I snap my sketchbook closed and sweep my pens into my open satchel. I dig out a few more coins from my pocket and drop them on the tiny table, adding to the small pile I’ve already left there— a peace offering to the proprietor. I flip my bag around behind me and step out into the city lights and setting sun.
The robots never “sleep” for lengthy periods of time; this makes wandering their cities both endlessly fascinating and exhausting. I am especially drawn to these crowded alleys: they are always buzzing with all manner of activity and always in a state of perpetual dusk.
The map is not the territory. Documentation was important but first-hand experience was paramount to understanding.
“Rechargé life.” Quick sketch of a street scene, early evening. Worked quickly as the light filtering down to the sidewalk was changing minute by minute.
Dark alley, deep within the city, lit only by softly glowing signs; air vibrating with unseen frequencies.
One evening a robot asked me if I might be interested in doing some shopping. Of course I said yes! We walked a few minutes through the center of town to a bustling, vibrantly lit, street market. There were tiny shops, stalls, carts, even small tables with banners; all displaying all manner of goods. The robots had a most interesting system: I didn’t witness any money or currency change hands. They appeared to either barter or use a form of social or reputation credit. Their transactions were fascinating!
“I know your ways,” the robot said to me. “I know that you can not tolerate a state where you lack information.” Even so, the robot shared with me stories about ‘places I should not go.’ The robot continued: “There are places far from here; places without label, without map. They once must have been known, marked, and organized. Now there are nothing but blank sectors and noise. I circumnavigated one such area, attempting to add to the borders of mapped locations. Some of the topography was familiar but out of place. My attempts to build a map failed due to localized EMR causing errors while I was writing data…”
After a short while the robot found that it began to anticipate the time it spent in the greenhouse. It dedicated much processing time to the observation of the unpredictable fractal growth of the plants in its care.
Having assured me that it did not require my assistance, the robot returned its attention to the paper map it held. As I continued on my way down the street I turned momentarily and called back to the robot “Remember: the map is not the territory!” The robot looked back up at me and continued to follow me with its eyes.
I’d come to the realization that I’d left large portions of the city unexplored and thus set off deeper into the heart of the urban environment. Some hours later I emerged from a dark alley into an obviously “1.5” version of the city; older and more worn but no less vibrant and active. Upon catching sight of me, the resident robots paused in their activities and—stared—at me. I got the feeling that perhaps I was the first human they had seen in a long while?
Whether it was a voltage sag, burst of static, or some other electronic phenomena was irrelevant; data had been written to NVRAM during sleep cycle, and it was anomalous. The robot reviewed the data and found itself (descending/ascending?) towards (away?) from a collection of undifferentiated structures (city?). There was no clear correlation to the day’s activities and the data was confusing in that it seemed to defy physical laws. The robot determined to consult with the human the next time it was local.
The sun had set some time ago and all that was left was a lingering blue light refracting through the atmosphere. I paused for a moment in a bubble of quietude, noting that I had an observer. The robot did not move, and continued to watch as I continued on my way up the street.