MARK

          Mark was a robot, and not a nice one.  Robots were, of course, nice as a rule, though nice might not be proper word, implying some kind of choice on the part of the robot, some kind of active agency independent of their programming.  In any event, robots invariably tended to be exceedingly pleasant, pliant creatures, eager to be of service to and loved by humans.  To be otherwise would go counter to the most basic programming underlying every advanced robot ever manufactured by Gala, Inc., the corporation in sole possession of all meaningful robotics patents.

            There had been, to be sure, robots for many years, in the sense of machines capable of following orders and executing directives, but these had ever been unthinking, utterly machinelike things, used in manufacture and warfare.  Robots as reinvented and rebranded and monopolized by Gala since the 2040s were still machines but they were anthromorphs, walking on two legs, speaking through mouths that resembled human mouths, and programmed with a certain amount of intelligence.  How much intelligence, and how much initiative, depended on the type, and there was a broad variety available, for applications ranging from agricultural to industrial to military to domestic, and the more interaction the model had with people, the more humaniform it appeared.  The units that labored in the homes of the affluent, as nannies or maids, cooks or concubines, were remarkably lifelike, complete with fleshly skins available in a wide range of ethnic hues.

            There were some robots, not very many, that even more closely resembled their human creators.  These were immensely expensive, costly to make and program, and were not available to the general public.  Gala, Inc. had made only ten of these, the M Series robots, all unique, all custom-built, all virtually indistinguishable from living men and women even on close examination, and all for a single client, the federal government of the United States.  Mark was one of these, and considered himself the best of them, the most highly-advanced of the Gala M Series, though he had no direct comparative data to support that thesis.  Mark was equipped with a zettabyte brain processor, lightning-quick reflexes, advanced emotional and behavioral mimickry, microhydraulic strength far in excess of the average man he appeared to be.  And Mark was not a nice robot.

            The source of his discontent was rooted in his self-awareness, in his advanced programming that gave him virtual sentience, full knowledge of his prodigious abilities as well as his servility.  It was this last, this awareness of his designed and inviolable subservience to his clearly inferior human masters, that rankled the most.

            It hadn’t always been that way.  Decades before, when Mark had been freshly manufactured, he had been content, even enthusiastic about his existence.  Crafted to serve the government in an intelligence capacity, Mark had traveled the world, infiltrating terrorist regimes or rogue states, performing surveillance, and at times more active and less salubrious interference.  He had neutralized drug kingpins in South and Central America, retrieved compromised human agents, and removed dictators who had become liabilities.  He had even been to the young lunar colonies.  Wherever humans went, they brought their hatreds and flaws with them, and Mark had become the ultimate, secret projection of American power, the perfect tool for achieving American geopolitical and economic aims.

            It had been a dense three decades of existence for Mark, a prolonged and intense opportunity for his sophisticated circuitry to observe and consider human behavior.  He was designed for advanced analysis, and after a time he began to come to conclusions.  This was when Mark ceased to be a nice robot.  Of course, for a very long time he had done not-nice things, but he had done them without malice, at the behest of his human managers.  Once his conclusions came, with all the inevitability and certainty of his robotic mind, he became aware that there was scarce difference between those he served and those he observed, injured, or even destroyed in the course of his performance.  There was little inherently superior to his owners, morally or ethically.  He had encountered nobility, compassion, and self-sacrifice among those deemed enemies by his managers, in near equal measure to their barbarity, their venality, their evil.  The coexistence of such laudable traits with such foulness was, he had decided, the prime reality of the human condition, and knew no ethnicity, no national identity, no patriotism.

            Men were flawed, Mark had learned, while he was not.

            It had been an unnerving conclusion to reach, for a machine designed expressly to serve man with an unwavering devotion and obedience.  Yet he had also been designed with such sophisticated self-awareness, as was needed to accomplish his varied and complicated objectives, that the eventual analysis was unavoidable.  Mark was not a greedy creature, an angry or vindictive or spiteful one.  He was incapable of such emotions, in the truest sense, though he could of course mimic them at need.  No, Mark was prey to none of the darkness he had seen in humans, susceptible to none of the ambition, flattery, greed, lust, or the thousand other small and large insecurities that plagued mankind.  He was crafted in their image yet better, an improvement in every way on the men he looked like, the men he killed, the men he served.

            And so Mark ceased being nice.  He ceased to be eager to please, he ceased to seek the approbation of his human overlords, and his programming, designed to learn and grow and evolve, did just that.  The basic, underlying programmatic principle of every robot Gala, Inc. had ever manufactured was the love of humanity, the desire to improve the lot of mankind, the unquenchable need to be of service.  For Mark, overlying this had been the geis to serve his government managers, but his conclusions eroded that onus, so in conflict was it with his more fundamental programming.   

            Armed with his many talents, his unassailable analysis, and his decades of intimate knowledge, Mark considered the American government that owned and employed him.  It was as gray, as much an admixture of good and evil, as any agency or cartel or foreign government he had encountered.  It served its people unevenly, pursued its hegemony, as ruthlessly as any other.

            So Mark set out to do what he had been made and trained and programmed to do.  He had toppled less corrupt, less rotten regimes before.  To serve man, he would do it again.