by Eric A. Hart
The scout-bot’s sensors indicated a high radiation level in the designated landing area. It was too high to sustain most biological life forms, and almost enough to interfere with its electronic circuitry. Its command program’s priority menu listed these levels as borderline acceptable. The bot decided to risk a landing. The ship had come too far to fail now. The spaceport could not be raised on the communication channel, but the scout-bot must report. That was the final instruction in the program. The scout ship made its final approach to the spaceport. Twisted steel girders stuck up like skeletal fingers from the shattered concrete reaching for the craft as it passed over the ruined metropolis. The condition below registered on the scout-bot’s electronic brain, but it meant nothing, since this contingency was not programmed for.
The old starship shuddered as the thrusters fired and the landing gear extended. The bot had to report. It had been wandering the stars for over one hundred and thirty years. On the last planet it had visited it had found what it had been programmed to seek. It had discovered other sentient life. Even the Programmers had never found this, so they had sent out robot ships. None had returned till now. It was impossible for a machine to feel pride, but still, the fact that it had succeeded where the Programmers failed was not lost on its electronic brain.
The scout-bot moved on its treads down the ramp of the ship, and headed towards the Space Center. It stopped. The center was gone. All that was left was a rubble-filled hole. It checked and rechecked the coordinates, then examined its internal sensors. Everything was operating correctly. Searching its memory banks it found a contingency program. It would seek out a Programmer and report. The scout-boy activated its long range sensors and began a systematic search pattern. Within its forward specimen compartment was a gift from the sentient beings it had found. It had searched its cultural data banks, but found no corollary. Its own analysis had identified the item as the severed sex organs of a sessile, photo-synthetic life form. The creature, who had given this to it, had called this gift a “flower”.
The scout-bot’s sensors finally registered a large life form. Its analysis found that although there were certain abnormalities in the reading this creature fell within the parameters of a Programmer.
As it approached, the visual sensors registered numerous lesions and patches of dead tissue on the Programmer. The bot’s supplementary programs indicated this Programmer was suffering from radiation sickness. It would notify a medical aid unit after its report. The scout-bot rolled up and waited from the Programmer to finish its sleep cycle.
The Programmer awoke with a start and its tentacles wrapped around a phase plasma rifle. Its nose slits twitched and compound eyes swiveled in the direction of the metallic intruder. The scout-bot’s defenses did not activate because this was a Programmer. Instead, the front specimen compartment opened and the flower was thrust out. The bot’s voice simulator then said the word the alien had told him when it was given this gift.
The plasma rifle blew the top half of the bot off, and left the rest a molten mass. The Programmer stared at the blasted hulk before him, then rolled over to die.