"Forward!" Nic commanded. It walked forward. "Stop! Walk
towards me." It walked towards him. "Stop! Walk towards the person in
this room you most dislike." It shuffled a foot out, hesitated, didn't take the
Ansle nodded, sagely. "I see. Simple commands they can perform without trouble, but anything requiring thought..."
"Yes," agreed Nic, "but they are able to do pretty well anything that in their previous lives was second nature to them. I can have this one ride a horse because he could do that automatically before he died, but that one over there," he pointed, "was only a beginner, he'd need to think too much - it isn't ingrained in him yet."
"Yet? You mean they can learn?"
He frown-smiled. "Well, not really, it's tricky - given time I suppose they might. You can tell them to copy you in doing a simple task, giving the sequence a name for them to remember - `make cake' or whatever; later, if you command them to `make cake', then they'll do so, but only if their memory is up to it. Even then, they'll perform all actions just as they did the first time, and any minor change in circumstances may confuse them. Give them an empty jug instead of one full of milkwater, and they'll probably carry on regardless; swap a fork with a knife, and when it comes to cutting with it they'll falter, won't swap it back."
"What about more complex things? Can they use magic?" It was Nolley who asked, to Ansle's open annoyance.
Nic looked at her, sidelong. "It seems not. We tried with a dead mage: you could tell her to cast a light-prime and she'd make all the right gestures, just as she would have done in life. When she'd reach the end, though, nothing would ever happen."
"Why should that be? I understand the underlying theory of magic to imply that if gestures are made properly, in the correct order, the spell must work regardless of other considerations. Live spellcasters can easily flick long segments while carrying on a conversation, and yet their spells still function; concentration isn't a factor."
He shrugged. "They usually pay attention when the spell is about to be cast, so perhaps the process requires some sentience at that point?"
"But macro-physically, can't spells backfire even when people aren't really attending to their gestures?"
"That's hard to ascertain, General - most miscast sufferers aren't exactly able to tell us anything about it afterwards!"
She opened her hand, conceded.
Ansle glanced over to her, uneasily, checked she'd finished. Satisfied, he turned to his deputy. "Nic, how about other types of co- ordinated activity? What's the best it can do?"
"Attack!" he instructed, pointed at Ansle. It advanced, quickly, hands held claw-like before it.
"Stop!" shouted the chancellor, before it reached him. It did. He readjusted his robe. "Very funny, Nic."
He smiled, his moustache adding emphasis. "The more primitive the action, the more likely they are to be able to comply. Killing is apparently something people did instinctively throughout prehistory - it's primal."
"A lot of use if all you have to do to escape death is tell them to stop." Nolley's voice was wry with suspicion.
"We have a simple solution. An establishment in Cala Bay Town is making us some deaf shots that will blank out users' auditory faculties for about six hours. So, we issue our commands, slap the deaf shots on the prosses, and they can't be given counter-orders. The control spell we use only works for verbal instructions, so there's no danger if the enemy holds up big placards with `STOP' written on them."
"Do they need food?" interrupted Ansle. "I've organised supplies assuming they do."
Nic nodded. "As with normal prosthetics, they require proper sustenance, yes. Without water, they probably wouldn't last more than about a week, and be largely inoperative within three days. Food's not so essential - perhaps five or six days before they become uselessly weak, over a month before they waste away."
"I suppose you have to order them to eat, though..."
"That's correct, but it's advantageous; if we lose track of any of them, they won't last over long. I wouldn't worry about packs of them wandering aimlessly around the countryside, terrorising farmers for the next fifty years!"
Nolley was fidgeting, impatient. "Forgive my scepticism," she paused, ordered her words, "but when you first told me about this project you vouched the opinion that prosthetic brains might be of superior intellect to their originals. However, it transpires that your creations are not merely dim, but they don't even have the basic capacity to realise they should eat when they're hungry. Even animals can do that."
"The problem," began Nic, "is that they have no motivation. Insofar as processing power is concerned, if we give them tasks that they internalised when alive, they do indeed consistently out-perform their previous best. One of my students is working on a clerk at the moment, he can total lists of numbers about twenty percent faster than it seems he could before. His brain, it seems, is running quicker, but there are few opportunities for us to exploit the speed-up. They just can't think for themselves."
"But why is that?" she continued. "You're not proposing that there's something in live people akin to a soul, are you?"
"Not in the least. My explanation is more related to causality. Compare a person to a single log fire, burning in a grate. If we throw water on the fire, it will go out. We can wipe off the moisture and leave the log in the sun to parch - perhaps eventually even getting it drier than it was while burning. However, we also need a spark to set it aflame. Without a spark, a log can only burn if it is already aflame. With people, I believe that thinking proceeds only as a continuation of existing thought. Our magic can rebuild a body to superior specifications, but it doesn't provide the initial conditions necessary to set the mind in motion."
Ansle raised his hand slightly. "I think I should say that Nic and I differ on this point. In my opinion, the prosthetic spell damages the brain when it reconstitutes it, prohibiting the higher mental processes. That's what I shall be telling Justan, anyway; otherwise, he might ask for guarantees that nothing could happen which might act as a catalyst to start the prosses off thinking. He prefers them as they are, inert."
"Me too." She glanced at the vacant face of the animated corpse, rubbed her arm, subconsciously. "So, Professor Nicvia, how many do you have, and how many can you make?"
Nic walked to a desk, pulled a notepad from a drawer, passed it to her. "We only have a couple of dozen test models at the moment, but once we start full production we'll soon exceed that. Casting time is about thirty hours - no need for wakers - but we're having to use cheap labour and there'll be a consequently high restart rate due to errors. Calculating from the maximum number of workers we can fit in the castle, the turnover comes out at around a thousand a day."
"A thousand a day?" Slowly, she clasped the back of her neck, scowled, considered. "Of course, if you billeted the castle garrison outside, that would release another few hundred beds for spellcasters, and also lower the number of uninvolved people who knew what was going on inside." She scanned the notes. "Furthermore, your equations have rather pessimistic values for the coefficients representing expected gesture rates."
Nic looked at Ansle.
"I think, professors, you could probably cope with fifteen hundred bodies a day. And if I can conclude that after a cursory examination of the facts, so can Justan. He'll order you to improve your productivity, and that will mean you'll lose the excess that you were hoping to keep for yourselves." She tossed the pad onto the desk. "I suggest you come up with a more plausible set of figures."
Nic grinned, returned to the drawer, withdrew a single sheet of vellum. "Justan would think something was amiss if he couldn't squeeze more production out of us. Fifteen or sixteen hundred, yes, that's what I expect he'll press for." He held out the paper, Nolley took it. "Those are the true estimates. I'm confident we can shift two thousand a day once the factory is running to full capacity."
Nolley looked them over, coldly.
"Nic," said Ansle, smugly, "you're a marvel."
21st January 1999: isif58.htm