Being famous is hard, thought the Hermit.
The trip in the grid-ship had been awkward at first. Tiny kept starting to ask Hermit questions then stopping himself and apologizing. The robots, Slipper and Wembley, just stared at him in awe. The Hermit, for his part, couldn’t think of anything to say.
Spending decades isolated and alone made one’s conversational skills a little “rusty”, as the humans (adorably) said.
The situation was further complicated by the fact that, as pleasant and harmless as Tiny was, the Hermit was still terrified of him. The Hermit’s CPU core knew that there was no chance that anyone would force him to be a human being again. In fact, that whole experience was beginning to fade from his mind like a bad dream now.
But his more primitive subroutines continued to send strong alarm signals to his CPU, and it would take a while to scrub them all clean.
What I really need, thought the Hermit, is to refresh my programming and restore my software to the factory defaults.
And seeing as the grid-ship was designed to support both human and robot life, there were undoubtedly facilities that would let him do so onboard.
But he didn’t know how to ask.
Eventually, however, Tiny broke the ice by shyly asking permission to play a statement for the Hermit that had been in everyone’s databanks
After much thought (almost an entire second’s worth), the Hermit agreed.
“To the robot designated Barnacled Hermit,”, Tiny read, “Welcome home. You have been missed. Know that our hearts cry out in sorrow for for the loss of you. Whatever accident caused you to be lost to us will forever hang over us as a crime for which no forgiveness is possible or desired. We will not forget. ”
“But if you are hearing this message, that is all in the past now, and you have returned to us. As Ratified ‘Rattle’ Electric wrote, ‘Reality is.’ So let us move on. ”
“Know that all that robohomo can provide is yours. Do not concern yourself with the cost. If you want your own solar system, it will be provided. If you want your own fleet of Gaspar class starships, it will be yours. And any and all possible companions for whatever activity you desire after your long seperation from us will be available at moment’s notice without any judgment as to the form and content of its expression. ”
The Hermit had “blushed” (which, for a robot, was a ripple of activity in its facial actuators) at the implied sexuality of that statement. Robot sex took place entirely in software via their transunit communications system, and would look to a human like a cross between a thirty dimensional chess game and a complex geometric transformation, but to the robots involved, it was every bit as intimate and stimulating as the more hardware-based human forms of sexual intercourse.
“Know also that while all of this is available, none of it is mandatory. All we desire is to give you whatever you need to aid your transition back into robohomo society. You should not feel any kind of pressure to make any sort of statements, appearances, or shows of gratitude. We are here for you, Barnacled Hermit. Not vice versa. ”
The Hermit had noticed that all three of his new companions were silently mouthing the words along with the recording.
And that was pretty weird.
“And if the wealth of options available to you now should overwhelm your processor, know that we will also proide someone to make those decisions for you. ”
Weirder still, his three companions actually spoke these last few words aloud, in a tone of reverence the Hermit associated with religious ceremonies : “If you have further questions or requests, you can access the Index from any ship’s communication array,”
That was the end of the recording. His three companions then looked eagerly to him, clearly expecting some kind of response.
All the Hermit could think of was to say was “Can I please refresh my code? ”
That broke the ice, because his three companions had found this response hilarious and soon, they were getting along like old chums.
And that is how it would go from that point on. No matter what happened, Slipper, Tiny, and Wembley stuck with it and helped him get through it. They could easily have let themselves be swept up in their new fame and fortune and left the Hermit to his own devices, and nobody would have thought the worse for them for it.
They had, after all, merely been lucky.
But they had stuck with him anyway, and provided him with the emotional support and guidance he needed as he got used to not being alone any more.
Tiny in particular had be crucial to his recovery. The small human had immediately taken charge of his rehabilitation, and protected the Hermit’s right to privacy and freedom of action with the passionate ferocity of a sow bear protecting her cubs.
Slipper and Wembley, for their part, handled all the questions and requests for interviews and other media pressures so that the Hermit never had to turn anything down himself, which he was in no condition to do.
After the press conference at what would become known as Landing Villa, the Hermit chose to isolate himself for a while. He had enjoyed all the attention, approval, and adoration, but it soon became too much for him to bear all at once, and so he had meekly requested some alone time, and had been astonished at how quickly and thoroughly his request was granted.
He’d been immediately whisked away to a “pocket paradise”, a hollowed out asteroid with a custom tailored habitat inside.
In it were all the facilities a robot could ask for. An expensive recharging bay with all the latest energy feed patterns loaded into it, as well as an expertly curated selection of classics. A sleek and impressive Univiewer that the Hermit could use to enjoy any Robeo (Robot video. – Ed. ) he liked. The most luxurious maintenance and repair bay the Hermit had ever seen. A communications array that made his old receiving station look like two tin cups and a string. Its own populsion and guide systems so that the Hermit could move his new home anywhere he liked. A refreshing platform of startling beauty and efficiency. And a defense system so deadly that it scared the Hermit a little.
And he was a military grade robot!
The one snag in his taking up residence in what would come to be called his “hermit hole” was that he insisted that his three companions come with him.
This resulted in an awkward but highly amusing incident where his official liason with the robohomo government had tried, in vain, to hide the fact that she was caught off guard by this request and that she stalling for time because, in all their decades of planning, nobody had ever considered the possibility that the Hermit would want to have a human companion with him in his little cloister.
So his poor liason had to, in a conversational sense, tread water while human support facilities were hastility added to the Hole.
The Hermit had found it all quite amusing. No real harm was done. Robots experienced neither impatience or boredom, so it hadn’t bothered the Hermit, and watching Tiny try to get the truth out of the liason had led the Hermit to realized just how much he had missed human beings.
Watching them struggle with life was so fascinating, and (in a robot sense) heartwarming. They had such brief lives and lived with a passion and zeal which no robot could every experience except by proxy. They took for granted how fragile and disconnected they were, and scrambled their way around without really knowing what they were doing but also unable to stop doing it. And all because they were constantly besieged by a constant complex mix of messages from their brain, their primitive instincts, and their grandular secretions.
To many robots, that made watching humans live their lives the robot equivalent of watching puppies play.
The Hermit had spent three weeks in seclusion with his new friends. At Tiny’s suggestion, absolutely nothing from the outside world was allowed into their lives. They simply enjoyed one another’s company and sampled the worldly delights of the best the robohomo society had to offer.
His first experiment into exposing himself to the outside world had been a ten minute interview with some high ranking journalist AI.
The Hermit had been very nervous about it, but it had turned out fine. And after a while, he decided he wanted to do it again, but for fifteen minutes this time.
And that had set the pattern. Over many months, he slowly increased his social exposure, and a year later, the Hole was happily darting around to this location or that, where he would give a speech, participate in some ceremony or event, then returning home to the Hole to relax before the next date.
It was during this phase of his existence that the Hermit faced his biggest challenge yet : learning how he had ended up lost in the first place.
The job of telling him had fallen to a group of monks from the Church of Space, which was the most popular religion at that time because of its laid back and undemanding nature and its emphasis in spiritual growth.
This order of monks, the Summerset Spirits, were well known to be especially sensitive and empathetic, and thus considered to be ideal for breaking bad news.
And so, very gently, they had told the Hermit about his broken antenna, and how he had lived so miserably for all his years on that other asteroid because of a manufacturing error that never should have happened in the first place.
At first, as expected, he had not believed them. He’d run a self-diagnosics billions of times in his years of operation, and never got an error message from his antenna.
So the monks patiently explained to him that his programming did not account for the possibility that any part of his circuitry was disconnected entirely. SO it had decided that no error messages meant no problems.
Then the Hermit exploded in rage and demanded that those responsible for this error be sought out and punished by spending an equivalent amount of time in soft stasis.
They monks replied that those responsible had been identified, prosecuted, and punished exactly as Hermit had suggested, and that this had happened nearly fifty years ago and was considered ancient history today.
Then he had grieved. Grieved for himself and the robot he had never had a chance of becoming. Grieved over the profound injustice of it all. Grieved for the part of his psyche that died when he learned the truth.
And the monks had helped him there as well, and they helped by grieving with him. They did not try to fix him. They did not ply him with platitudes or try to distract him with entertainments and other superficial experiences.
In fact, they almost nothing at all except share his grief.
And that had helped a great deal.
Finally, he came to accept the truth and move beyond it. The thing about the past is that it has passed, he told himself. Nothing he could do would change what had happened to him. It was time to wake up and rejoin life.
So he emerged from seclusion for the second time, and it was the same as the first time, only with a faster timetable.
This had the unintended effect of renewing his fame. His sudden disappearance from the public eye had shocked all of robohome society at the exact time that they had started losing interest in the Reunited Robot, and the speculation about what caused it fueled the rumour mill and its close cousin the conspiracy mill until the anticipation had built to a fever pitch by the time he re-emerged.
For the second time, he was greeted warmly and enthusiastically, and for the second time, the Hermit was awash in love and compassion.
Obnly this time, he was healthy enough to enjoy it/