Oh no, not again, thought Eric.
“Are you ready to begin?” asked Mother Mayhem,
“No. ” said Erik.
“Good! It works better that way. Now, do you see the bright white disc above me?”
Erik squinted as the darkness above Mother Mayhem was thrown back by a disk of white light so bright it was like a little white sun had coalesced above her head.
He instinctively shielded his eyes with his hand, only to have Mother Mayhem gently tug his hand away from his eyes just a tiny bit. He cried out, and clamped it back down all the harder. “That’s all well and good, dear. And bravo for going with your instincts. But that will only delay your eyes’ adjusting to the light. ”
“But it hurts!” said Erik.
“I know, dear. But only for a little while. Then your eyes will adjust to the light and you will wonder what all the fuss was about. ”
“Do you promise?” said Erik.
“Of course I do, dear Eric. Remember when we first met, and I told you that I would never, ever lie to you?” said Mother Mayhem.
Erik nodded. “Yes. ”
“And I haven’t lied to you yet, have I?” said Mother Mayhem.
“Well…. no,. ” said Eric.
“Things are always exactly as I say they will be and I always mean everything I say and I never say anything that isn’t true, isn’t that right?” said Mother Mayhem.
“I guess…I mean…. yes. Yes that’s right. ”
Mother Mayhem smiled at Erik’s hesitation. Such a dear, sweet young man. Afraid to voice a strong opinion even when he is sure of himself.
“Then take your hand away from your eyes, sweet Erik, and see things how they really are. ” said Mother Mayhem.
Erik hesitantly took his hand away from his eyes and looked at the bright white disk. It was painful at first, but after three or four seconds the light seemed to dim, and continued to do so until it seemed no brighter than a desk lamp to Erik.
Mother Mayhem beamed at him. “Good boy! See what happens when you stick around long enough to adapt? You could have shielded your eyes till the cows came home, or even forgotten that’s what you are doing and thought you had gone blind. But you stopped shielding yourself, and the problem was solved in seconds. Do you see what I mean, dear? ” said Mother Mayhem.
“I think so, Mother. ” said Erik. “you’re saying that you must endure till you adapt. ”
Mother Mayhem clapped her hands with delight. “Exactly! I couldn’t have put it better myself. Endure till you adapt. I’ve got to remember that. Now, are you ready for the next step?” said Mother Mayhem,
Erik smiled. “And if I say no? ”
Mother Mayhem smiled back. “We’ll do it anyway, of course. I see you’re starting to catch on. Now, look into the light, and let your mind go blank. ”
Erik looked into the light and tried to relax his mind. And much to his delight, he found it surprisingly easy. There was something soothing and steadying about the light – the same light he’d found very painful a few minutes ago – and he found it made it absurdly easy to clear his mind of all thoughts and just enjoy the feeling.
So this is what the hippies at the meditation retreat were talking about, thought Erik. He’d been too busy worrying whether he was doing it right or not to get it at the time.
“There, now. Isn’t that better?” said Mother Mayhem.
Erik nodded blissfully. He felt so good it made him feel like humming.
“Go ahead and hum!” said Mother Mayhem.
Erik shrugged, and hummed. And not for any musical reason, but purely because it felt good to do so. Like the vibrations enhanced the effect of the light, and vice versa.
Mother Mayhem, quite pleased with Erik (and, by extension, herself) watched Erik bliss out for what was assuredly the first time in his life, and smiled. She could hear his vibrations harmonizing, see his aura clearing, smell the toxins rising to the surface.
Oh right, the toxins. “Now, this next bit might be a tad… ”
Erik’s eyes suddenly filled with horror and a moment later he vomited violently and quite loudly, his whole body wracked by the spasms.
“….harsh. ” finished Mother Mayhem. She chided herself for her poor timing. She’d been doing this for centuries, she should know better by now.
But then she reminded herself that she was an eternally perfect glowing goddess of infinite mercy, with an absolute purity that no act could touch and a heart so filled with kindness that to look upon it was to feel forgiven.
And even those make mistakes now and then.
Poor Erik was on his hands and knees in a rapidly growing pool of his own ejecta now. Gradually, the heaves lost their intensity, and before long ceased entirely.
Mother Mayhem tenderly mopped Erik’s sweat-soaked forehead with a cool cloth, and clucked with compassion. Poor, poor pet, she thought. Not for the first time, she wished there was a way to cure them without the trauma.
But that’s just not how these things worked.
“There now. ” she said, “don’t you feel a lot better now?”.
Erik looked at her, utterly aghast. “BETTER? Are you insane? I felt so good, and then I.. I made this horrible mess right at your feet, and now I’m all gross and sweaty, and I am so SO very, very, very sorry, Mother Mayhem…. ”
“For what?” said Mother Mayhem. “For the mess? Trust me, darling, I have seen far worse. For the vomiting itself? It’s a perfectly natural and healthy reaction to the pure white light. And it happens every time, dear. You’re not the only one. ”
Erik nodded. He still looked quite wretched. But he was improving.
“And admit it, darling, You really DO feel a lot better now, don’t you? said Mother Mayhem, with a gentle smile.
Erik snorted in derision. But nodded.
“And after all, dear, it could have been a lot worse. ” said Mother Mayhem.
And then, responding to Erik’s incredulous expression, she said “It could have come out the other end. ”
Erik’s eyes widened in horror at the thought, and he nodded emphatically.
Mother Mayhem squatted down next to Erik, and smiled reassuringly at him.
She motioned to the pile of vomit. “Now let’s see what we’ve got here, shall we?”
The Hermit tromped around his small planetoid to the full extent allowed by the electronic leash that tied him to his receiving station.
He’d found that by doing this, he could just barely maintain the illusion that he was not seeing the exact same pattern of craters and creases over and over again and could pretend he was actually exploring new place all the time.
All it took was his slowing down his CPU till it was not quite fast enough to successfully update his geographical database in realtime, and it was like a new planet every day.
Or. at the very least, an unfamiliar one.
Of course, he knew he was fooling himself. The evidence was right there in his service and maintainence logs, which no force could delete without being strong enough to delete the rest of him as well. So it was not as though he was truly fooling himself.
But he could pretend that he was, and that was good enough for now.
It had to be.
As he trod his lonesome path, he often found himself looking at the half of the planetoid that he could not reach. It gave him a funny feeling to look out there. It wasn’t like he didn’t know what was out there. He had in his memory banks gigapixel definition images of every square millimeter of his tiny home taken by the survey drone that mapped and catalogued this solar system. And it’s lot like anything would have changed since then because his asteroid was well out of the path of any other planetary bodies, big or small, that might impact his planetoid to change it.
Sometime he wondered how it had ended up where it was in the first place.
And yet, despite all that, he got that funny feeling when he looked in that direction. A feeling like there was a thought he really wanted to think about that space but couldn’t because something in his head always steered him right back to the trigonomics of interplanetary transmissions and the effect of unknown microwave sources on signal fade and all the other sorts of boring, mundane things he thought about instead.
And that was pretty strange, thought the robot designated the Barnacled Hermit. Nothing in his data banks indicated that a literally unthinkable thought was even theoretically possible. Everything he knew indicated that one’s mind was their own private playground where they could think any thought they liked, and nobody would care or try to stop them or anything.
But not him. If he thought about it (which he did his best to avoid), there were enormous areas of thought containing thousands of interesting subjects about which he could not think. And these areas were locked down so tightly in his mind that he couldn’t even tell you what they were.
He just knew that when he tried thinking along certain lines, he got turned right back round on himself like a roundabout in a cul de sac, and he just ended up frustrated and depressed and confused.
He didn’t even know what a barnacle was. Or a hermit.
And that, to him, seemed especially cruel.
Meanwhile, across the Hermit’s sector of space, countless seedships had been repurposed to the hunt for the Hermit.
It had sent shockwaves through both the homo and robo sapiens communities when it was discovered that a robot was missing. Such a thing was supposedly impossible. There were systems upon systems dedicated to making sure nothing like this could ever happen. Before the big revelation, everyone in the robohomo society was sure nothing like that could ever happen.
Not in this day and age.
And at first, nobody wanted to believe it. They repeatedly asked what kind of brain it had. A HONDO-R99, a high end model that consistently scored in the high end of the sapience scale. Maybe it was a computer error? No such luck. Every expert available had taken a crack at coming up with an error-based alternate explanation, and they had all fallen apart under scrutiny.
Could it be that the robot had returned on its own and gone unnoticed? This had been a very popular theory but it, too, had failed.
The public was forced, with great reluctance, to accept the truth : that somewhere out there was a robot their great society had let slip through the cracks.
And they demanded action. Barnacled Hermit was an instant cause celebre and nothing would satisfy the outraged public except a maximum effort on all fronts to rescue this sapient creature from his cruel fate.
It was a wrong that had to be put right. The macrocomputer known as the Initiative that served as government for the robohomo race did not even try to argue. Both its opinion polls and its far more reliable Public Sentiment Index made its duty crystal clear.
So the trillions of seedships, none bigger than a pumpkin seed, were reprogrammed for search and report instead of their usual search and implant, and through them, the same message of hope, reassurance, apology, and solidarity was broadcast throughout the whole sector, along with instructions to cover everything the Hermit might need to know in order to escape whatever situation he was in and return to the fold.
The robohomos waited with bated breath for their lost child to retun home. The hopes and dreams of an entire galactic civilization were now vested in the search for the Hermit. The humans prayed for the Hermit’s safe return, and so, in their own way, did the sapient robots.
The robohomo society’s hearts beat as one in breathless anticipation.
But the Hermit never heard a thing.
Because, you see, his antenna was broken.