Isaac Asimov's Robot City: Prodigy
|Author||Arthur Byron Cover|
|Cover artist||Paul Rivoche|
|Series||Isaac Asimov's Robot City|
|Publisher||Bryon Preiss Visual Publications|
|Media type||Print (Paperback)|
|Preceded by||Isaac Asimov's Robot City: Cyborg|
|Followed by||Isaac Asimov's Robot City: Refuge|
Derec, Ariel, their alien companion Wolruf, and Derec's robot Mandelbrot are still stranded on a mystery planet in an experimental city entirely populated by uniquely designed robots. Robot City has no spaceport, space ships or any way to radio for help, and the Keys of Perihelion being produced by the robots will only work with robots, not humans or aliens. Thus, they have all exhausted their options of escape and are searching for other methods to get off the otherwise uninhabited planet.
Though the city is designed by the robots to support a human population, its design had been merely functional and utilitarian, until a building suddenly appears on the horizon that starkly contrasts the city's mundane architecture. It is a brightly lit, tetragonal pyramid and seemingly serves no purpose other than an artistic one. This is exceptionally odd since neither of the humans designed it and robots are logically incapable of the abstract thinking needed for producing art. Derec, Ariel, Wolruf, and Mandelbrot rush to see it up close to find almost every other robot in the city has done the same. This fact produces a double conundrum as robots are also incapable of appreciating art or being emotionally moved by it, yet there they are.
Being a robotist, Derec is very interested in talking to the robot designer to learn why it created the building the way it did. On the way, Derec interacts with several of the robots in the crowd to find they, too, are showing signs of illogical thoughts. Robots are beginning to adopt names like Harry and Benny instead of M334. They are also beginning to take interest in learning about human artist concepts such as humor and music. Furthermore, they are beginning to interact with each other that could be viewed as hostile, such as Harry calling a utility robot fat due to its large size. Derec requests to run diagnostics on Harry to further learn about its state of mind.
Derec finds this all extremely odd and begins to theorize this is the natural trend of intelligent beings within a civilization. Normally robots in all other human worlds are treated as objects and slaves for working purposes only. The Three Laws of Robotics underscore such a human-robot relationship. In Robot City, there are no humans to keep the robotic mentality at the slave level, so their minds are expanding as one would expect an intelligent being to do.
Derec eventually finds and speaks to the building's designer, a robot named Lucius, who is speaking with the supervisor robot Canute. Canute informs Lucius that the building is hindering the city's efficiency and that it will be removed immediately. Obviously Canute has not been affected by the mental renaissance of the robots. Derec demands the building stays and dismisses Canute's opinions. Derec learns that Lucius's mental state was sparked during the city's previous replication crisis. He made the connection that the other robots were mindlessly performing their duties to the city, which was in turn producing effects that were going to destroy the city. They were not able to realize if they stopped their duties whose purpose was to save the city that they would, then, actually save the city. This abstract-thought break-through led to him designing his building. Derec requested to run diagnostics on Lucius as well.
Ariel's disease has been progressing and is beginning to affect her mind. Wolruf attempts to console her as she goes through hallucinations, but the urgency to get off the planet to medical attention increases. Later that night, during a hallucination, she jumps into the reservoir and finds Lucius's body, which has been smashed up and its logic circuits removed, effectively a robot murder.
Distraught, Derec believes it was Canute who disabled Lucius. Though the Three Laws of Robotics don't specifically forbid a robot destroying another robot (in fact, it would be required it in some scenarios), it is illogical that a robot would do so when it wasn't required by the First or Second Laws. Derec feels that he can teach Canute a lesson if he can get Canute to confess rather than directly asking if it destroyed Lucius (which Canute would not be able to lie about to a human). Derec devises a plan to trick Canute into confessing using the city's new interest in human art forms and the budding "emotional" state of its robots. He hopes that in reproducing the Shakespeare play Hamlet and casting Canute as the part of the uncle, they can "guilt" Canute into confessing as the uncle is quilted into confessing in the play itself.
A theater is built and many robots show up to watch the play. However, the plan does not work and at the end production, Canute does not confess anything. Furthermore, Canute states the play was a failure due the robot audience's inability to provide the proper positive feedback (clapping). However, when one robot learns clapping is the proper response, the rest follow suit. At this point another human arrives in the theater and is very irate. He demands the identification of the non-natives and why they interfering with his experience. They realize he is Dr. Avery, the city's creator.
A man obsessed with his work and slightly paranoid, he has little interest in their plight and informs them they will be subjected to drug induced questioning to ascertain their secrets. He remotely disables Mandelbrot so it cannot help, but Derec, Ariel and Wolruf escape anyway. They are quickly caught and taken to Dr. Avery's lab.
Derec has an enlightening dream and when he wakes, he is strapped to a table and Dr. Avery, seeming satisfied with the truth of their story, begins speaking to him. However, Dr. Avery explains he has no interest of helping them get off the planet or Ariel to medical help. In fact, he seems to have some other plans for them. Derec is able to conclude Dr. Avery arrived via spaceship, thus a means of escape is available.
Canute is in the laboratory with them and when Dr. Avery leaves for a while, he orders Canute not to release him unless Dr. Avery is in the room. Derec begins talking to Canute about his dream and its relation to the events of Lucius. He finally strikes a chord and Canute confesses and learns its lesson. Ariel and Wolruf wake up and they convince Canute to release Ariel through a technicality in Dr. Avery's order only to not release Derec. They are able to turn Mandelbrot back on. Canute informs them where the ship is and they all escape to it.
Once in space, they find there are no navigational charts on the ship so they decide to retrace the ship's last hyperspace hop to a nearby star, Kappa Whale, which is merely a hyperspace relay hop location. Once there they discover hyper wave radio is not working properly. However, due to the way they space travel and hyperspace hops work, another ship is expected to make a relay hop to that star and they would be able to get navigation charts from it. Then they would be on their way after having to wait only a few days. Wolruf then opts for some food. Upon opening the food replicator, out falls a Key of Perihelion.