In contrast to the majority of such stories, in which the lexical ambiguities of the Laws are employed to fashion a dilemma, the robot featured in "Runaround" is actually following the Laws as they were intended. The plot revolves around the Three Laws of Robotics : A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws. They discover that the photo-cell banks that provide life support to the base are short on selenium and will soon fail. Powell and Donovan become worried when they realize that Speedy has not returned after five hours.
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Some people see things that others cannot. Tales of Mystery and Imagination. This was a devil of a situation. Here they were, on Mercury exactly twelve hours-and already up to the eyebrows in the worst sort of trouble. Mercury had long been the jinx world of the System, but this was drawing it rather strong-even for a jinx. Even ten years, technologically speaking, meant so much. Compare Speedy with the type of robot they must have had back in But then, advances in robotics these days were tremendous.
Powell touched a still gleaming metal surface gingerly. The air of disuse that touched everything about the room-and the entire Station was infinitely depressing. Donovan must have felt it. He began: "I tried to locate him by radio, but it was no go. What did you get? It was no good for anything except his position.
I kept track of him that way for two hours and plotted the results on the map. Powell, hands clasped across his chest, watched it at long range. Seventeen miles away. But what difference does that make? This is impossible. Donovan added: "In the two hours I checked on him, he circled that damned pool four times. Oh, yes, he realized the position they were in. It worked itself out as simply as a syllogism.
The only thing that could save them was selenium. The only thing that could get the selenium was Speedy. No selenium, no photo-cell banks. No photo-banks - well, death by slow broiling is one of the more unpleasant ways of being done in. Donovan rubbed his red mop of hair savagely and expressed himself with bitterness.
How can everything have gone so wrong so soon? The great team of Powell and Donovan is sent out to Mercury to report on the advisability of reopening the Sunside Mining Station with modern techniques and robots and we ruin everything the first day. A purely routine job, too. It was criminal, sending us out here with only one robot. And it was your bright idea that we could handle the photo-cell banks ourselves.
It was a mutual decision and you know it. What the devil! Go on, spill it. If they work. Are you sure? They may be subrobotic machines. Ten years is a long time as far as robot-types are concerned, you know. They were large, extremely so, and even though they were in a sitting position on the floor, legs straddled out before them, their heads were: a good seven feet in the air.
Donovan whistled. The chests must be ten feet around. Even the diaphragm is in reasonable order. They might talk. There was difficulty in fitting it, but he managed, and then screwed the plate back on again in laborious fashion. The radio controls of more modern models had not been heard of ten years earlier. And then to the other five. He went back to the first in the line and struck him on the chest.
Do you hear me? Then, in a harsh, squawking voice-like that of a medieval phonograph, he grated, "Yes, Master! Those were tire days of the first talking robots when it looked as if the use of robots on Earth would be banned. The makers were fighting that and they built good, healthy slave complexes into the damned machines.
Powell said: "Can you go out upon the surface? In the light? Then, "Yes, Master. Do you know what a mile is? You will go about seventeen miles, and somewhere in that general region you will meet another robot, smaller than yourself. You understand so far? If he does not wish to, you are to bring him back by force. You must mount first. Powell stared and then pinched at his mustache. Like a horse? I told you they were playing up robot-safety in those days.
Evidently, they were going to sell the notion of safety by not allowing them to move about, without a mahout on their shoulders all the time. What do we do now? Oh, for the love of Pete" - and he snapped his fingers twice. He grew excited. This is a Mining Station. Donovan studied the list of symbols at the bottom of the map.
If the robots know their way around here. It was the first time either had worn the insosuits - which marked one time more than either had expected to upon their arrival the day before-and they tested their limb movements uncomfortably. The insosuit was far bulkier and far uglier than the regulation spacesuit; but withal considerably lighter, due to the fact that they were entirely nonmetallic in composition. Five to ten minutes more, as well, without actually killing the occupant.
He placed a foot in the improvised stirrup and swung upward. He found the seat comfortable; there was the humped back of the robot, evidently shaped for the purpose, a shallow groove along each shoulder for the thighs and two elongated "cars" whose purpose now seemed obvious. Powell seized the ears and twisted the head. His mount turned ponderously. The gigantic robots moved slowly, with mechanical precision, through the doorway that cleared their heads by a scant foot, so that the two men had to duck hurriedly, along a narrow corridor in which their unhurried footsteps boomed monotonously and into the air lock.
The long, airless tunnel that stretched to a pinpoint before them brought home forcefully to Powell the exact magnitude of the task accomplished by the First Expedition, with their crude robots and their start-from-scratch necessities. The robots plodded onward with a pace that never varied and with footsteps that never lengthened.
Powell said: "Notice that these tunnels are blazing with lights and that the temperature is Earth-normal. The heat is turned into electricity, light, mechanical work and what have you; so that energy is supplied and the Station is cooled in a simultaneous process.
It so happens that this conversion of energy that you talk about is carried on by the photocell banks mainly-and that is a tender subject with me at the moment. This time, silence that lasted. Donovan had inspected a jagged hole in the upper reaches of one of the walls by the light of his pocket flash. Powell shrugged. Before them, the shadow reached out and ended in knife-edge abruptness into an all-but-unbearable blaze of white light, that glittered from myriad crystals along a rocky ground.
Something like the Moon, you know. Beautiful or not, a look at the sunlight through straight glass would have blinded them inside of half a minute. Donovan was looking at the spring thermometer on his wrist. A little high. Atmosphere, you know. Are you nuts?
He was adjusting the binocular attachments to his visiplate, and the bloated fingers of the insosuit were clumsy at it. The vapors sweep into the shadows and condense, giving up heat. Our suits can stand a measly eighty indefinitely. Donovan watched tensely. Legs straddled wide, eyes straining, he said: "I think I think.
He had no binoculars, but there was a tiny moving dot, black against the blazing brilliance of the crystalline ground.
Runaround (Short Story)