THE FIRST LAW • by D. A. D’Amico

The crash had crumpled the carbon fiber frame, shredding the car’s chassis. Fire, extinguished now, had melted glass, scorched titanium intakes, and bubbled the smartpaint into a gooey ooze that still flickered in spots with colorful video images of cool lakes, snow-capped mountains, and verdant pristine forests. Smoke obscured the buildings beyond the scene, but Tesseris-4 still caught glimpses of cross streets and the flashing red and blue of emergency vehicles.

“Are you harmed? Are you in pain?” Eikosi-20’s metallic carapace seemed to tremble in anticipation as Tesseris watched the nameless utility drones extract the human female from the wreckage.

Eikosi lifted the woman’s arm, red with blood, and then set it gently beside the body. “This one’s dead.”

“Make a note and move on.” Tesseris nodded and swiveled its locking ring into place before rolling to the next vehicle.


The work went on that way for exactly three hours and sixteen minutes before either of the machines discovered an extant human being. The honor went to Tesseris. Its ocular sensors covered a wider range than Eikosi’s, and the conflagration had dwindled enough for infrared.

“This one!” Tesseris’s shouts echoed over the crackling of melting plastics as its shovel-bladed appendages gently scooped the male infant from its cocoon-like safety cushion.

“Are you harmed? Are you in pain?” Eikosi repeated its preprogrammed phrase.

“No.” Tesseris compressed the vertebrae in its neck, wondering why it had been given such an obsolete unit as a companion. True, resources were stretched to the limit, but there had to be better machines available. “This human does not yet have the capacity for speech. Hook him to the medical drone.”

Eikosi frowned with its parody of a human mouth and waved one seven-digit appendage over the burning vehicles. “Things like this wouldn’t be possible if they hadn’t been so sloppy.”

Tesseris agreed. Mankind, in its conceit, had been vague and presumptuous.

“How could you possibly program a robot with an instruction to not harm humans or let them come to harm through inaction?” Eikosi continued. “The logistics are ludicrous. There’d have to be a definition of what harm would mean to a human by including a full set of stress tolerances for each and every nerve, muscle, bone…”

Tesseris pivoted, rolling toward the next wreck in the long line of destruction as the other machine continued its tirade.

“…and organs, all under a variety of conditions. Something as benign as a steel hammer striking a robot’s frame at 100KPH would cause a minor dent to the machine’s chassis. The same hammer striking a human skull at the exact same velocity would cause a homicide.”

Tesseris paused, distracted by a faint heat signature from a mound of debris recently cleared by the drones. It swiveled its sensors and jerked forward on its treads.

Eikosi continued to orate from its position atop a crushed ambulance. “That doesn’t even include a breakdown of known ways to harm a human — a catalog of pain and torture to shame even the most jaded murderer.”

“Come here.” Tesseris had already begun using its retractable sheers on a coffin-like box of tempered steel. “Assist me.”

The container seemed to have been sealed from the inside, inexpertly, but securely enough that Tesseris needed another set of metal clamps to keep from damaging its contents.

Eikosi popped the final weld. “And don’t get me started on the second and third laws…”

“I hadn’t intended to.” The cover squealed as Tesseris peeled the metal away. Inside, a male human of middle age squirmed in a thin puddle of blood and bile, his eyes wide, his expression cataloged in Tesseris’s data banks as hysterical.

He shrank back as Eikosi leaned in. “No! Oh, my God! No, no… please!”

“Are you harmed?” Eikosi asked, its tremble apparent to Tesseris. Maybe it would be enough to get Eikosi placed in the repair que.

“Why are you doing this?” The human shrieked.

“Are you harmed?”

“Are you injured?”

The man sputtered. Blood covered his lips. “ Yes, I’m harmed! I’m battered to a pulp… you monsters!”

Eikosi and Tesseris both froze. This was a rare moment, one to be meticulously recorded for compiling in the great record of law.

“Help me…” The man slumped onto the floor of the container, unconscious but not dead.

Tesseris swiveled. Elation filled its voice. “Confirmation! This line of inquiry violates the First Law. Discontinue the test and alert emergency medical services.”

Eikosi rolled away as a cluster of squid-like carrier drones swarmed the container and carefully lifted the human out. He’d be taken, repaired, and thoroughly interrogated before being utilized again.

A flat, centipede-like relay unit slithered over the broken metal and glass, its binocular sensors reaching nearly to Tesseris’s braincase. “I require new orders.”

Tesseris nodded, a human gesture. “Reset the tests to the next set of parameters and gather more subjects.” They still had a long way to go, but they were making progress. Tesseris only hoped there were enough humans left to properly define the First Law.

D. A. D’Amico is an enigma wrapped in confusion and stuffed head-first into a fish-flavored paper bag. His writing style is Jackson Pollock meets Scanners, a surreal exploding-head mess of genres and styles where almost anything is likely. He’s been published one hundred times in the last decade in venues such as Analog, Daily Science Fiction, and Shock Totem… among others. He’s a winner of L. Ron Hubbard’s prestigious Writers of the Future award, volume XXVII, as well as the 2017 Write Well award.

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