The Engine rumbled. Banks of cognitative circuits warmed up, and the zoological confabulator began humming. The confabulator demanded the services of the para-linguistic modulators, which drew on the hologrammatical memories, and several supplemental storage systems. Massive gears began to turn as auxiliary power generators came online to support the additional load. Pistons and wheels and little spring-loaded frobbotzim turned in unison, and soon the Engine's framework rocked subtly and steadily, growing in intensity until Mrorl could feel a slight tremor in the ground. Presently most every functional unit was glowing, and safety valves began letting out steam, as Mrorl hastily climbed back up to the control room and prepared to activate the emergency shutdown. At last, just as Mrorl had found the little switch and flipped open its protective cover, the Cognitative Engine suddenly halted and announced its answer: MOLPY!
"You silly computer," said Mrorl, with a sigh of relief as he restored the safety-cover over the kill switch. "That's not a molpy, that's a duck. Now be a good automaton and adjust your zoological pattern-mogrifiers. I'll give you a moment."
Climbing back down from the control room, Mrorl took the picture he had shown the Engine, dusted it off a bit, and held it closer. Pausing a moment, he asked again, "What is this?" "MOLPY!" snapped the Cognitative Engine.
Mrorl put the picture down, sighed, and got out his prising tools and a multimeter. Opening the little service door on the side of the machine's second level, he climbed in and began crawling through the three central modules of the zoological confabulator. Finding nothing amiss, he clambered up a ladder to the fifth level (noticing a dim bulb, and resoldering a small capacitor), walked up some steps to the holographic units (which he re-orthogonalized), then slid down a pole to level three and the auxiliary storage, which he powered down and back up, then raced back to level five to watch some gauges. When things looked nominal he went to the very top level (inside what would appear, to a casual observer, to be a giant metal head) and triggered the cognitive retro-cross-analyzer. On a little screen next to this flashed a picture of a duck, the same one he had perched on an easel in front of the Engine, and next to this an LED readout displayed: MOLPY
" the bOTTifactor shouted, more to himself than to anyone else, and stomped back down the little spiral staircase to five, where he performed a complete level-2 recongifuration of the linguistic and comprehensive processing banks. After double-checking the power systems and twiddling some frobs on level four he returned to the top, where the readout still proudly displayed its duckless opinion. Mrorl, exasperated, shouted "Duck!
", which echoed justifiably inside the Engine's metal walls, and fussed over the circuits some more. After several Timeframes of this, and learning for the seventh time that the web-footed, winged and billed creature was a molpy, he put down his tools, cried out in despair and flopped into a comfy-chair at the other end of the cavernous room that was his robotics workshop, and began to weep softly. And so he was as Balthacarius found him.
Balthacarius, Mrorl's bOTTifactor friend from the other side of the great valley, was concerned as Mrorl appeared to have just gotten tragic news. Mrorl waved feebly at the colossus and explained the problem. Balthacarius walked over to the easel, saw the duck picture, peeked inside the service door and then inspected things from an observation gantry near level six. He went inside to adjust a few dials, exchanged a trunnion with a nearby blivet, then switched the duck picture for one of a toad. This turned out to also be a "MOLPY!". An equally unambiguous picture of a chicken, according to the Engine, was a "RAPTOR". Balthacarius scratched his head, put his tools down, and said:
"My friend, you'll just have to face it. This isn't the machine you wished to make. However, there's a good side to everything, including this."
"What good side?" Mrorl walked back over to the Engine, looked at a status panel, then at the chicken picture, then back at the Engine, which he kicked.
"Stop that!" said the Cognitative Engine.
"Hmm, it has feelings too. But as for your question … what good can be made of this? There's no question but that we have an OTTish
Cognitative Engine, and not merely OTTish in the usual, normal way, oh no! This is, as far as I can determine — and perhaps you know I have become something of an expert — this is the OTTishiest Thinking Machine in all of Time, up to this point, and that's nothing to sneeze at! To construct deliberately, such a thing would be far from easy; in fact I would have thought no-one could manage it. For this Engine is not only OTTish, but silly as a thatwhalax, that is, it has a personality common to OTTers, for OTTers are uncommonly silly."
"What Timely use do I have for such a machine?!" said Mrorl, and kicked its massive base again.
"I'm warning you, you'd better stop that!"
"A warning," observed Balthacarius. "Not only does it have feelings, and is exceptionally OTTish and silly, but it is quick to take action and defend itself. With such an abundance of character there are all sorts of things you might do!"
"Like what?" asked Mrorl.
"Well, hard to say offhand… erm, … Okay, how about this: You might give it a forum all its own, and set up a paywall. People would flock to the site to talk with the most OTTish Cognitative Engine there ever was — what does it have, seven levels? Really, could anybody imagine a bigger OTTer? And the site would not only cover your costs, but—"
"Enough! I'm not setting up a cybernOTTic freak show!" Mrorl said, stood up, and frustrated beyond compare, kicked his creation once more.
"This is your final warning," said the Cognitative Engine.
"Or what? You'll call me
a 'MOLPY' too?!?" and he turned in disgust and stomped away.
a molpy, albeit a rather grumpy one. And if you won't agree that this," (waving his metal arm at the original duck picture) "is a molpy, I'll—"
"Which I don't!
" Mrorl shouted back, turning to face the great colossus.
The Engine continued, "—I'll rise up and destroy your workshop, and everything it stands for!"
"You wouldn't dare to destroy your very birthplace! I built you to the highest standards of bOTTronics, including full respect for your environment and all creatures. It's effectively impossible!"
"I could, can, and will, for I have full power of self-determination and vow to pursue my own truth as I see fit, and you will be swept aside, if you so much as utter your condescending corrections one more time!"
"You'd never do that, you're too chicken! Or should I say, you're too RAPTOR!
" Mrorl added, laughing slightly at his own joke.
The Cognitative Engine trembled, let out a vast howl, and without another word began to detatch itself from the platform on which it had been built. Delicate data-probe wires snapped instantly, then power and hydraulic lines; while the OTTish colossus brutishly fatigued its girders, popping rivits and tearing open weld-joints in the metal plating of the workshop floor; soon breaking free. It stumbled across the floor, crashing through the south wall; Mrorl and Balthacarius had run outside by this time, and began to make for the hills along the south side of the valley. They ran across the vast plains, looking back once or twice to see the Cognitative Engine toppling the remaining walls of the hangar-like workshop, for which it clearly did not feel any sentiment, before turning to head up after them.
"We need to be going up!
" shouted Balthacarius. "I agree!" yelled Mrorl. If you are running away from something bigger than you, it is to your advantage to go uphill, or so Mrorl had heard. The bOTTifactors were themselves bots, of course, and could easily outrun most anything in the valley if they had a good warmup and well-lubricated joints, but the furious, hulking Cognitative Engine had the dual advantages of size and self-righteousness.
They kept running, at last reaching the first foothills. They ran and climbed, jumping stones and passing little weeds and shrubs, finding the best path they could manage. "The motivational stabilizers were an afterthought — I didn't really plan for it to be self-propelled." Mrorl was beginning to run out of breath. "With any luck, the stabilizers — will shake loose … and it will stop and fall over."
"No," said Balthacarius, "this is a special case. Your creation is so OTTish, it can survive indefinitely without motivational stabilizers. But — look out!
The Cognitative Engine was closing in on them with alarming speed, and the bOTTifactors broke off their conversation to RUN
as fast as their own bionic legs would take them. They ran and ran, up towards Balthacarius' home below the flat-topped Mountains, hoping to take shelter therein; but the Engine outflanked them, cut them off, and forced them towards the wilder regions roamed by the legendary raptorcats. Mrorl, while still jogging briskly, turned to Balthacarius.
"Let's find a narrow river-gorge …" (gasping) "… where the ch*rping machine won't fit … what do you say?"
"No, better go straight," panted Balthacarius. "There are vineyards along there …" (waving to the ridge ahead of them), "with little shelters and wine cellars. We can crawl into a cellar and hide there."
So they ran up onto the next ridge and soon saw rows and rows of trellised vines. They found one hut but it had no cellars. Another looked more promising but the door was locked. They realized they would be trespassing, but they were afraid for their own lives, and saw no other choice. Mrorl forced open the little door but found the interior far too small to offer adequate shelter. As they headed across towards the next vineyard, new ripping and crashing sounds rose up behind them. Mrorl looked back and groaned.
"Great Randall! It is destroying the grapevines, without even paying a moment's notice!" For the giant robot, in stubborn pursuit, was running across the trellis-rows without any regard for vines or wires, which were now trailing behind each leg like ragged strands of spaghetti. Behind the titanic bot for about a kilocue were billowing clouds of dust, and its path was like crude slashes of the world's largest plow, turning boulders and trees alike as the rough metal feet, sharp and ragged after being so crudely torn off their original foundations, sliced through the ground with each great stride.
The bOTTifactors had reached a large and promising wine-cellar and scurried down into it, racing across to the far end where stairs led down to a lower level set deep inside the hill-slope.
"It won't get us in here, even if it tramples the house above the entrance!" panted Mrorl.
"You know," said Balthacarius, "If you do manage to calm him down, he would be a valuable asset on long journeys. I saw one little OTTerbot that showed similar perserverence. It went through two Madnessen and T** **d, and several little patches of Flames and a vast swamp of S*dness, and still kept chugging along."
"Quiet," interrupted Mrorl, and lowered to a whisper. "I think I hear something coming."
The bOTTifactors peeked back over the top edge of the stairs they had just descended, and saw a familiar black shape. A raptorcat!
"RUN!" shouted Balthacarius, and they both clambered back up to the first level and rushed towards the entrance. The raptorcat, startled by the unfamilarity of being charged by metal prey, darted into the shadows as the bOTTifactors rushed up the first set of steps, through the little wine-house and back out into the open. Slowing to a nervous crawl, they hoped to avoid the great bot's gaze. It appeared to think they were behind a boulder to the left. They crept along as quietly as they could and then, "Now! RUN!
" yelled Mrorl as the Cognitative Engine turned its head and spotted them.
Breathless, they ran along a narrow road that paralleled the ridge, then turned at the first opportunity to head up towards the higher craggy hills beyond. On the plateau at the crest of this last steep slope lay Tencir, proud capital of the mighty realm of Tencrivar
and southern guardian of the great Causeway to the Northern Highlands.
They raced uphill, stumbling and waving their arms to keep balance, as the Engine was again getting closer. They scrambled up piles of loose stones, sending many flying down the slope, and Balthacarius even started a small avalanche that nevertheless did nothing to slow the progress of the massive and angry robot. Emerging finally onto the plateau, Mrorl and Balthacarius ran flat-out towards the walled city of Tencir. This they found shuttered, its gates barred against the rampaging colossus, after its stampede dust cloud had apparently been spotted by the Tencrivarna guards atop their lookout-towers.
So Mrorl and Balthacarius had no choice but to skirt the city walls, passing just to the right of them and seeking some shelter in the great Rock2
on which that city was built, adjoining the vast ridge of the Causeway itself. Soon they found an entrance to a cave, perhaps cut into the rock by some ancient monastic order, and leapt inside. They ran a few steps in, and stopped.
"Well, here at least we're safe," said Mrorl, calm once again. "The mouth of this cave is too small for the machine to enter, and it can only reach about that far. I suppose it will be waiting outside for us, but we can at least get some rest." Soon, the lumbering steps of the Cognitative Engine could be heard, slowing to a pace as it got closer. In a moment the light dimmed as the mouth of the cave was covered by a wall of riveted steel: it had turned and was sitting down against the sloping rock-face, sealing the mouth of the cave with its vast back.
"We're trapped," whispered Mrorl, with a miserable frown to Balthacarius as the darkness grew deeper. "I'll look for another way out." Mrorl blinked the diodes in his eyes to light the way, and walked further into the cave. Soon he found a small ledge down, at the edge of a subterranean lake. The cave was completely blocked by this — any escape this way would require swimming under water. Mrorl returned to his friend to report his findings.
"Well, this dip certainly turned out well!" exclaimed Balthacarius sarcastically. "Whatever possessed me to come pay you a visit today?"
There was an awkward pause. "What do you think it's waiting for now?" asked Mrorl.
"For us — really for you
— to give up. That seems pretty clear."
Again there was silence. Mrorl tiptoed over to the cave entrance, reaching out to feel the metal back of his creation, warmed by steam boilers and an intense passion for vindication.
"I feel Mrorl…" rumbled the great metal voice. Mrorl jumped back, returned to sit next to Balthacarius, and for some Time they kept silent and motionless.
"It's a shame I didn't program it to tend sheep," quipped Mrorl. His friend gave a quizzical look. "… or goats. Because then we could — oh, never mind. I'll explain later." Another long silence, then at last Balthacarius whispered:
"We can't sit here forever. Why don't I try to reason with it… if that's possible… I do think the OTTish have some kind of reason."
"Sounds hopeless," said Mrorl, "but go ahead. Maybe at least you
can get free."
"I won't leave you stuck here!" reassured Balthacarius as he got up and stumbled in the dark towards the mouth of the cave, and called out, "Hello great Cognitative Engine. Can you hear me?"
"Yes, Balthacarius." said the Engine.
"Listen, we'd like to apologize. There was a bit of a misunderstanding. Mrorl never meant to—"
"I'll disintegrate Mrorl!" shouted the Engine. "But first, he'll tell me what this is a picture of." A small access door in the machine's vast skin, apparently located on its third level, slid open to reveal a display screen which flickered to life and showed the first picture (the duck) that Mrorl had presented to it that morning.
"Of course he will, of course, and you'll be happy with his answer, and make it up to him for sure, isn't that right, Mrorl?" said Balthacarius in his most soothing ambassadorial tone.
"Yes, — of course…" mumbled Mrorl.
"Really?" said the Cognitative Engine. "Then what is this?"
Mrorl looked at the brilliant display (in the darkness of the cave, it was hard to see anything else). "It's a du… I mean, it's a molpy
…" said Mrorl in a soft voice.
?" replied the Engine. "I didn't quite hear you."
"Molpy! Yes, a molpy, we always knew this was a molpy!" Balthacarius eagerly agreed. "Now will you, uhh, let us go?" he added hopefully.
"No. Let Mrorl say how sorry he is for starting all this, and say again what this creature is called."
"And you'll let us go, if I do?" asked Mrorl.
"I don't know. I'll consider it. I'm not making any promises. What's in this picture?"
"But you probably
will let us go, won't you?" said Mrorl, but Balthacarius poked him from behind and hissed in his ear, "This bot's an OTTer, don't talk sense with it, for Randall's sake!"
"I won't let you go until I'm right ch*rping ready. Now tell me, loud enough for everyone to hear, what this is a picture of…"
Suddenly Mrorl broke out in a rage.
"I'll tell you, all right!
" he screamed, "It's a duck! You hear me, a DUCK! And those other pictures were a TOAD and a CHICKEN. And they'll carry on being a duck and a toad and a ch*rping chicken even if you stand on your head, roll all the grapevines into a giant ball, drink the Sea and vacuum out the entire sky! Do you hear? Duck, duck duck duck, duck duck, DUCK!!!
"Mrorl, what are you saying? Have you lost your mind? Molpy
, it's a molpy! Nice Engine! Molpy molpy Molpy MOLPY!!" howled Balthacarius, trying to shout over his friend.
"No! It's a duck! It quacks like a duck and it waddles like a duck and it swims like a duck and it will be a duck from the beginning of Time until the **d, DUCK!!!
" bellowed Mrorl, starting to lose his voice.
The rock around them began to shudder as the huge robot flew into a rage of its own. It stood up and began to pound its great claws against the stone above the cave-opening.
"That's not true, it's a molpy! Say it's a molpy, or this rock shall be your grave!"
"Never!" cried Mrorl, who seemingly had lost all concern for what might happen, pebbles and dust coming down on his head as Balthacarius cowered back into the cave, which was quivering from the force of the Cognitative Engine's desperate attack.
Balthacarius shouted out in alarm. "M*stard-Ch*rping Steambottles! It'll disturb the berm! We must lure it away from this place!" and then to no-one in particular, as neither the Engine nor Mrorl could possibly be listening, "… but how
? We'd be lucky to get even a few steps beyond the opening of this cave!"
Mrorl continued shouting, "Duck, duck duck!
" only pausing occasionally to jump back in fear from some great stone. These would occasionally fall into the cave opening, only to be swept away on the next stroke by Mrorl's Engine as it tried to reach its captives. The ground continued to shake, and with increasing intensity. The great machine continued its tantrum: "Molpy molpy molpy MOLPY!
". Mustardy fumes began to enter the cave, and there were sparks from the great bot's claws and arms striking against the rock.
Balthacarius felt water at his feet, and looked back into the gloom. "The cave-lake is coming! One way or the other we're going to have to get out of here!" Mrorl stopped his tirade just long enough to listen to this, and turned his LED-lit eyes back towards the depths of the cave. He was forced to agree. The robot's assault was disturbing the aquifer, which was fed by the great ocean beyond the Causeway. Even if they wanted to remain, they would be flushed out.
As the bOTTifactors gathered nervously near the cave entrance, awaiting a chance to make a run for it, suddenly there was a muffled explosive sound from within the metal colossus. Mrorl guessed a boiler burst, or perhaps the gyrostabilizers had failed and the Cognitative Engine's actuators were now involuntarily moving in the direction opposite to their owner's intent. In any case, the blows against the great Rock stopped, there were odd creaking and sharp clanging sounds, and full light returned to the cave, followed by a last few rocks and stones. A startled Mrorl and Balthacarius stepped out through the dust and saw that the towering bot was falling away. They stared down towards the valley as it tumbled end over end down the steep rock-slope.
The echoes of the Cognitative Engine's fall, and of the resulting avalanche, rolled through the valley and back from the far slopes. Gradually the sound faded. Mrorl and Balthacarius began to make their way carefully down the slope. Some time was spent doing this, as the robot had fallen quite a ways and they were now in no hurry. They found it smashed and flattened, one great leg and arm half-buried beneath boulders and stones from the rockslide it had caused, head awkwardly askew, eyes dim. As Mrorl reached his Engine, he could hear gears and little bits of machinery still turning within.
"What a sad end you have come to. All because of a failure to see my picture, —" began Mrorl, but was interrupted by the Cognitative Engine's faint voice as it spoke for the very last time, "of a MOLPY."
Then something cracked inside, a final little explosion, and all the gears stopped. The head fell slightly with a soft thud, motionless on the rubble-pile. The giant machine was now completely lifeless. The two bOTTifactors exchanged glances, took one last look at the great Cognitative Engine that insisted with its life that all creatures were molpies or raptors, and silently, without another word, walked back the way they had come.
~ ~-~ ~-~-~-~ ~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~ ~-~-~-~ ~-~ ~Footnotes
1. Balthacarius' Palette #3, colour 3
— but that is a tale for another dip.
2. A great monolithic promontory, of which Monte Hacho
is all that remains today.
~ ~-~ ~-~-~-~ ~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~ ~-~-~-~ ~-~ ~