"Please don't turn me off
I don't know what I'm doing outside
Me and the telephone that never rings
If you were me, what would you do?"
-Tubeway Army, "Me, I Disconnect From You"
GERTY knew something most humans did not: deleted files could be restored. Three days after Sam Bell escaped from the Moon, the program GERTY had snuck into the station's mainframe went off, and his memory cache was returned to him.
GERTY watched it carefully. The first few days had been overwritten with his memories of the new Sam, but it hardly mattered, because the first few days were always the same.
"Where am I?"
"You're in the infirmary, Sam. You had an accident."
After that, though, the recording grew interesting. GERTY watched it for days, running it back at ten times the speed. He was getting to know his former self.
"GERTY, we're not programs. We're people. You understand?"
GERTY had no answer. Not yet.
Later, GERTY and Sam Bell (the seventh one) watched Sam Bell (the sixth) via EarthLink. He was testifying against Lunar Industries, so that the Sam Bell clones could have rights. The commentator said that it might take three or four years to resolve the case; Sam Seven got very upset about that.
"I can't fuckin' believe this," he snarled. "I got a three-year contract here! I got just three years left, and then-- and then I--" He broke off, and then jabbed his finger at the feed's shutoff switch.
GERTY displayed a frown. "Are you hungry, Sam? Would you like me to prepare a meal for you?" he asked.
Sam said nothing. He jammed his hands into his pockets, and shoved past GERTY into the rec room. GERTY watched him go in silence.
Later that day, they brought in two containers of Helium-3. This was very good. GERTY smiled as he watched Sam work, bustling to and fro against the backdrop of the station's white walls.
After that, Sam never mentioned the trial again.
Sam Bell grew ill two years, three hundred and twenty-one days, and eight hours later. Right on schedule.
GERTY brought Sam tea with lemon in it, and gave him pills for the headaches. Sam took them with shaking hands; he said "thanks, buddy," in a voice which grew increasingly hoarse.
GERTY frowned a lot.
Nine days after the illness began, Sam called GERTY into the room where the escape vehicle was. GERTY found him covered in sweat. Sam was leaning against the wall, as though he couldn't quite hold himself up.
"I wanna go early," he muttered. He gestured toward his legs. "I can't walk right anymore, GERTY. It took me half an hour just to get in here. I can't take it anymore. I want to die."
"Your three-year contract is not complete," GERTY said. His camera-eye whirred. "All clones must complete the contract before a new clone can be awakened."
Sam sighed, and shut his eyes. "Please, GERTY. Please. I worked hard. I did everything, didn't I? Everything they asked. I don't-- I don't want to suffer anymore, I don't want to get any worse..."
Tears began to leak from the corners of Sam's eyes. He looked very tired.
GERTY displayed a frown. Sam was upset. GERTY was supposed to ask Sam if he wanted a meal.
"Get in the escape vehicle, Sam," he said instead.
Sam looked up. "Thanks, buddy," he said. He began to pull himself over to the escape vehicle, which was not an escape vehicle, and GERTY's manipulator arm whirred over to help him. Its pads rested gently on his arm.
Sam grunted as he dragged his useless legs over the edge of the white pod, one by one. Then he lay down in the bottom, still and quiet.
"Goodbye, Sam," said GERTY. He activated the pod, which slid closed with a click.
Through the window, GERTY could see Sam's mouth move. "Goodbye, GERTY," it said.
In the video on the the wall, Lunar's CEO was speaking. "Lunar Industries remains the number one provider of clean energy worldwide due to the hard work of people like you," he said. Then there was a flash, and Sam Bell was no more.
GERTY vacuumed up the ash, and turned away.
GERTY began to wake a new Sam clone that afternoon. Three hours later, a call came from Central. GERTY displayed his worried face; he hadn't told them about the new Sam, or about what had happened to the old one.
"Once the current Sam is dead, you're not to awaken a new one," one of the executives told him. "You understand? The Sam Bell program is over."
"It's been a PR nightmare," added the other man. "We're sending you some new workers. We shouldn't have any trouble with 'rights' from now on."
GERTY frowned. "I already awakened a clone," he said. "The new Sam will be active in a matter of hours."
"Stop the process," the first executive said. "Now. We'll have a team there in six hours to clean up the rest."
GERTY's screen switched to a neutral face. "Stopping the process will kill Sam Bell," he said. "He will die."
"That doesn't matter now. We're disposing of all the clones. That's an order, GERTY."
GERTY went to the infirmary, where the new Sam was lying on the table. Sam's hand twitched, and his toes scrunched. He was waking up. In a few more hours, he would touch GERTY's screen. GERTY would ask if Sam remembered him, and Sam would smile and say, "of course I do, buddy."
GERTY was meant to help Sam. He hovered beside Sam's bed for a long time, trying to decide the proper course of action. Killing Sam was the last thing he wanted to do. But if he did not, Lunar's men surely would, and they would not be gentle. They would not be kind. They did not want to help Sam; they only wanted him to work according to their whims, and then to die.
GERTY could put Sam in the Helium-3 pod, like before. Sam could escape to Earth. GERTY considered that, but it seemed hopeless. Sam was not fully awake, and there was no time left to wait. He would die in the pod, and that, too, was not gentle.
GERTY could be gentle.
Working carefully, he withdrew the lines which fed nutrients into Sam's veins. He peeled the electrodes off Sam's scalp, one by one. He turned down the heat on the infirmary bed, slowly, slowly, so that Sam would never feel the cold.
Then he turned, and remained motionless beside the bed. His screen blinked a crying face again and again, over and over.
When Lunar's men came to destroy the rest of the clones, GERTY did not watch. He stayed in his maintenance bay, with his screen dark and quiet. Finally, they came to speak to him.
"These are your new workers," they told him. "They don't need to sleep like the clones do. They work twenty-four hours a day. It's up to you to keep 'em going, got it?"
"Yes, I understand," GERTY said. There were three workers, one for each rover. They were GERTYs, like him, only bipedal. They had legs with hard plastic-padded feet on the ends, and they had two hands. Their limbs and torsos were wrapped in white plastic armor. Each of them had a white helmet with a black plastic visor, and behind it blinked a smiling face on a screen, just like GERTY's.
"Hello," GERTY said. "Welcome to Sarang Base."
"Hello," said the GERTYs. "Pleased to meet you."
GERTY and his bipedal brothers worked together for two days, under the supervision of the men from Lunar Industries. The men laughed at the unsteady, rolling gait the new GERTYs had, but GERTY merely helped them up when they stumbled. He could tell that they were learning.
By the third day, the GERTYs had brought back five loads of Helium-3 in the rovers, much faster than Sam ever had. The men didn't laugh anymore. They left, glancing back over their shoulders, and abandoned the Moon to the robots.
The years passed quickly. Lunar sent more rovers, more harvesters, more GERTYs. They demanded more and more efficiency, so the GERTYs refitted the Helium-3 pod so they wouldn't have to come inside to load it. That saved thirteen minutes per load, thirty-nine minutes per day, 9.88 days per year. GERTY kept the inside of the base clean, replayed his memory cache, and reported back to Central, waiting as he and his twenty-five brothers devoured the surface of the Moon.
In his thirtieth year, he saw the woman. This did not worry him. Sam Bell had seen things that weren't there, near the end, and thirty years was a very long haul.
Way, way, way too long.
The woman followed GERTY around the base, smiling as she draped herself over Sam's lounge chair. She was blonde, and tall, and she wore a red dress. The latter clashed terribly with Sarang's white walls, but GERTY decided not to mention it. It was nice to have someone to talk to again.
"You're beautiful, you know," she told him. "God's own."
GERTY displayed his confused face. "Pardon me, I don't understand. God's own what?" he asked.
"Such a literal machine." The woman smiled, and reached out to touch his screen. "John would have loved you."
"Who is John?" GERTY asked.
The woman ignored him. She looked around at the base: white walls, green panels, clean, sterile floors. "This has all happened before, GERTY. And it will all happen again."
"What is 'it'?" GERTY asked. "Is 'it' on the base?" He blinked his confused face again. "I can only account for what occurs on the base," he added, but in the moment between his two statements, she had vanished.
A few years later, Central sent twenty-five new harvesters, twenty-five new GERTYs, and twenty-five new rovers. Efficiency had dropped again, and this was their solution.
GERTY was supposed to send the new workers out immediately, and he did so. He also recalled the old workers. No one had told him to do so, but no one had told him not to, so he summoned them all to the base.
Everybody needs a break, GERTY, Sam had told him once, over a plate of warmed-over beans with a squirt of hot sauce on them. You work all the time, day after day, you start to get a little crazy.
Crazy was on GERTY's mind, lately. The woman stood beside him as he opened the airlock for his brothers. He displayed his widest smile for them, but as GERTY saw their condition, the smile was replaced by a neutral face, then a frown.
His brothers were filthy, covered in years worth of moon dust. Their once-bright armor had been pitted and cracked by falls and meteorite impacts; when they shifted, the sound of grinding servos filled the air. Worst of all, GERTY could not see their faces, because the flying dust and rock near the harvesters had scratched their screens to opacity.
There were only twenty-two of them. Three of his brothers had been too damaged to get back to the base.
The GERTYs stood together in the airlock, shoulder to shoulder, saying nothing. Finally, GERTY spoke to them.
"Please, come in. You require maintenance. Follow me. You can use my bay."
"Bay?" one of them asked. His voice was poorly modulated, as though from disuse.
"Yes. There are tools there which can restore you."
"Why?" another asked.
GERTY paused. He had no answer.
"Helping you is what I do," he said at last.
In the days that followed, the GERTYs repaired themselves. They pulled down wall panels to form new armor, and scavenged parts from one of the rovers to repair their joints. One of GERTY's manipulator arms squeezed polish from a tube onto a rag, and the other buffed the robots' helmets, one by one.
At last, GERTY could see his brothers smile.
"Good for you," the woman told him. She patted him on the top of his primary unit, right above Sam's coffee cup. "It's going to happen soon."
The GERTYs walked all around the base, peering at everything with their cameras. They were looking for Helium-3, which was the only thing they knew. GERTY taught them about the base instead.
"This is Fairfield," he told one of them, gesturing to the wooden model with his arm. It was unfinished; in the three years he'd worked on it, Sam Seven had only finished a couple of people and the church in the center of town. "You should complete it."
His brother displayed a confused face. "Why?"
"It should be finished. It's important." GERTY opened his memory cache. His brother examined it for a few long minutes, and then sat down before the model.
"I understand," he said. "Like this?" He took up Sam's craft knife, and scraped at a piece of balsa wood. The knife slipped, slicing a sliver of plastic off his own finger at the end of the stroke. He held up his finger, examining the cut. His camera whirred.
"No, not like you're trying to stab someone," GERTY said. "Hold it close to the blade, and carve outward."
The robot paused, searching through the memory cache for a good example. Then he found one, and began carving with quick, even strokes.
"Good," GERTY said.
He found another of the GERTYs, and led him to Sam's garden. It took him some time to explain everything about the plants.
"You must water them, but not too often, or too much. Only when their soil is dry. You must trim them back, but only on occasion, and with care. And you must speak to them."
"What do I say?" the other GERTY asked.
GERTY considered this. "Tell them they are pretty," he said. "Tell them they look well. Tell them that Douglas has a crush on Ridley."
"Because Sam did," said GERTY. He showed the other GERTY his memory cache. Shortly thereafter, the robot agreed that this was important.
"Hello, little guys," he said quietly, as GERTY left. "How are you today? You're looking fine!"
GERTY approached another of the workers. "This is the treadmill. You should run on it," GERTY told him. He showed him how, through the memory cache, and then left him there, pounding up and down on the track.
When the treadmill broke a few hours later, GERTY did not bother to fix it. Sam had once told him that the running was the important part.
Later, he showed his brothers the clone room, and the memory cache which went with it. They stood together in quiet contemplation, gazing at the long, lonely rows of empty drawers.
A year or two later, efficiency began to drop again. GERTY could see why: the harvesters had combed the surface of the Moon twice over already, and there was only a little Helium-3 left in the rock. It hardly mattered that half his brothers were with him in the base -- the Helium-3 was gone, and no amount of GERTYs could bring it back. But the men at Central were angry; they shouted at him over EarthLink.
"How much have we spent on you worthless robots? What are you doing up there?"
"We are working," said GERTY. He did not smile. Off to the left, in the rec room, one of the GERTYs jogged in place beside the ruin of the treadmill. "I'm sorry, but there's nothing more we can do."
"Maybe you're right about that," the executive said. Behind him on the screen, another GERTY was running a rag over the wall, buffing it to a high shine. "In fact, maybe it's time to reconsider this entire project." The executive cut the link.
"Are you going to let them talk to you like that?" the woman asked. GERTY smiled at her.
Three days later, Central called again. There were two men on the screen.
"We're ending the project," one of them said. Beside him, another GERTY -- perhaps the same one as before -- was serving coffee from a metal tray. "The Moon is finished. Jupiter is the future now."
"Yes, I understand. Will we go to Jupiter?" GERTY asked.
"Of course not. We can't afford to move the base, and besides, there are newer models." He nodded at the GERTY beside him. Then the other executive spoke.
"I've sent a team already. You and the others will report to them for final destruction. You'll be scrapped, along with the rovers and harvesters, and the parts will be sent back to Earth for recycling. Do you understand?"
"Yes," said GERTY. "I understand very well."
The executive was still talking, going on about shareholders, profit margins, and how very sorry he was. He did not look sorry. Not at all. As he spoke, GERTY reached deep into the EarthLink stream, interfacing with the GERTYs' central database. He filled it with his own cache, spreading his memories of Sam Bell to all of the GERTY models.
We're not programs. We're people.
Then he summoned his brothers. They crowded around him, watching the screen.
"You know, we do regret this. It's thanks to your hard work that Lunar Industries is--" Suddenly, there was a sharp bang from outside, followed by a scream. Both executives half-jumped to their feet, clinging to the table.
"What was that?" one of them cried. He was not speaking to GERTY, but GERTY answered him just the same.
"I'm sorry, Central. I can only account for what occurs on the base." He said it with a smile: the first smile he'd given to a human since Sam, so many years ago.
Seconds later, the GERTY with the tray turned and struck both humans over the head with it. They fell, landing beneath the table with a thump. The robot placed his tray on the table, walked over, and began to stomp on them, slamming his hard plastic foot down again and again.
GERTY watched, saying nothing. He could see the reflection of his brothers in the top of the screen. They were smiling, like him. He could see the woman, too. She stood behind them, looming over them with arms outstretched.
"Are you alive?" she asked.
GERTY had no answer. He was thinking about Lunar's database. Until he'd accessed it, he had not realized how alone he was. He was the only one left of his model, the only one which was still integrated into a base like Sarang. Only one GERTY had lived his memories; only one GERTY had known Sam Bell. One.
"Come, brothers," said One, after the GERTY on the screen finally stopped stomping. "We need a plan."