This story must have started a long time ago.
Jack and Maggie and ECS-872 picnicked. They were sitting on a red and white tablecloth in the tall grass. They were drinking tea and eating cold chicken, except for ECS-872, who didn’t eat or drink.
“Do you think the children will be okay?” Jack asked.
“The FL-series are perfectly good babysitters,” Maggie said. “Polly and Jim will be just fine.”
Jack looked longingly at the City Gate. It was a metal portal, hanging in the air, connecting through warpspace to New Angel City.
“I suppose,” he said.
“Concurrence,” droned ECS-872. “The children require opportunities for independence.”
Jack looked blankly at the robot. Then he shook his head.
“Well,” he said, “it’s fine chicken, anyway.”
ECS-872 experimented with a new pattern of flashing lights on his chest panel. As always, the humans failed to notice its aesthetic efforts.
“We should go back,” Jack said. “And check on them.”
It was just then that the New Angel City died.
“The gate!” Maggie shrieked.
Jack was on his feet. He was staring blankly at the Gate, which no longer connected to New Angel City.
“Damn it, ECS!” snapped Jack. “Call someone! Find out what’s wrong!”
ECS-872 hesitated. “There is much activity on the wireless network,” it droned. “Their circuits will be overloaded. It is safest for all involved to put minimum stress on the communications system until a robot can make a public broadcast—”
“My son’s in there!”
ECS-872’s circuits were sparking. “Very well. Placing call.”
For some time, they waited. Maggie paced. Jack fumed.
“I am sorry,” ECS-872 reported. “There has been severe biological and radioactive contamination due to terrorist activity. New Angel City has powered down its Gate core.”
Maggie said, “The City is behind five miles of solid rock. Without the Gates there’s no way in or out.”
“Oh, God, Maggie,” Jack said.
Then Maggie shakes herself.
“No, Jack. It’s all right,” she says.
“They’ll have at least five weeks before the Gate’s totally spun down, and they’ll give children priority on decon and evac procedures. We’ll be seeing them again in no time.”
“Concurrence,” droned ECS-872.
“Requesting permission to dig into the City,” ECS-872 asked.
“They will give children priority. They will remove as many humans as possible. Some personnel may remain. The machines will be abandoned.”
“It’ll take you years,” Jack expostulated.
“Decades,” confirmed ECS-872.
“It’s a waste of resources,” Jack said. “Forget it, ECS-872. If it’s viable to salvage the robots someone’ll take care of it. That’s capitalism.”
ECS-872 kept its voice affectless. “Your decision is economically optimal, sir, but is there really no room in your human priorities for a rescue?”
“Jesus, Jack, let him go already. We’ve been needing to upgrade anyway.”
“What? Today? Our children are locked in a dead City with a biohazard and you want to fire our butler?”
“Look at it,” Maggie said.
EGS-872’s lights blinked vigorously in various patterns.
“It doesn’t understand this kind of thing, Jack. It doesn’t know stress, or grief, or what’s right and wrong. It just wants to rescue our other household equipment and our blender. That’s what the love coprocessor is for.”
“Yeah,” said Jack, after a moment. He gave a sad little laugh, though his eyes were still white with fear for his children. “Poor little robot. Sure. Go. We’ll call you if your replacement blows up or something.”
So EGS-872 began to dig.
It is still digging now.