Lux and the Messenger (excerpt from The Seventh Judge)

abandoned  trestle

“Bite of jerky?” Lux ripped off a strip, plump with salt and juice, and held it out to the messenger. “You smell that? That’s good jerky.”
The messenger took a polite whiff and nodded. “Yes, sir. No, thank you.”
“I have a funny question for you, Eleazar. I’ve never seen any of you eat. Can you?”
“We eat sunlight and drink oxygen, sir. We rest once a week and our systems are highly efficient. We have no need for further sustenance.”
“Yeah, I read the pamphlet, Eleazar. That’s not what I want to know.”
“We have no pamphlet, sir. None were printed for the MSNGR3000. Nor an instruction manual of any kind.”
“It’s a metaphor, Eleazar. Nobody has pamphlets anymore. There aren’t too many manuals left these days, either. I just meant, everybody knows what you told me.”
“Well, what did you want to know, sir?”
“Are you equipped with the physical ability to process what humans consider to be food and drink?”
“An unusual question, sir.”
“Well, not that unusual.” Lux chuckled. “I caught one of your boys taking a leak off the bridge last night.”
The messenger laughed. “That was Job, sir. He is curious about human experiences. Yes, we are able to process the pleasures and the pains of human digestion.”
“And human humor, apparently.”
“We find things funny to a degree. We share the humor of our creator.”
“What about reproduction?”
The messenger shot Lux a penetrating look. “You are asking me if we are able to experience the act of reproduction, though we are not human?”
“That’s what I want to know. Job had a jangle. I was curious if it was a working part.”
Eleazar nodded slowly. “We are equipped with the ability to feel apparently random chemical attraction to human females. The chemicals serve as a motivational stimulus as well as positive reinforcement for interaction. We possess the physiological apparatus normally used for human reproduction, at least from an external perspective. We appear to feel a detailed facsimile of the joy and the sadness of the desire for human pairing. Is that what you wanted to know?”
“Yes,” Lux said. “And also can you… can you do it?”
“Sir?”
“Can you, you know? Can you do it?” Lux laughed.
Eleazer shook his head. If Lux didn’t know better, he would’ve said the robot was blushing. “I can’t answer that question from personal experience, sir. The sadness seems to outweigh the joy. And I have too much work to do to explore it otherwise.”
“You and me, both, Eleazar. Looks like we might be a bad influence on you. Come on, I want to have a look at this bridge before we do the lightning rods. Sound all right?”
“I will assist you as directed, sir.”
Lux stepped toward the bridge. Gooseflesh crawled up his arm. “There’s a disturbing odor here, Eleazar. Can you smell it?”
“Yes, sir, I am able to do so. The messengers are also in possession of superior olfactory senses.”
“I know that. I mean do you currently smell a disturbing… something?”
“I detect freshly rotting flesh, if that is what you mean. The odor has become increasingly apparent for the last half hour. I believe we are approaching the source.”
“Of course it’s what I mean! Why didn’t you say something?”
“I have developed a tolerance for it over the last few decades, sir. The smell raises no alarms.”
“Let’s go see what it is. Could be human.”
“It is human, sir.”
Lux stopped in his tracks. “And that doesn’t raise any red flags?”
The messenger stared at him. “I experienced the slow decay of seven and a half billion humans following the plague. The death of a single human does not trigger any unusual alarm.”
“Well, if you are able to refresh your alarm patterns, you might want to do so. For now, at least, a human decaying out in the open is a cause for concern. “Come on, let’s have a look.”

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