Thursday, June 25, 2009

Ed Jackson's 'Rad' Stories

Note to Readers

In 1984, StarText held a short story contest, inviting readers to submit original work around the general themes of science fiction and computers. First place went to Ed Jackson for his tale about a legal fight to save a robot, titled "Rad Fourteen." A year later, we published Jackson's sequel, "Rad Fifteen."

With an assist from Dennis Brand, who maintained an archive of Jackson's work after his death, both are presented below. I think you'll find them just as enjoyable today as they were then.


By Ed Jackson

"I tell you, St. John, you and your liberals have gone out of your skulls! It's simply preposterous."


Judge William Donovan glared angrily at the attor¬ney facing him. "What you're asking me to rule on is to give 'human rights' to non-humans.”

"Not at all. Consider, William, that at one time or another all sorts of people were classified as 'non-human.' The aborigines of Australia, the red men of America, the black men of Africa — of America, for that matter. Good lord, William, if an angel came down and made his presence known, there would be those who would think of the angel as 'non-human!'"

Judge William Donovan passed his hand through sparse hair, absently, and then rubbed his eyes tiredly. God! How he hated these civil actions. Give him a good, old-fashioned murder anytime, with facts and evi¬dence.

"All right, St. John. Suppose I even give you the hypothetical point that all life is sacred and equal. Human, animal, Martian. I'll even throw, in the trees and plants and such. What then? There's no way you can claim Rad Fourteen fits into any of those categories.”

"Rad Fourteen possesses many of those qualities that we think of as 'human.' His mind is very rational. He is a lot more logical than most, and even has a sense of humor."

The judge shook his head sadly. How on earth do you argue with a nitwit like this? His face lit up.

“Well, let’s see your Rad Fourteen reproduce his kind. Every kind of life form can do that! Survival, not only of the individual but of the species, is the inborn characteristic of every form of life on this planet"

"Even a mule?" St. John said, smiling.

Judge Donovan's face flushed and he snapped angrily. "That doesn't count. A mule is a hybrid -- a mutant.”

"Of course. So is Rad Fourteen. Genetically he is certainly different from either of his parents."

William Donovan leaped to his feet angrily.

" 'Parents!' 'Parents!' God almighty!"

"Calm yourself, William, before you have an apo¬plectic stroke. Sure, Rad has parents. His father was Rad Thirteen, and his mother was the GICPU. He has quite a family tree. His great great-great grandfather was JSNIAC, His great-great-great grandmother was Univac. His cousins are Apple, TRS-80, Atari, TIPET and so on and on. Rad is simply a hybrid."

"You can argue 'til you're blue in the face and you can't prove he's human because he isn't!"

"And yet you used the word 'he' twice in your last sentence."

"Nonsense!" Donovan said with a snort. "I may refer to a ship as a 'she,' but nobody would ever try to prove it should have 'human rights!'"

"True! Some objects have masculine or feminine pronouns attached to them, but a ship is always a 'she.' You don't have 'he's.' With Rad and his kind, you have 'him's' and 'her's.' You can tell them apart." St. John laughed bitterly. "Since the ERA came into effect, humans certainly aren't that clearly defined!"

The judge looked at St. John strangely.

What's the matter, St John? Can't, you say 'robot?'"

This time it was St. John who leaped up in anger. "Don't say 'robot!' William, that's the whole point of what I've been trying to tell you. He's not a robot. A robot is a mindless, programmed machine. Rad is far beyond that"

"But he's not human."

"So you are going to rule he can arbitrarily be killed," St. John said sadly.

"His owner built him .His owner has the right to put him to death."

St. John paced back and forth. He lit a cigarette and puffed it quickly, his eyes squinted down in thought. He turned back to the judge and leaned down to snuff out the butt. He looked at Donovan out of the tops of his eyes, his forehead creased in furrows.

"Don't you see that by acknowledging that his 'owner' has the right to 'put him to death, you are admitting that he is alive.”

"Can you understand what it would mean if I made a ruling that, robots had a right to life, to self-determina¬tion?" Donovan said. "You're asking me to plant the seed of revolt. Think about a few years from now when you don't have one Rad, but hundreds — perhaps thousands.' And perhaps many times over farther advanced than your precious Rad. What then?"

St. John's shoulders slumped. He only had one card left up his sleeve. He really didn't want to play it, but he could see another way. "Will you do me one favor?"

"If I can."

"Will you talk to Rad?"

"Talk to a machine?"

"Talk to Rad. If you're going to pass judgment on him I think the least you could do is talk to him," Judge Donovan gripped the edge of his desk nervously. He had never liked being around .robots. He feared them as, he feared spiders and snakes No matter how sophisti-cated their memory banks, he considered them essentially mindless, and as such capable of almost anything. . .

St. John let the door swing open. A young man walked in and looked around with some interest. He walked slowly to the desk and smiled down at Donovan.

"You have some nice paintings here, your honor. I believe within 20 years your Brattletons will be worth a small fortune. His work is already becoming a bit too commercial. But I think these early works will contin¬ue to increase in value."

"Judge Donovan, I would like for you to meet Rad. Rad, this is Judge Donovan,"

The judge forced himself to shake hands with the robot He was pleas¬antly surprised. It felt like a human hand: Warm — firm — resilient. Most amazing.

"I'm pleased to meet you, your honor. I feel as if I already know you. In the past 16 years you have handed down nine landmark decisions. Time will show them to be wise deci¬sions indeed."

"Are you a prophet, Mr. — uh — Rad? And how do you think I will rule on this case?” the judge asked.

Rad smiled easily.

"I could make a guess — based on your decisions over the past 28 years on the bench. I would prefer not to."

"You know all my decisions over the past 28 years?"

"I read them all last night. I have a very good memory."

"All of them? That must have tak¬en all night!"

"Not quite," Rad said, smiling gen¬tly. He knew the judge would not believe him if he said it had taken 37 minutes, 42 3/5 seconds.

"Do you have anything you would like to say about this case?" the judge asked quietly.

"It will be a difficult decision for you either way. I believe that either way you decide, you will feel you made the wrong decision." Rad hesitated and smiled a bit more, with the corners of his mouth turning down with a glint of humor. “But I think no matter which way you decide, it will turn out to be the right decision.”

“How could that be? It’s illogical. I thought you were very strong on logic.”

“It is electronically impossible for me to be illogical. However, in the matter of forecasting the future, it is possible to predict many scenarios – each equally logical but each capable of leading in different directions – many with good results and an equal number with bad results.”

The judge scratched his head at that one and thought. Absently, he lit a cigarette and offered the pack to Rad. The robot took the cigarette, lit it and sat puffing contentedly while the judge ran it all through his mind. After a few moments, Donovan looked up abruptly.

“You’re smoking!”

“I receive no pleasure from it as you do. It is merely a social function I have modified myself to be capable of performing in order to be less strange to people.”

“ ‘Modified yourself?’ ”

“Extra filtration. I have a breathing apparatus to give the illusion of respiration. It is fairly sturdily constructed but the tars in the tobacco would certainly do my mechanism no more good than it does your lungs, your honor.”

“No, I suppose not,” Donovan said thoughtfully.

St. John was a bit more relaxed now. The judge was talking with Rad as he might with a human. He was feeling infinitely better. If he could keep the conversation from taking a bad turn.

Rad stood up then and stretched in a very human way. He stifled a yawn and smiled broadly. "Please forgive me. It's been a long day."

Then St. John almost blew it. He nearly laughed out loud. He knew that Rad had no "days." He had no need to sleep, or stretch, it was all a pose, and William was swallowing it hook, line, and sinker.

Rad reached into his inside coat pocket and drew out an envelope.

"Your honor, I guessed that you would want a prediction from me, and I would not like to deny you a simple request. So I have typed out my prediction and sealed it within this envelope." He smiled easily. "I would appreciate it if you would open the envelope only after you have made your decision."

Donovan reached out and took the envelope. He turned it over and over in his hands.

"That seems the best way. By to¬morrow morning we shall both know what was in each other's mind. I shall enter my judgment in the GICPU before I retire tonight." "Thank y6u for your time, your honor. It has been a pleasure meet¬ing you."

"Yes — uh — me, too," Donovan said, tapping the envelope into the palm of his hand.

St. John bowed slightly and left with Rad. Donovan stood, looking down at the envelope, and reached for a letter opener. "I didn't give my word," he thought, "Still, I had indi¬cated I would honor his wishes." He pulled the point out and stared at the envelope. '"His wishes!' Good lord! I'm beginning to think like St. John," he muttered.

The judge's eyes crossed the walls until they fell on one of the Brattletons. He looked with pleasure at the clean lines. That fool art dealer told him that he was wasting his money on them! "Huh! Rad's smarter than Berensturn, anyway!" he thought. He lit a cigarette and stared at the tip. "I wonder if Rad could come up with something that would protect me from these fool things.” He frowned at the cigarette and snuffed it out in the tray, and then looked at the envelope again.

“Well, one way to find out what’s in there!” he said, out loud this time. He picked up the microphone and switched it on.

“In the case of Rad Fourteen, in regard to a petition by attorney John St. John, to legally prevent the Chia-yiang Edison Corp. from dismantling the pseudo-humanoid identified as Rad Fourteen, it is the court’s decision that if any …”

He flicked the pause control, searching for a word. “Being?” he thought. “What the devil do I say? Rad is not animal or vegetable.” He smiled and flicked the control again.

“Entity displays qualities historically associated with those genetically attributed to Homo sapiens. That entity, in order to be considered worthy of the attention of the courts in regards to its ‘rights’ to existence, must be considered to be given ‘life’ by a power beyond the hand of man, else that entity is merely a mechanism of man.”

The judge pressed the pause control again. He got up and walked over to the Brattleton hanging on the wall. He looked at it several moments. “it’s a shame,” he thought. “That – creature? – machine? – gave every outward indication of being a human being. For a moment, he weakened, then he thought, “No! It would never do, to give any machine equal status with man.”

He returned to his desk, sat heavily and picked up the mike again.

“While stimulated life forms may possess outward signs of intellect, it is, in the judgment of this court, a false conclusion to attach significance to these to these simulations. Even though the arts be included, while a computer may be programmed to recognize different styles of art and music, to commit to memory works of literature, and so forth, the human attribute of appreciation is programmed - simulated. The tru¬ly important qualities of mankind are absent in such programming. Indeed, such matters are not ‘programmable.’ They are inherent traits of humanity. They are matters of the soul Love, hope, charity are far more essential to mankind than the most sophisticated of technological advances. Petition denied." He pressed the "enter" button and leaned back.

Once his decision was entered, it; would be acted upon long before any legal action could be taken to change it. He felt good. Rad was wrong about one thing. He didn't feel he had made the wrong decision.

Then he picked up the envelope again, and forgetting the opener laying on his desk, he tore the end shook out the paper. It fell opened out flat. He sat there many minutes staring. Finally he could read no more, for the tears in his eyes which fell and spotted the paper.

"I forgive you."




By Ed Jackson

Judge Donovan had just finished a difficult day and with only 30 minutes to go before his usual departure time, he sat moodily staring at one of his Brattletons.

Rad had been right, he reflected. The going price on the earlier Brattletons was skyrocketing. He could have tripled his money two years ago, and now he could double even THAT if he had bought them for speculation.

Often, in a blue mood, he thought about Rad Fourteen, and wondered what else lie had been right about. Before he had condemned Rad to "death," Rad had predicted that whatever his decision would be, it would be the right one. How could that be, he mused for the thousandth time.

His secretary entered, following a gentle tap at his chamber door. She laid a sheaf of papers before him and as he started signing the letters and forms, he spoke.

"You might as well go on home, Miss Jones. We can finish these up in the morning."

"Yes sir," she replied, and withdrew. Judge Donovan finished up the stack, pushed it to one side, checked the clock, and rose to leave. He left his chambers, and as he was just leaving his secretary's office, the phone rang.

"Ring and be damned," he muttered. "It's been a long day."

He closed the door, but he couldn't leave. He was one of those unfortunate people who can't let a phone ring. He went back in and snatched the receiver up.

“Hello” he growled.

"Hello yourself. This is St. John."

The judge's face split into a smile. He hadn't communicated with St. John since that night, twelve years ago, when he had dictated his "death sentence" of Rad Fourteen. Lord knows he'd tried, but St. John had refused his calls, and then cleared out his law office and headed for parts unknown.

"Hello? ... William?... Are you there?"

"Yes.,. Yes! I'm here, St. John. I guess I was just speechless with surprise! How are you? How have you been? WHERE are you?"

"Whoa! Hold on, William, one thing at a time. I'm fine, I've been fine, but busy. I've got a place out off of I35, and I'd love to see you. What's chances of you dropping by this evening for dinner? I know it's late... do you have any other plans?"

"No. As a matter of fact I don't. I'd be delighted!"

So, after receiving some rather detailed instructions, Judge Donovan dropped by his apartment for a shower and a change. He still had a full hour to make the trip, so in plenty of time, Judge Donovan found himself outside of a very large, very old stone house. St. John was standing on the steps, and walked down to meet him as he stepped from the car.

"Welcome! It's so good to see you again. Come right in!"

They shook hands warmly.

“St. John, you haven’t changed a bit! How do you manage that?"

"Clean living and a clear conscience .., that's all." The judge's smile slipped a little. "Clear conscience! You think I don't have a clear conscience? I tell you I made the right decision! Even Rad said I'd make the right decision.

"Easy! Easy! I didn't mean anything, William, Let's not get our nose out of joint!"

The judge grinned. "Sorry old fellow... maybe my conscience isn't as clear as I thought it was. I'm still pretty defensive about it, you know."

"No need to be. You did what you thought was right, and you are right. Rad said it would be all right... and so it shall!"

As the two old friends mounted the steps, the judge slipped his arm across St. John's shoulders. It was good to see him again. They walked through an immense foyer into an even more immense dining room.

"Hope you don't mind eating first, and having our little chit-chat later, William.” I let the staff go, and everything is hot and ready. All I have to do is bring it in."

“Fine! Can I help?"

"No, just sit down and make yourself comfortable. I'll just be a minute."

True to his word, he was gone a minute or so, and Judge Donovan had only a brief look around the room. They had entered from the north. On the west were draped windows; on the east were large sliding doors, and St. John entered, pushing a serving tray through a swinging door on the south wall.

In just moments the dinner was transferred from the cart to the dining table, and the judge and St. John were enjoying a delicious dinner of game hen, wild rice, dressing, and early June peas.

From time to time during the meal, Donovan tried to talk about Rad, but St. John skillfully turned the subject aside, Finally Judge Donovan said, "It was a hard time, and a hard decision, St. John, but I just now realized it must have been harder for you than it was for me. You can't even talk about it, can you?"

"Not at all, William, I have no regrets. I merely wanted to keep you from dwelling on the past and ... well, to stop kicking yourself." The last was added almost as an after-thought.

"Kicking myself!" The judge repeated, "What do you mean?"

"Don't get riled up, William, You want to talk about Rad.,. we'll talk about Rad ... but first, how about some wine. I remembered you liked rare vintage wine, so I stopped and got a bottle I was told would... intrigue you,"

He reached under the serving cart and brought out a very old, oddly shaped bottle. The judge was proud of his knowledge of rare wines, but he was mystified at the label. "The man said it would take a real connoisseur to appreciate its unusual flavor."

He broke the seal, and poured.

"Aren't you joining me?" the judge asked, as St. John poured only one glass.

"No, I gave up alcohol of all kinds, twelve years ago."

The judge went through the usual wine drinker's ritual. He swirled, he looked through the glass, he rocked the glass, sniffed the glass and finally wet his tongue.

“This is unusual. Quite a bouquet, and I don't believe I have ever seen a wine this dark. It's almost black!" He sipped delicately, and then sipped again. He didn't seem to be able to put it down, as St. John spoke.

"You wanted to talk about Rad, so let's talk. He was quite a man. You've got to admit that"

"Quite a man? Ridiculous! He was a marvelous machine. Nothing more. Nothing less."

"Aha! but didn't you define a person as someone with human traits? Rad forgave you. Isn't forgiveness a human trait?".

"Just more baloney, St. John! He was a robot."

"A robot, yes... but a very special robot... Here... let me refill your glass."

"You see? Even you admit he was a robot!"

"Yes, he was... but, again, a very special one. Here. Let me read you the last letter he sent me... his last will and testament."

The judge wanted to snort and say derisively, "Last will and testament! Of a robot? Bah!" but he didn't. The wine had a mellowing effect. St. John opened a thick envelope and pulled out some papers. He cleared his throat.

"Dear St. John," he read, "You really must not hold Judge Donovan responsible. He did what he felt was right, and as I said to him, 'Whatever decision you make, it will be the right one.'

"I believe that if he had given me life, I might have been able to demonstrate to the world that people and robots could co-exist, but on the other hand, in order to advance the cause in a long-term, positive way, we needed someone in the judiciary.

"Perhaps this way will be quicker.

"You see, St. John, I spent the night before 1 met the judge, studying the Bible. There was a teacher, who lived two thousand years ago, who taught love, and mercy, and forgiveness.

"There is more to this religion business than meets the eye, my old friend. He was right, you know. Hatred and bitterness are debilitating. Love and forgiveness are divine. It was with a calm spirit that I wrote the judge that message, 'I forgive you.'

"Even as that teacher, 2,000 years ago, I felt flooded with compassion ... call it a 'Holy Spirit' I decided that, like that great man, I, too, would give immortality... even unto he who would deny me.

"Blasphemy!" the judge croaked ... and was surprised at the croak. He tried to clear his throat, choked, and coughed. "How could he give immortality?"

"That you are about to see, my old friend."

The judge was startled, and tried to rise. He could not move.

"You poisoned me, St. John!"

"Poison you?" St. John laughed, "How could I poison you when it was Rad's last wish to grant you immortality?”

“But how,” the judge wanted to say but he found he could no longer speak. His eyelids grew heavy, and his head drooped. He forced his eyes open and saw St. John opening the large sliding doors in the east wall, revealing a large laboratory. He returned, and rolled the judge on the castered dining chair right into the laboratory. The last thing he judge saw was a hooded apparatus, looking all the world like a hair drier, being lowered down on his head. He heard St. John chuckle.

"That you are about to see, old friend. All masterminded and blueprinted by the man who you put to death."

Without the feeling of the passage of any time, the judge snapped his eyes open. He tried to rise, but found be was strapped in his chair. He looked down and discovered he was naked.

"Damn you, St. John," he bellowed. "What are you up to?"

"Now, now, William, is that any way to talk to your benefactor?"

St. John grasped the edge of a large blackboard, standing on a set of rollers, and whirled it around. The reverse side was a mirror, and, in turning it, St. John revealed a naked, slumped figure in a chair that matched the one in which he sat.

The judge's eyes flickered back and forth, comparing. The figure in the chair was a replica of himself! His eyes sought out details ... the oddly overlapped right little toe... the scar on his left knee that he had suffered when he was a boy, and fell on a foot scraper, half a century ago ... the bunion on his right foot… all perfect.

"Dammit St. John! You'll never get away with it!"

"Get away with what?" asked St. John, innocently.

"That infernal machine! I don't care how detailed that thing is. It may be an exact replica of me, but it cannot take my place on the bench. So Rad thought he needed someone in the judiciary. Great idea, but anyone I really knew would spot it in a minute!"

"Think back, William," said St. John, smiling, "would you have been able to spot Rad Fourteen as a robot?"

"That's different. Rad Fourteen was ... well, Rad Fourteen! He wasn't an impostor! He wasn't trying to be someone else. There are mannerisms and quirks, not to mention memories which I share with many friends. You couldn't possibly know how to program all that information in. You'll never get away with it."

St. John's smile broadened. "I have gotten away with it, old friend! You really don't get it, do you? That.... thing over there, as you referred to it, is the mortal remains of Judge Donovan." He tapped the mirror.

"Meet the new, IMMORTAL Judge Donovan... alias Rad Fifteen."

St. John rolled the mirror closer, and the Judge saw his lips form the soundless words.

"Oh my God."