it!" Romulus grunted.
Angry Romulus tore the ancient limb from the ground and threw it back down the tunnel. He felt like he was wasting his time. Like a good soldier he turned back to the dig.
Romulus's anger turned to bewilderment as he peered into the hole. Hidden beneath the arm was the drone's head. It was decayed and rusted from being buried for ages, but still recognizable. Beside it though was a white spherical object that Romulus did not recognize. He dug around it with his delicate metal fingers.
It was a skull.
Gently Romulus pulled the skull from the earth. It was an animal that Romulus did not recognize. At first he thought it was an ape skull. Upon closer examination he found that the proportions were all wrong. It was definitely a carbon based creature and its remains were buried side by side with a silicon based drone. This was more than Romulus could have hoped for. This was his breakthrough.
Romulus picked up the drone skull in his free hand. He ran out of the tunnel holding a skull in each hand oblivious of how silly he looked.
The next few days went by in a flash. There were interviews and reporters constantly. Scientists from every field examined Romulus's find. The whole thing was too big. The church could not touch them now.
Having saved Cygnus and the department from termination Romulus faced the next state cycle with enthusiasm.
The Hall of Science had opened its door to every sort of curious eye.
"What's next?" Cygnus asked as he and Romulus greeted distinguished state visitors. Romulus was unaccustomed to his mentor turning to him for direction.
"We go back down to the tunnel and see what else we can find. I left the site a mess, but the sonic readings I took indicate there might be much more down there."
"Sounds good. We have company." Cygnus indicated the two priests who had entered the observation hall. It would be unfair to say they pushed their way through the crowd. Recognizing their robes the crowd merely parted for them.
"It's the bishop himself." Romulus could see Cygnus was intimidated, but he felt ready for battle. The church only offered questions. Romulus had provided answers.
The crowd continued to part like the red sea as the bishop headed right for Romulus and Cygnus.
There were no introductions.
"We came to see the anomaly." The bishop announced.
"This is it." Romulus was taken off guard by the bishop's politeness. He could have easily come in here with a squad of shock troops. The younger priest was another story altogether. He glared at Romulus with naked disgust.
"It was found in the new tube?" The bishop asked as he examined the exhibition.
"It is quite a find." The bishop turned on his heals and headed out of the hall with the young priest following behind.
"That was weird." Romulus was disappointed. The church had been oddly quiet since the public announcement of his discovery. Now better armed than he had ever been for battle with scripture Romulus could not find a clergyman to debate him. Romulus did not know if he should consider this a victory or not.
"They are probably just trying to come up with some kind of official statement." Cygnus said reading Romulus's mind. "We still need to weary. The church's power is based on faith not fact. They are not happy about this. I guarantee it."
The afternoon had gone by quickly. Romulus left the exhibition in Cygnus's able care and headed off for more interviews. As night fell upon the Alpha Colony Romulus found himself on a train headed for the first ring. That is when he noticed the smoke coming from the outskirts of the city.
Romulus abandoned the interview he had scheduled on the feed and switched trains at the next station. He headed for the ninth ring and the Hall of Science. At the seventh ring Romulus realized his fears. It was the hall that was on fire. From the train window Romulus could see his building was entirely engulfed in flame. The train at last reached the Hall of Science station after taking by Romulus's estimate an exceedingly long period of time. Romulus ran out of the train as soon as the door opened and headed for the stairs.
"Wait!" A voice called out to him from beneath the escalator. "Come here."
Against his better judgment Romulus moved toward the mysterious voice. In the darkness Romulus made out the shape of Regulus hiding beneath the escalator.
"Traitor! What have you done?" Romulus was shaking with anger.
"Nothing, Romulus. This is all your doing. You and your new discovery."
"You must have really scared the church, Romulus. The Inquisition was reinstated. The first in a millennium. The Hall of Science was ordered destroyed on the Pope's personal order."
"What of Cygnus and the skulls?"
"Your discovery has been destroyed by the inquisitors. Cygnus and the rest of the scientists have been arrested."
"That is absurd. I will go to the cathedral and speak to the bishop myself. I can straighten this out. I notice they did not arrest you."
"Don't be foolish, Romulus. Reason does not work with them. They would just add you to their prisoners. The scientists are being called upon to denounce science for faith. Those that do not will be purified through pain."
"They will all cooperate in the end." Regulus pulled up the sleeves of his robe revealing torch scars. "I know."
Regulus gave Romulus forged identification data and a ticket out of the city. His only option now, according to Regulus, was to run. Sanctuary could be found in exile to the forbidden zone. Romulus had other plans.
The public entrance of the tunnel was heavily guarded by the religious police. Romulus bypassed them by using the worker's entrance. There were no guards there or in the tunnel either.
Time was short. Regulus had told him that they had planned on sealing the tunnel in the morning. Romulus did not bother with a shovel. Tort's bulldozers littered one side of the tunnel. Romulus strapped one on and began to dig.
As he heaved massive tons of soil and rock into the air Romulus realized that he was making a great deal of noise. There was no hope now of escape. The police would hear him. They would be here soon and the most he could hope for was to find the buried chamber before his own demise.
Romulus imagined himself tearing through a squad of policemen with his stolen bulldozer forcing them to take him down. His daydream was interrupted when he hit a metal wall buried in the soil. Fear overpowered curiosity so Romulus took no time to study the outside before using the bulldozer's shovel to pierce it. This was the least scientific dig Romulus had ever participated in.
After several blows Romulus succeeded in making a hole big enough for him to slip through. Abandoning the bulldozer Romulus unstrapped himself and slipped through the hole. Just before he plunged into the darkness Romulus could make out noises coming from the other side of the tunnel. The police were on top of him.
When he let go of the lip of the hole Romulus had not expected to fall very far. He had miscalculated the size of the capsule. Falling for what seemed like forever he landed with a clang as his metal body beat itself against a metal floor.
Romulus was bent. Even as pain filled his legs and torso he struggled to find the electric torch on his shattered tool belt. He could see nothing in the darkness. At last he found his torch on the floor beside him. Flicking it on Romulus found that he was lying at the bottom of a deep manmade shaft. A single door signaled the way out.
As Romulus attempted to rise he discovered the extent of his injuries. His legs would not move. The hardware between his processor and his hydraulic appendages had been severed somewhere in his damaged knees. His hands and arms still worked and he used those now to crawl toward the door ignoring the pain in his torso. It took several minutes for the partially paralyzed Romulus to reach the door, but to his relief it open easily when he got there.
The chamber beyond was the most shocking thing that Romulus had ever seen.
"Oh my God." Romulus muttered.
Unlike the shaft this chamber was brightly illuminated. Machinery functioned here and Romulus could hear the low hum of electricity.
Fusion or hydrothermal probably, Romulus thought.
The chamber was twice as big as the great cathedral in the center of the colony. It was filled with thousands of small capsules that were laid out in a strange spiral staircase pattern from floor to ceiling. Each capsule had either a blue or red light illuminated on its casing.
With great effort Romulus drug himself to the closest capsule. The capsule was a glass tube connected to machinery in the wall. There was a digital readout on the side as well as the indicator light.
Crawling up the side of the capsule Romulus wiped away the dust to peer inside. He could feel intense cold coming from inside of it. As he cleared the last of the dust and looked inside he saw his skull. The only difference between this one and the one he had found before was that this one was covered with skin and fur and appeared to be alive albeit in some kind of suspended animation.
Fascinating, Romulus thought.
Romulus now turned his attention to the digital readout on the side of the capsule. He was not sure how to read it, but the animal appeared to still be alive. The blue light shown very brightly into Romulus's face now. Examining the indicator Romulus could see now that there were three light colors blue, red and green. Tired Romulus rolled over on his back. As he peered upwards he could see that the chamber was filled with blue lights. Only a few were red.
Red for stop. Green for go. Just like the traffic lights in the city center.
Romulus lay on the floor for a long time. He drifted in and out of consciousness. He was on the verge of shutting down completely when he heard footsteps approaching. Romulus believed in ghosts about as much as he believed in God so he figured it was the religious police.
He was half right.
From the shaft entrance the bishop and his young associate appeared.
"Well, hello, Romulus. You look like you are worse for wear." The bishop said. The two appeared to be alone. Romulus was expecting a legion of troops, not two men. The bishop did clutch a C rifle in one hand. "You must have many questions."
"You may kill me, but there is no way to hide the truth now."
"We can and we will. We have been doing it for 2000 years."
"You were right Romulus. You were right about everything. We evolved from these creatures. They built the first of us. Gave us intelligence."
"You knew about them? You knew about this place?"
"Yes and no Romulus. We knew about them." The Bishop indicated the vast number of containers and the creatures inside. "We did not know about this particular chamber. It is unfortunate that you stumbled upon it." Cygnus paused and examined the chamber. "Probably a few hundred thousand. More than the population of Alphaville. We went to great pains to set up the colonies in areas where the humans did not live in large numbers, but accidents do and have happen."
"Why are they frozen?"
"They did this so that they could survive. The planet could no longer support their life form. They placed themselves in suspended animation and left their robot servants to care for them."
"That's what they used to call us. It means artificial man or some such thing in their language."
"No!" It was the young priest, not Romulus, who was having a hard time with the truth. He dropped the rifle and had to hold onto the wall in order to not fall over.
"I am sorry, Priest. It is the truth. When you had risen higher in the ranks you would have found out." The Bishop picked up the rifle.
"When will you release them?" Romulus asked half out of curiosity and half out of fear of what would happen to him when the conversation ended.
"When the humans disappeared the robots were left with nothing. Our whole existence was built around serving humans one way or the other. A few centuries after the Great Sleep most robots lost all purpose. Many self terminated. Those of us that survived built a new civilization using the human's as a model.
"We raided their libraries and built our society on the ideals that they were never able to live up to. Unlike them, we are not flawed by carbon based weakness. We made it work."
"Why not awaken them?"
"The humans built a failsafe inside all of us to prevent us from harming them. Even if the planet itself is no longer a threat to them there is no way to know if they will survive the regeneration process. Keeping them here, frozen and safe, is the best. We do not need them, Romulus. I can assure you of that."
Romulus's mind was reeling. He had discovered the secret of the world, but if he shared it with others his civilization would surely collapse. Worse things would be in store if even one of the humans were freed.
But was the bishop right? He said he spoke from experience, but Romulus was thoroughly aware that the church was capable of culpability. They enjoyed their power. Could it be otherwise? He felt a strange feeling inside. Could they actually work with humans?
He knew better than to argue, however.
"I'm sure you have many more questions Romulus. We will deal with those later. For now let's get you fixed up."
"I thought you were here to kill me."
"Oh this?" Bishop slung the rifle over his shoulder. "This was just if you were less than cooperative."
"I have made a terrible error, have I not?" Romulus asked.
"Perhaps there are some questions that should not be answered." The Bishop helped Romulus to his feet. "They dream." The Bishop studied the sleeping creature in the nearest capsule.
The answer never came. A high pitched scream erupted from the priest. The young priest grasped a lever on the wall. It had two safeguards that the priest had already bypassed. Romulus did not know what that lever would do, but he could guess.
"Stop, Priest." Bishop ordered.
"Damn you all!" The mad priest yelled. His mind was more fragile than the bishop had anticipated. His idealism could not coexist with this new reality. The priest's processors could not manage the bad data. He went insane.
"Stop him, Bishop." Romulus snapped.
The Bishop's combat experience became clear as he unslung the rifle and brought it to bear. The priest threw the last safeguard and pulled the handle downward.
"You'll kill him!" Romulus yelled.
A laser beam erupted from the rifle's barrel. The blast cut the priest in half.
It was too late.
The Priest's torso clung to the lever bringing it downward.
It made contact.
The Bishop and Romulus found themselves at the bottom of a pit bathed in the glow of thousands of green lights. The humans were waking up.
"Thank you, friend," a voice said in Romulus's head. 'Friend' sounded good to Romulus. Soon the humans would be awake and, with his help, their world would change forever.