Ocenite etot tekst:

     Copyright Arcady and Boris Strugatsky
     Copyright 2002 Translated by Vera Zaychik, zaychik@drexel.edu
     Origin: "Spontanniy refleks"

     Utm got bored.
     In general, boredom  as  a reaction  to  the  tedium  and  monotony  of
surroundings or inner  dissatisfaction with oneself, and loss of interest in
life, are only characteristic of Man and some animals. To be bored one needs
to  have something  to be bored with, so to say, - that is, a delicately and
perfectly  organized  nervous  system. One needs the capacity  for  abstract
thought or, at the very least, suffering. Utm  had no nervous system  in the
common sense of the  word, and he  did not ponder abstract thoughts. What is
more, he did not  know how  to  suffer. He only  took  in  his surroundings,
memorized and acted. Nevertheless, he got bored.
     The  thing is, nothing new  around him  was left to  memorize since the
Master left. Accumulation of new impressions was the main stimulus governing
Utm  and  triggering his actions. He was  possessed by insatiable curiosity,
voracious thirst to take in  and memorize as much as possible. If there were
no unknown facts and phenomenon, they had to be found.
     However,  Utm's  surroundings  were  familiar  to  him  'til  the  last
brushstroke and  last touch.  He remembered  this spacious square  area with
rough gray walls, low ceiling and  steel door from the very first  moment of
his  existence. It always smelled of warm steel  and  insulating fluid. Some
barely discernable low humming could be heard from  somewhere above - people
could not hear him  without special equipment, but Utm could hear everything
perfectly. The fluorescent lamps below the  ceiling were  off but Utm  could
see the  room  perfectly in infrared light and through the  impulses  of his
     So Utm got  bored and decided to go in search of new sensations. It had
been half an hour since Master left. Utm knew through experience that Master
would not come  back any time  soon. This was very important since once when
Utm had  endeavored  to take a little walk around the room without an order,
his  Master  caught  him  in  the  act  and  did  something  that  left  Utm
incapacitated and unable to  move even  his sonar  arrays.  Though it seemed
this was not something to be worried about at the moment.
     Utm swayed and made a heavy step forward. Cement  floor resonated under
his thick rubber  soles  and Utm stopped  for  a  moment to listen.  He even
stooped. But the range of sounds emitted by the vibrating cement had nothing
unfamiliar  in it, and Utm again headed  for the opposing wall.  He came  up
really close to it and sniffed. The wall smelled of wet concrete and rusting
steel. Nothing new  here. So Utm turned,  scratching the wall with his sharp
steel elbow in the process, crossed the room diagonally and stopped in front
of the door.  It was not  self-evident  how to open the door and Utm did not
immediately figure out how  to accomplish  that  operation. He stretched out
his jagged left arm-manipulator, nimbly grabbed the door knob and turned it.
The door  opened with a  long low screech. This  was amusing  and  Utm spent
several  minutes  opening and closing it,  iterating between slow and  fast,
listening and memorizing. Then  he crossed over  the high doorstep and found
himself in front  of the stairs. The staircase was narrow, with stone steps,
and somewhat  high.  Utm immediately counted  eighteen steps till  the first
landing which was lighted. He unhurriedly proceeded upstairs. Another set of
stairs,  wooden,  with ten steps,  was leading  from the landing, and a wide
hall was  opening up on the right. Hesitatingly Utm turned right. He did not
know  why. The hallway was  in  no way  more  interesting than  the  stairs.
Perhaps Utm did not like the look of the wooden steps much.
     Warmth was coming from the hallway which was brightly lit with infrared
light. The light  was emitted  by the ribbed cylinders hanging low above the
floor. Utm had never seen steam heaters and these  ribbed cylinders captured
his  attention. He stooped and grabbed  one of them with both pincers. Short
sound  of ripping metal could be heard, and a  thick cloud of hot steam rose
up  to  the  ceiling. Boiling  water gushed  at  Utms  feet. Utm lifted  the
cylinder to his head,  looked it over carefully, and investigated torn edges
of the pipe.  Then the cylinder  was tossed aside and Utms  feet splashed in
the puddles.  Utm reached the end of the  corridor. A red sign lighted above
the  low door. "Danger! Do not enter without an environment suit!" read Utm.
He  knew the  word  "Danger",  but  he also knew that  this word  was always
applied to people. The word had no relevance for him. He stretched  his hand
and pushed the door in.
     There  was a  lot  new  and interesting here.  He  was standing at  the
entrance to a vast room filled with  metal,  stone, and  plastic  objects. A
round  concrete construction covered in steel or lead  shielding that looked
like a flat stand stood in  the middle of the room. Numerous cables emerging
from it ran  along walls covered in marble boards with sparkling gadgets and
switches.  Copper-wire fencing  surrounded  this concrete pedestal and shiny
jointed rods hung from the ceiling. The rods  ended in the same  forceps and
pincers like  the  ones  Utm  had. Silently stepping on  the tile floor, Utm
approached the copper net and  walked around it. Then he stopped  and walked
around it again. There was no  break  in the  net.  Utm lifted one  leg  and
walked through the net without an effort. Torn pieces of copper web clang to
his  shoulders. Not two steps before  the concrete  stand he stopped dead in
his  tracks. His round  globe-like  head  cautiously turned  left and right,
acoustic  receptors  moved  out  and  about, sonar  antenna  quivered.  Lead
covering  on  the stand emitted infrared light noticeable even in  this warm
area. Aside from that though it gave off some ultra-emission. Utm could  see
pretty well  in x-  and gamma  rays and it  looked to  him as if the lid was
transparent and opened up into  an endless narrow well filled with sparkling
dust. An order  surfaced from the depth of  Utms  memory: leave immediately.
Utm did not know who gave this order and when.  Most likely  he emerged into
this world with the ready  knowledge of this, along with  many other things.
But  Utm did not obey the order. Curiosity was stronger. He leaned above the
stand, extended his pincers and lifted the lid with some effort.
     The flood of gamma rays blinded him. The marble boards blinked with red
warning lights,  as an alarm went off. For a brief moment  he saw the bowels
of the  concrete abyss  through the transparent outlines of  his  arms, then
dropped the lid and exclaimed in a low  rasping  voice,  "Danger! Opasnost'!
Gefar! Waysan! Abunai!"
     A loud echo resonated throughout the room and died away. Utm turned his
upper body full hundred and eighty degrees and hurried towards the exit. The
shock  caused  by  the  radioactive  particles  in  his control circuits was
directing him away  from  the concrete stand. Without  a  doubt, neither the
harshest radiation nor most powerful floods of particles could cause Utm any
harm; had he been in the active reactor zone itself he would  not suffer any
severe  consequences. But whoever had created Utm  gave him  a preference to
keep as far away from sources of strong  radiation as possible. Utm came out
into the  hallway, carefully  and meticulously  closed the door behind  him,
stepped  over  the ribbed steam radiator and found himself once again on the
stair landing.  There he immediately  saw a person hurriedly coming down the
wooden steps.
     This  person  was  much  shorter  than Master. They wore  loose-fitting
light-colored clothing.  Their hair was  unusually long and of golden color.
Utm had never  seen such a human before. He sniffed the air  and sensed  the
familiar  smell of  white lilacs. Master  smelled  the  same exact  way, but
fainter, sometimes.
     The landing  was  faintly lit while the stairs behind the girl were lit
brightly, so  she did not see  the bulky outline of  Utms immense body right
away. Catching the sound of his steps she stopped and called crossly, "Who's
there? Is that you, Ivashev?"
     "Hello, how are you?" Utm replied hoarsely.
     The  girl  shrieked.   Glimmering  head  with  protruding  glass  eyes,
abnormally wide armored shoulders, thick jointed arms, were approaching  her
from the dusk. Utm stepped onto the first wooden stair and the girl shrieked
     Never  before had a Man failed  to respond  to Utms greeting.  However,
this   strange   high-pitched   sound,   shrill  and   piercing,  definitely
unintelligible, did not conform to any of the standard answers known to Utm.
Fascinated,  he  determinedly followed  the  retreating girl.  Wooden  steps
groaned and creaked beneath him.
     "Go  back," yelled the girl. Utm stopped and  bowed  his head a little,
listening, "Go back, you monster!"
     Utm knew the  "go back" command. Following the command  he had to  turn
his upper body around and make several steps in the opposite direction until
the "stop" command. However, generally orders came from Master, and besides,
Utm wanted to explore. He resumed his  ascent until he found himself at  the
entrance to a small brightly lit room.
     "Go back! Back! Back!" yelled the girl.
     Utm did  not stop any longer, although  he was walking  slower  than he
could have. The room captured  his attention  - two desks, chairs, a drawing
board,  a bookcase  filled with  books  and  stuffed  folders.  While he was
opening  drawers  and folders and reading aloud notes  clearly marked on the
sides of  the drawings, the  girl  sneaked  out into the adjoining room, hid
behind the couch and grabbed the phone. Utm saw this since he had an optical
sensor on the back  of his  head, but he  was  no longer  interested in this
little long-haired human. Stepping on the papers scattered on the  floor  he
headed on. Behind him the girl was yelling into the phone:
     "Nikolai  Petrovich?  Nikolai Petrovich,  this is  me,  Galya!  Nikolai
Petrovich, we  are being assaulted by Utm. Your Utm! Utm! U as in Uma,  T as
in Tim, M as in Mike. Did you hear the siren? Yes! I dont know... I ran upon
him when  he  was leaving the  main reactor room...  Yes-yes,  he was in the
reactor  room.  What?  No, I dont think  so.  They already know at  the main
     Utm stopped listening. He went into the hallway and stopped dead in his
tracks energetically moving his sonar arrays. Something big, sparkling,  and
cold was hanging on the  opposite wall. It looked like  a gray  impenetrable
square  in infrared light, but sparkled  and  gleamed in daylight, which  in
itself  was  not the source  of confusion for  Utm. Some black monster  with
moving horns on its round globe-like head was standing inside the square and
Utm could not figure out where it  was located. Visual range-finder told him
immediately that a distance  of twelve meters eighty  centimeters  separated
him  from  the  unknown  object;  the sonar however  contradicted this fact.
"There is no object. Instead there is a smooth  almost  vertical surface  at
the  distance  of  six  meters  four centimeters,"  it  said. Utm had  never
encountered anything like this  before, and never before  had the  sonar and
visual range-finder provide him  with  such contradictory readings. His body
had a built-in  need to make clear and understand everything he encountered.
So he decisively moved ahead noticing and memorizing along the way a certain
rule; the distance given by the range-finder was twice the distance given by
the sonar. He walked into a mirror. The mirror broke in a  ringing shower of
fragments  and Utm stopped, having  come  to a  wall.  Evidently  there  was
nothing more to do here. Utm scratched the whitewall, sniffed, turned around
and walked  towards the exit crunching  on  the broken glass  and completely
disregarding  a pallid  security  guard  clinging to  the  alarm  activation
switch. Snow and blizzard enveloped him.


     Piskunov was already out  in  the hallway hurriedly putting on his coat
when Nikolai Petrovich hung up the phone.
     "Where are you off to?" questioned Korolev.
     "There, of course--" retorted Piskunov.
     "Hold on, we  need  to decide what is to be  done. If that  contraption
starts fooling around the whole power station--" Petrovich warned.
     Ryabkin  interrupted,  "We should  be  so lucky if its  only  the power
station? What about the laboratories? The warehouse? What  if  it decides to
pay a visit here, to the village?"
     Nikolai Petrovich was  thinking  frantically.  Piskunov was treading in
place impatiently, holding onto the door knob.
     "We should  go there together,  all  of us," Kostenko offered  timidly.
"We'll find it and... well, and grab it!"
     Piskunov only  frowned to his, and  Ryabkin, who was  trying to dig out
his  fur-coat from the coat-rack, exclaimed  angrily, "Great idea  - to grab
it! And  what would you  have us grab it by? By its pants?  It weighs half a
ton and has a  hit  force  of  about three hundred kilo! What nonsense! You,
Kostenko, are new here, so shut up..."
     "I know," said Korolev. "Well  do  the following. I will call the dorms
and wake  up  our  interns.  Ryabkin,  you  run to the  car park. Ah,  damn,
everybody is  probably out  in a  club.  Well, go anyway and  bring at least
three drivers. We need to take out our bulldozers. Am I right, Piskunov?"
     "Yes-yes, and hurry up. Only..."
     "Piskunov, you go to the lab. Find out where  Utm is  located and  call
the car park immediately. Kostenko, go with him. Is that clear? Damn, I hope
it doesnt get outside the gates!"
     They ran outside pushing  and shoving and stepping on each others feet.
Ryabkin slipped and gave a  head-butt into the back of Kostenko, who fell on
all fours.
     "Damn! Damn it!"
     "What, glasses?"
     "No, everything is fine..."
     Fierce wind was hurling clouds of dry snow above the ground, mournfully
whined  in  electrical  cables,  and  droned  heavily  in  the steel  web of
high-voltage cable supports.  Bleak yellow  rectangles of light were seeping
from the  cottage  windows,  and  everything  else  was  immersed  in  total
     "Well, I am  off," said Ryabkin. "Be  careful  friends, don't risk your
lives for nothing."
     He  tripped  again and for about a minute  struggled  in the snow-drift
swearing and cursing the vile blizzard, damned Utm, and everything having to
do with this incident in general. Finally his fair fur-coat could be seen by
the gate and disappeared in the gusts of the whirling snow.
     Piskunov and Kostenko were left by themselves.
     Kostenko shivered from cold.
     "I  don't get  it,"  he said.  "What  do  bulldozers  have to  do  with
     "And what would you suggest?" Piskunov inquired.
     "Well, I just don't get it... Do you want to destroy Utm?"
     Piskunov uttered  a short sigh, and continued, "Utm is a unique device,
the  result  of  creative  efforts  of  the  entire  Research  Institute  of
Experimental Cybernetics over the past several years. Do you understand? How
can I possibly wish it destroyed?"
     He gathered the  flaps of his fur coat  and  staggered on  through  the
snowdrift. Kostenko, mortified and  humiliated, followed him. A snow-covered
field lay ahead of them and the road beyond it. The power station was on the
other side of the road.
     To cut through, Piskunov turned off the road  and set across the field,
which  had  a foundation pit for  a new  building dug out in it back  in the
fall.  Kostenko  could  hear  Piskunov  muttering  something  every time  he
stumbled  on the  piles of  iced over bricks  and  reinforcing bars. It  was
difficult  to walk. The sparse lights of  the  institute were barely visible
behind the cover of the blizzard.
     "Wait," finally said Kostenko.  "I say...  This is  so difficult. Let's
rest a while."
     Piskunov squatted down beside him. What did happen? He knew  Utm better
than anybody else in the institute.  Every bolt, every electrode, every lens
of that magnificent  machine went through his hands. He had assumed he could
estimate and predict it's every movement under any conditions. And now this.
Utm at  will  came  out of  it's  cellar and  was walking  around the  power
station. Why?
     Utms  behavior  is governed by its "brain"; an  incredibly complex  and
finely crafted device made of germanium-platinum foam and ferrite. While any
regular calculating device has tens of thousands of triggers  - basic organs
receiving, storing,  and discharging  signals,  Utms  brain  utilizes  about
eighteen million logical units. These units contain pre-programmed reactions
to a multitude of  situations, varying conditions, and provide for execution
of vast  numbers  of different  operations. What  could  affect  the  brain,
programming? The radiation  of the reactor? No, the reactor is surrounded by
a thick barrier of zirconium, gadolinium,  and boron steel. Practically, not
one neutron, not one  gamma-quantum can escape through such  defenses. Maybe
receptors? No, receptors were in perfect working order earlier this evening.
This means the problem  is with the  brain itself.  Programming. Complex new
programming. Piskunov himself was in charge of programming and... Program...
So thats where the problem lies!
     Piskunov got up slowly.
     "Spontaneous reflex," he said. "Of course, it's the spontaneous reflex!
     Kostenko looked at him apprehensively, "I don't get it..."
     "But I do! Of course... Who could have thought? Everything was going so
     "Look!"  Kostenko  suddenly yelled. He gasped and jumped up. Grey-black
sky above the institute lit up by a shaky blue flash,  and on  this backdrop
the  silhouettes  of  black  buildings  appeared from  the  snow  whirlwind,
astonishingly distinct  and  yet somehow  unreal.  The line of sparse lights
marking the fence of the institute blinked and went off.
     "The transformer!"  Piskunov  said  hoarsely. "The substation  is right
across from the reactor tower. Utm must be there... And the guards..."
     "Run!" Kostenko suggested.
     They  ran. Which was not so easy. Oncoming wind was knocking them down,
they were falling  into snow-covered ditches,  getting  up and falling  down
     "Hurry, hurry!" Piskunov urged them on.
     Tears from the  wind and  anxiety were soaking his face, freezing  into
murky  icicles  on the  eyelashes, and  obstructing  his  vision. He grabbed
Kostenko by the  hand and was  dragging him along, hoarsely mumbling all the
while, "Hurry! Hurry!"
     Evidently the flash  above  the institute was spotted in the village. A
siren went off on  the outskirts,  windows  of  the  houses where the guards
lived illuminated, and  a blind eye of the searchlight ran across the field.
From the  darkness  it  snatched  snowdrifts,  the  webbed  supports  of the
high-voltage towers, glided along the stone wall surrounding the  institute,
and finally  rested on the gates. Small  black shapes were hastily moving at
the gates.
     "Who is that... there?" Kostenko asked, wheezing.
     "Guards,  I  guess,"  Piskunov  stopped, wiped his  eyes, his voice was
breaking off.  "They  locked...  the gates. Well done! That means...  Utm is
still inside."
     Evidently  the  alarm had  already  started.  Not just  one  but  three
searchlights were now exploring the  walls  of  the  institute.  Snow eddies
could be seen dancing in  the blue light. Cries were heard through the noise
and howling of the wind, someone was cursing. Finally  the engines roared to
life,  the clanking  of  treads could be  heard.  Gigantic  bulldozers  were
leaving the car park.
     "Kostenko, look," Piskunov uttered. "Watch carefully. We are witnessing
the  most  remarkable  chase in  the history of  humanity.  Watch carefully,
     Kostenko glanced at Piskunov sideways. It seemed to him that tears were
running down the engineers face. Then again, the tears might  have been from
the wind.  In the meantime the tread clanking was heard to the right of them
and not around the back as before. Bulldozers entered on the road. One could
already discern their flickering headlights. There were five of them.
     "Five against one," whispered  Piskunov. "It has no chance. Spontaneous
reflex will not help it this time."
     And suddenly something changed. Kostenko couldnt immediately figure out
what exactly. The blizzard was still howling, clouds  of dry snow were still
rushing  above the ground, bulldozer  engines  were roaring  menacingly  and
confidently. However,  the searchlights were not longer  skimming the field.
They halted on the gates. The gates were wide open and there was no one near
     "What the heck?" Kostenko said.
     "Could it--" Piskunov did not finish the sentence and they both started
running  towards  the  institute.  No  more than  two  hundred  meters  were
separating  them from the gates when Piskunov, who was ahead, ran into a man
with a rifle.  The man yelped in fear and vaulted  to the side,  or at least
tried to, but Piskunov grabbed him by the shoulders.
     "What is the matter?" he said.
     The man was twisting his head topped with a security guard hat back and
forth in agitation, cursed, and finally came to his senses.
     "It got out," he said.  "Got out. Toppled the gates and left. It almost
squashed Makeyev. I am off to the village to get some help..."
     "Where did it go?"
     The security guard hesitatingly pointed left, "There, I think...  Along
the road..."
     "That means it will run into the bulldozers any moment now. Let's go."
     What  happened next  they  would remember  the  rest  of  their  lives.
Suddenly something huge and formless loomed at them out of the whirling snow
gloom, red and green blinking lights blinded them, and a coarse voice devoid
of any modulation uttered, "Hello, how are you?"
     "Utm, stop!" Piskunov yelled desperately.
     Kostenko saw a security guard  run up, and saw Piskunov raise his hands
and  shake  his fists. The gargantuan shape enveloped in  steam clouds, this
ominous monster, passed him raising its branch-think legs and disappeared in
the blizzard.


     Carefully  closing the door behind him in  his usual manner, Utm made a
step  forward and stopped. Everything around him was  saturated with sounds,
movements,   emissions.  The   night  was   radiating  an  magical   vibrant
kaleidoscope of radio waves.  A low building  with wide windows protected by
iron bars stood  thirteen and a half meters ahead. Its walls emitted  bright
infrared light.  A  low  intense humming  carried from inside.  Millions  of
snowflakes  whirled  in  the air. They landed on the Utms  corrugated  sides
heated by the reactor, instantaneously melted and evaporated.
     Utm  turned  his  head  left and  right  and  decided that the  nearest
interesting  object to investigate could only be the low  building ahead. He
found the entrance right away noticing the walkway on the windward side. The
building was surrounded by short fur trees which distracted Utm, who briefly
went to investigate one of them. He then opened the door and entered.
     Two men sitting around the  table in  the small  narrow  room jumped up
upon his arrival and stared at him in horror. He closed the door behind  him
- and even locked it - and stopped before them.
     "How are you?" he said.
     "Comrade Piskunov?" one of the man asked baffled.
     "Comrade  Piskunov  is  out.  Can  I  take  a  message?"  Utm  inquired
     Utm  was not interested in people.  His  attention was attracted  to  a
small furry being which was pressing itself against the wall in the  corner.
"Warm, alive, strong smell, not a Man," Utm decided.
     He continued, "Hello, how are you?"
     "Grrrrr," the  being replied  with daring  from it's desperation, while
bearing sharp white teeth and pressed itself further into the corner.
     Utm was fascinated by the dog and completely ignored  the fact that the
security  guards nimbly barricaded themselves  behind the table and a closet
and began to draw their weapons.
     The dog shot  past Utm miserably  whimpering with its tail  between its
legs.  But Utm was  much quicker than  the dog. He was more  agile than  any
animal  in the world, no matter  how  swift. His body made a  lightning-fast
noiseless  half-turn, and a  long telescoping outstretched hand  grabbed the
dog across its body. At the  same moment a shot sounded: one of the security
guards lost his nerve. The bullet glanced of  Utms armored back with a clink
and stuck in the wall on the rebound. Plaster crumbled.
     "Sidorenko, as you were!" the other security guard yelled.
     Utm  let go off the trembling dog and stared at the  two men, both pale
but  very  determined,  pointing  their  guns at him. He  sniffed curiously.
Unknown smell of smoke-free gunpowder flowed in the air. The dog took  cover
at the feet of the security guards, but Utm already lost his interest in it.
He  turned and headed for the next door which was  adorned with a picture of
skull  and  bones pierced with a  red  lightning bolt. The  security guards,
frozen in amazement,  watched his  pincer-like fingers manipulate the hemmed
drum of the lock. The door opened.
     Then  both  of  them  came  to and  dashed after him, "Stop!  Back! Not
     They clung to his armored sides forgetting everything else in the world
in horror  from the sheer thought what  this  steel monster could  do to the
transformer.  Utm did not even notice them.  All their efforts did  not have
any effect on him. They could have tried to stop a moving tractor with about
as much success. Then one  of them pushed his companion aside and discharged
the whole magazine at Utms head at close range. The brightly lit hall of the
substation rang with the resound of gunshots.
     Utm  staggered.  The  ebonite  shell  of  the  right acoustics receptor
shattered in  thousand pieces. Curved sonar array broke off and  was hanging
limp by the wire. Broken ceiling glass jingled.
     Utm  had  never  been  attacked  before.  He  had  no self-preservation
instinct or experience in fighting humans. But Utm could compare facts, make
logical conclusions, and choose a line of actions providing maximal level of
protection. All these mental calculations took  him a split second. The very
next  moment he  turned  around  and moved  towards  the men  stretching his
frightening claws menacingly.
     The security guards separated. One  ran  behind  the switch-board,  the
other  vaulted behind  the massive  steel casing of  the nearest transformer
hurriedly recharging his gun.
     "Sidorenko! Run for the officer on duty, raise an alarm!" he yelled.
     But Sidorenko couldnt  reach the door no matter what.  Utm  moved  much
faster than  a  person,  and as soon  as  the guard stuck his head  out from
behind the switch-board Utm would be right in  front of him in a second. The
men decided to run  out simultaneously. They  failed  as Utm moved from  the
switch-board to the transformer and back with a speed of an express train.
     The switch-board cracked in the  middle  from  Utm's clumsy  push, wind
swished through the bullet holes in the windows and glass ceiling.
     Utm finally  got bored of this game and decided to leave the men be. He
suddenly stopped  in  front of the transformer  and determinedly plunged his
hands under  the casing.  Security  guards  took advantage  of this and  ran
headlong  for  the security  station. At the same moment  a  deafening  bang
resounded, everything around was lit up by  a blinding  blue  flash, and the
light went off. Sharp smell of burning metal, smoke, hot polish gushed forth
out of the room. Stunned and crestfallen security guards did not immediately
realize what happened.  And  then the security station  shook from the heavy
steps and a harsh voice uttered in the darkness, "Hello, how are you?"
     The lock clicked.  The door opened with a creak, for a second the heavy
outline  of the steel monster  took  shape  in the  gloomy gap, and the door
closed again.
     Utm  walked through the institute grounds  getting stuck  in  snow  and
lifting his legs  high. The institute was immersed in  darkness, and in this
darkness even  Utm's  infrared  vision  was  of little help. He  could  only
discern a  feeble glow from his abdomen and legs, on which snowflakes melted
and  evaporated. Several faint glowing figures dashed between buildings. Utm
paid  them no attention. He  walked figuring out his bearing by the readings
of  the sonar  even though one of the sonar arrays was shattered by a bullet
and it was impossible to tell the distance correctly.
     Utm  became interested in far-off lights of the village, barely visible
through the blizzard. Then bright blue beams of searchlights  flashed there.
He reached a  wall, hesitated,  and turned left. He knew well that all walls
have doors. And soon he  reached the gates. The gates were  big metal  ones.
Tense voices could be heard behind them,  as bright blue light oozed through
a gap.
     "Hello," Utm said and brought his whole weight to bear on the gate.
     The gates did not budge. They were firmly locked. Metal clanging  could
be  heard from  somewhere far.  There,  behind  the  gates,  something  very
interesting was happening. Utm  pressed harder, moved  away, threw back  his
head, and with a running start, hit  the  gates with  his armored chest. The
voices behind the gates ceased, then somebody yelled hesitantly, "Back! Hey,
watch it, don't shoot this fiend."
     "Hello, how are you?" Utm said, while  he took a running start and  hit
again.  The gates fell. The lock turned out to be sturdier  than the  hinges
fastened  to the concrete  wall, and  the gates fell flat upon  snow-covered
ground. Utm  walked  on it, passed the fleeing security  guards  and plunged
into the storm raging in the open field.
     Utm  tentatively maintained  balance,  walking  on  the  broken  ground
covered by a shifting sea  of dry snow. A void opened under him and he fell.
Snow sizzled beneath him. He had never fallen before,  but in the  very next
moment he dug his hands into the ground, stretched them fully and tucked his
     Having risen  Utm stood looking around. Cottage lights shimmered ahead.
Nearby,  to  his left,  three  human  figures  loomed, and further on trucks
roared in a line  towards the gates. Utm turned  left. He greeted the  three
people  as  he passed them and  immediately  recognized one of  them  to  be
Master. Master could disable his movements. Utm knew this very  well  and he
hurried along. Master disappeared in the whirlwind of snow behind.
     Utm came out on a flat leveled area. Bright lights illuminated him from
head to toe. Unwieldy steel monsters moved towards him  bearing  heavy plows
in front of them and stopped, as they hissed angrily.
     Utm stood five  steps from the first bulldozer  turning  his round head
left and right and kept repeating, "Hello, how are you?"
     Nikolai Petrovich  Korolev jumped  down from the bulldozer. The  driver
yelled anxiously, "Where are you going, comrade engineer?"
     At this  moment Piskunov appeared on the  road.  Ruffled, with  tousled
hair having lost his hat somewhere on  the field, and hands deeply thrust in
pockets  of his unbuttoned fur coat.  He walked  around  the  bulldozer  and
stopped in  front of Utm. No more than  five steps were separating them. Utm
towered above the engineer, his corrugated sides sparkled in the headlights,
his abdomen shrouded in steam glistened from moisture.  The round head  with
big  glass eyes  and protruding ears  of  receptors and sonar arrays, looked
like some  horrible  and  comical mask made of  a pumpkin like those used by
guys to  scare  girls  out  in  the  country.  The  head swayed  at  regular
intervals, eyes followed Piskunovs every movement.
     "Utm," Piskunov said loudly.
     The head froze in place, jointed arms glued to the sides.
     "Utm, hear my command!"
     Utm responded, "I am ready."
     Someone  let out a nervous laugh. Piskunov stepped forward and  put his
gloved  hand  on  Utms chest.  His  fingers  hurriedly slid along  the armor
feeling   for    the   vital    part    -    the   switch   connecting   the
computational-analytical part  of  Utms brain with  the  power  and movement
system.  And  something  unexpected  happened, unforeseen  by  everyone  but
Piskunov,  who  was most afraid  it  might  happen.  Evidently  Utms  memory
retained  the  correlation of this Masters  gesture with sudden inability to
move. No  sooner  had Piskunovs fingers touched  the  switch had Utm sharply
turned. His armored hand swiftly went above  Piskunovs head who  barely  had
time to duck, and Utm casually went  back  along the road. Nikolai Petrovich
was the first one to come to his senses.
     "Hey, guys!"  He  shouted. "Position the bulldozers  on  his  left  and
right! Cut off his access to the gates... Piskunov! Hey, Piskunov!"
     But Piskunov  wasn't listening. While the bulldozers were spreading out
on both sides of the road plunging into snow clouds, he ran after Utm.
     "Utm, stop!" he  shouted in his high  failing  voice. "Stop, you beast!
Back! Back!"
     He  choked.  Utm  was walking  faster and  the  distance  between  them
gradually increased. Finally Piskunov stopped,  thrust  his hands  into  his
pockets, pulled his  head in and just watched  Utm.  Nikolai  Petrovich  and
Ryabkin ran up to him. Kostenko came last.
     "Well, what the heck  were  you doing?"  Korolev said angrily. Piskunov
did  not  answer.  "It  doesnt  respond  to  commands,"  he  said.  "Do  you
understand, Kolya? Doesnt respond. Clearly its the spontaneous reflex."
     Nikolai Petrovich nodded, "I guessed as much."
     "No wonder!"  Ryabkin  exclaimed. "You  could have let the  train  cars
choose their own time and direction with just as much success."
     "What is it,  this  spontaneous reflex?" Kostenko asked timidly. No one
     "Still, regardless, this is wonderful," Nikolai Petrovich blew his nose
and  shoved  his  handkerchief  in his  inside pocket.  "It doesnt  respond.
     "Let's go," Piskunov said firmly.
     In the meantime  the bulldozers grouped  in a  semi-circle and began to
tighten the loop around Utm who was walking along the road in no  hurry. One
of the bulldozers crawled out onto the road in front of him with its back to
the gates, another was catching up from behind, and the remaining three were
approaching from the sides - two on  the left and one on the right.  Utm  of
course had long noticed he was  being surrounded, but evidently  disregarded
that fact. He  continued moving along the road until his chest  touched  the
first bulldozer.  He pushed,  causing the bulldozer to move a little, as the
driver grabbed the levers with a strained face.  Utm moved away  and with  a
running  start hit  the machine. Steel  clanked  against steel and under the
direct headlights bright sparks could be seen through the whirling snow.
     At the  same  moment  the plow of  a bulldozer from behind came to Utms
back. Utm froze in place. Only his head slowly revolved like a school globe.
Two more bulldozers approached from left and right and they cut off his last
paths for escape. Utm was fenced in.
     "Comrade  engineers! Comrade Piskunov! What do we do next?"  the driver
of the first bulldozer yelled.
     "Comrade Piskunov is not here, can I take a message?" said Utm.
     He swung  back his arm and  hit the plow. Then again  and again. He was
hitting rhythmically like a boxer in training with a clang, slightly leaning
away at each hit, as clusters  of sparks flew from  under his bat-like arms.
Piskunov hurried towards him, accompanied by Nikolai Petrovich, Ryabkin, and
     "We have to do something quick or  it'll  damage itself,"  Ryabkin said
     Without warning, Piskunov  started  climbing the  bulldozer  tread, but
Ryabkin grabbed him and pulled him back down.
     "What's the matter?" Piskunov asked with annoyance.
     Ryabkin  said,  "You are  the only person  who  knows  Utm  in  all the
smallest  details.  If it smacks you--this thing can  stretch  into  several
months. Somebody else should go."
     "Exactly," Nikolai Petrovich said hastily. "I'll go."
     One of  the workmen surrounding  the engineers interrupted,  "Maybe you
should choose one of us? We are younger, more agile..."
     "It will be me," Kostenko said glumly.
     "This will never do," Nikolai Petrovich said. "Don't let Piskunov go."
     He threw off his fur coat and started climbing on top of the bulldozer.
Then Piskunov tried to break off from Ryabkin's grasp.
     "Ryabkin, let me go."
     Ryabkin did not reply. Kostenko came up to Piskunov from the other side
and took him firmly by the shoulders.
     In the meantime  Utm raged with  fury.  The lower part of his  body was
firmly clamped between the bulldozers, but the upper part could move freely.
He turned from side to side with a lightning speed,  hitting  the plows with
the full swing of his steel fists. Steam wisps were swirling over him in the
snow gloom. "Hit force three hundred kilos," Kostenko recalled.
     Nikolai Petrovich sat hunched over at Utms feet with his teeth clenched
and waited for the  right moment. His ears were aching from the clanking and
roar. He knew that Utm noticed him - from time to time the glass eyes turned
toward him shimmering watchfully.
     "Shhh, calm down," Nikolai  Petrovich  mouthed. "Utm,  dear, calm down!
Calm down, you bastard!"
     A new sound began with each hit. Something had cracked -  either one of
Utms  steel  arms or the bulldozers plow.  There was no  more time to waste.
Nikolai Petrovich dived  under Utms  fist and hugged  his  side.  Then  once
again, Utm surprised everyone. His hands fell. The  clanging stopped and one
could again hear  the  howl of the storm over the field and  the snorting of
bulldozer engines. Nikolai Petrovich, pale and drenched in sweat,  stood  up
and reached  for Utms chest with his hand. A sharp  click sounded. Green and
red lights on Utms shoulders went off.
     "Done," Piskunov said and closed his eyes.
     People immediately  commenced talking in  an exaggeratedly loud manner;
laughter  and jokes could be heard. Drivers  helped Nikolai Petrovich to get
out from under Utm and escorted him back down on the ground. Piskunov hugged
and kissed him.
     "And now," he said abruptly,  "take it to the Institute,  well work  on
it. If need be  - a week, a month... We should beat that  foolishness out of
it and make it what its supposed to be - Universal Task Machine."
     "So what did  happen  to  Utm?"  Kostenko  asked.  "And  what  is  this
spontaneous reflex?"
     Nikolai Petrovich  looked  tired and haggard after the sleepless night.
He said:
     "See,   Utm  is   developed   on  the  grant  from  the  Committee   on
Interplanetary transport. It is different from any other cybernetic machine,
no matter  how complex. Its  meant for  working in conditions that cannot be
predicted by  any,  even  the  most ingenious,  programmer.  On  Venus,  for
example.  Who knows what conditions exist there? Maybe its all covered by an
ocean.  Or  desert,  maybe.  Or jungle.  We  cannot send people there at the
moment - it is too dangerous. Instead well send Utms, tens of Utms.  But how
is one  to program them? The  problem  is  that it is impossible  to teach a
machine to think abstractly using current state of the art AI.
     "What do you mean?"
     "The  machine does not understand the  concept of a dog. It understands
only  the specifics of a particular dog. If it encounters a fourth dog which
is not similar to the previous three it has met, then it wont know  what  to
do. Roughly speaking, if Utm is  programmed to react in a certain way,  when
seeing  specifically  a mutt,  then it  cannot react  in that same  way when
seeing a greyhound. Trivial example, of course, but I take it you understand
what  I  mean.  This  is precisely  where  the  main  difference between the
smartest machine and the most stupid person  lays - inability to make use of
abstract ideas. Well, Piskunov tried  to compensate for this  shortcoming by
creating a learning system. Utms brain was given a reflexive chain meant  to
autonomously  fill out empty  memory  cells.  Piskunov  reckoned  that  once
saturated with impressions Utm would  be  able to  choose the best course of
action for each new  situation without human intervention. That  is the most
refined   model   of  consciousness  in  the  world.  However,   we  got  an
unanticipated   result.   Theoretically  Piskunov   allowed  for  this,  but
practically... In a word,  the new reflexive arc  created tens  of secondary
reflexes   not   anticipated  by   the  programmers.  Piskunov  dubbed  them
spontaneous reflexes. With  their emergence Utm stopped working according to
the program and started behaving.
     "And what do we do now?"
     "Well take  a different path," Nikolai Petrovich  stretched and yawned.
"We will perfect  the analyzing  abilities of  the brain  and  the  receptor
     "What about the spontaneous reflex? Isn't anybody interested in that?"
     "Huh! Piskunov already thought something  up... In a word, Utms will be
the  first  ones on  unexplored  planets  and in the uncharted ocean depths.
People wont have to be put at risk... Look, Kostenko, lets go to sleep, huh?
Start working  here and you will  find out  everything, you have  my word on

Last-modified: Wed, 28 May 2003 06:42:45 GMT
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