A Touch Too Much Poisoned Chalice: a story by: GF Willmetts.

August 29, 2021 | By | Reply More

‘Why is this…robot charged with murder? It’s just a machine. Have it destroyed.’ The Judge looked at the brief.

‘It’s more a matter of law and attributing blame’, one of the lawyers replied.’ Can a robot knowingly commit an act of murder will have repercussions on all robots and human safety.’

The judge looked up and at the two lawyers and then at the court. An open court that allowed anyone to observe the proceedings. At this time of night, it was mostly the insomniacs and the nutcases and no one of importance from the media. Having a case put through this late was either to slip something through or something not deemed important to the day courts. To come in with an open mind, the judge had not been shown the case before the proceedings. No names so it remained on an impersonal basis and lacked bias.

‘I assume you are not going to raise the infamous and unworkable robotic laws as devised by Doctor Asimov?’

‘Human safety can only work to a particular level. A robot cannot knowingly hurt a human. It cannot raise an arm or weapon and physically attack any organic. There is little provision for more subtle means as we have here where the robot drinks dispenser, henceforth referred to as the robot, poisoning its master.’

‘That isn’t what happened in this case’, the other lawyer continued. ‘The victim was poisoned. The robot concerned was not aware it was feeding its master a poison that would accumulate in his body only that it was supposed to improve its master’s tolerance to its effects.’

‘There is a matter of certain humans being fed low amounts of poison to reduce the effects of higher doses. There is the puffer fish…’

‘Tetrodotoxin. I have read the proceedings on this,’ the Judge frowned. ‘The human involved wasn’t intending to survive a full dose of this poison, just the carelessness or the accident of a minute amount in the meal.’

There was a pause as the judge looked around and the court dozing. ‘Of course it failed. A bad case of judgement.’ Barely a look from the court now. This was just between the lawyers and him.

‘The robot concerned was not guilty of knowingly poisoning its master.

‘Indeed. It was obeying its master. A variation of Asimov’s first law of obedience and keyed to obey only one master.’

‘He also had the permission of the council to attempt the experiment. The plaintiff here did not do so.’

‘It is believed he took this example as an open permission to do this.’

‘It should be pointed out that this robot, although keyed to its master, could dispense drinks to anyone at its master’s parties but not this particular drink. Nor was their permission to create any experimental cocktails.’

The judge looked at the two lawyers, barely able to tell the two of them apart. ‘Which contradicts your saying it couldn’t obey anyone else. None of his guests admitted to being poisoned or taking a similar drink to him, nor change his dosage? It just accumulated in his stomach. You can’t blame a robot for that.’

‘None of them ever had had stomach complaints at all. The latter is unknown. A drink could be brought to the party without the robot knowing about it.’

‘Hardly a friend if they did this. It is almost as though he chose his friends to prove this. They all appear uncomfortably fit. Far better than half of my own acquaintances.

‘As with all of us, my lord.’

‘I assume he had no medical experience?’

‘None that we gather than from personal experience.’

‘And he wanted immunity from this particular poison?’

‘It was part of his medication. He did not want to have side-effects when his dosage was increased as his illness progressed.’

‘Yet he habitually had it in one of his drinks.’

‘He claimed it gave a whole different definition to having bitters in his drink and easier to swallow.’

‘He was not concerned with any of the other…components…ingredients.’

‘This was the only one with a known toxicity in high doses.’

‘Yet he was also taking this at the same time as the drug itself. Wouldn’t that affect the drug itself?’

‘The dosage in his drink was deemed low enough to not affect this. He also did not drink this particular beverage on the days he had the drug.’

‘The dosage was increased over time. I presume the robot noted all of this. So was the increased dosage that day caused by the human or robot or some other agency?’

‘Registered and recorded.’

‘And yet he died. He would have died eventually. Like with tetrodotoxin, just a little too much.’

Both lawyers paused themselves here and bowed their heads, giving due respect. After all, they were here on behalf of their client’s family. In court, one should never forget the dead.

‘His fear of this part of the medication could just have been proven.’

‘So why is this robot here under trail?’

‘It’s records show more than the recommended dose for that day. Either its master, someone else or the robot changed the dosage.’

‘If the robot did not change the dosage, then the police will search further afield for possible suspects.’

The judge studied the two lawyers. ‘What you are really saying is attribute the blame to the robot first rather than think its master might have upped to dose?’

‘Or its innocence, my lord.’

‘I presume there is some sort of manual over-ride for the master to increase the dose himself.’

‘As indeed anyone else, my lord.’

‘That is not answering the question.’

‘It leaves an open verdict. Was the robot responsible or was someone else? The someone else being the master himself.’

‘And the robot is in this equation?’

‘Because it dispenses the drinks that only the master drinks.’

‘Including the water’, the judge looked at both lawyers. ‘What about cross-contamination? As I understand it, this model records all the ingredients in every drink. It makes its cocktails the same way throughout. It needs outside intervention to change the proportions of any drink not laid down in its programming.’

‘It makes cocktails, my lord.’

‘Has the post-mortem compared the amount of poison in the master to how much the robot provided him with?’

‘Many units above, my lord?’

‘So the robot alone would not have killed him?’

‘Not necessarily, my lord.’

‘So why is this robot here?’

‘We feel it was a contributing factor and the only choice.’

‘It says nothing about whether its master poured his own drink and the robot merely noted it.’

‘So would any robot in its position.

‘Is this mitigating for insurance? As it wasn’t intentional suicide that wouldn’t be an issue. It would simply be misadventure or is this also an issue with the insurance.’

Both lawyers looked at each other. That was it. Misadventure or suicide but not enough to draw the plaintiff’s family to see what happened or told to stay away.

‘Do I really have to guess your intensions or put one of you on the stand or maybe both?’

There was a pregnant pause. The rest of the court seemed ever half asleep. Grounds for vagrancy if they stayed beyond this case.

‘Or is your intention to sue this robot’s manufacturer? Putting the blame elsewhere to fulfil an insurance claim.’

This time, one of the lawyers was opening his mouth, apparently in protest, but no words came out. The judge was inclined to shake his head. Some lawyers were undoubtedly shallow or couldn’t maintain their own innocence. Not that the rest of the court could give a fig.

‘Are you saying the manufacturer is at fault here and not the programming of its master? I presume you want some sort of law laid down so no robot dispenser can be instructed to include a poison in its choices.’

One of the lawyers nodded. One of them had to be getting some payment from the manufacturer. Understandable. What’s to stop the next person from including cyanide or strychnine in the ingredients and commit suicide or murder. This is all about liability.

‘Well, that can be thrown out of court. The manufacturer cannot be put at fault for whatever its purchaser did to its product and the ingredients added when it is open to being programmed.’

‘It can dispense poison.’

‘I beg to differ. Any liquid is potentially poisonous. Even water. You can have any drink intolerance in this and put the robot drink dispensers of the market in weeks.’

One lawyer looked dumbfounded and the other shocked, realising he would have to tell the manufacturer that a profitable robot would have to recalled.

‘Not swim in it, drink enough and you’ll pee away your body salts.’

The lawyer shrugged. Something beyond him.

‘I can pass a verdict of misadventure rather than suicide for the deceased. He probably wanted to speed up the process. That will settle any insurance issues.’

‘And the robot dispenser?’

The judge looked at the dispensing robot who had stayed quiet through the proceedings. Did it really know what was going on or that it could be junked?

‘Well, do you have anything to say?’

‘Can I make you a drink?’ it asked.



© GF Willmetts 2021

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Category: Scifi, Short fiction

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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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