Bug Park by James P. Hogan

Bug Park by James P. Hogan

Bug Park by James P. Hogan


Low, black, and menacing, its angular metallic surfaces bristling with sensors and protuberances, the robot resembled, if anything, a walking warship.

It moved on six multiply-articulated legs projecting outward and downward from its underside in pairs, like sprung arches. Its front consisted of a blunt, turret-like head, flanked by a pair of rotary-jointed grasping appendages terminating in four-point, independently movable claws.

Emerging soundlessly from a steep-sided valley of depths lost in blackness, it climbed a hill of regularly spaced ridges alternating with darker furrows. A fibrous growth, like coarse, springy grass, covered the surface, which yielded slightly under the robot’s weight. It reached the top of the rise and paused to survey a landscape of peculiarly rounded mounds and folds, picked out bloodred in the gloom by the glow of a distant light. The red “moon” illuminating the nocturnal landscape formed the numerals 3:17:04.

The device was no bigger than a cockroach. It stood atop the highest of a chain of wrinkles formed where the bedspread was pulled around the figure lying asleep. After checking its direction, the mechanical insect resumed moving, following an ascending fold onto the slowly breathing form, higher to the shoulder, and from there onto the smoother expanse of sheet. At the edge of the sheet, inches from the sleeping man’s ear, the device halted again to identify its target, gauging angles and distances.

Then it moved fast for the area beneath the ear lobe, where even in an autopsy a small puncture would easily be overlooked. The claws had anchored to the epidermis and the tiny needle discharged before the alarm message registered in the sluggishly responding brain.

The figure stirred, turning its head. “Uh . . . Huh? . . .” An arm freed itself and slapped. “Wassat?” But the tiny assailant had already disengaged and jumped two feet back down the bed.

The man lay puzzled in the darkness, rubbing his neck as his faculties returned. For a moment he was restored fully to wakefulness; and then a heavy, muggy feeling came over him. He sat up, fumbled for the light-switch in the red glow cast by the hotel room’s clock, but couldn’t coordinate sufficiently to find it. He swung his legs out and grabbed for the phone, but crashed instead into the bedside unit, upsetting the tray with the coffee pot and chinaware from his room-service meal.

He put a hand to his head. “Oh Christ . . .”

His legs buckled, and he slumped down onto the edge of the bed again. For a few seconds he tried futilely to resist whatever was happening to him; then he slid down and crumpled to a sitting position on the floor. His body went limp and keeled over.

At the foot of the bed, the tiny robot dropped to the floor. It crossed to the protruding corner formed by the bathroom, from there to the small vestibule area, and exited to the corridor via the gap beneath the door.

The eyes staring sightlessly upward slowly glazed over in the dim red glow from the clock, obliviously counting away the seconds.


Kevin Heber had never really believed in love at first sight. It was something that he had always taken on faith about the world of adulthood, like the work ethic, the appeal of unsweetened black coffee, or the notion that Wagner’s music might really be better than it sounds. Not that he had devoted a great amount of contemplation to the subject. Being an active and healthily curious fifteen-year-old with rapidly expanding horizons on how much there was to do in life, he was more preoccupied with trying to fit a constellation of interests that was constantly growing, into a residue of twenty-four hours which, after deductions for even minimal eating, sleeping, and necessary chores, seemed to be all-the-time shrinking.

Well, it probably wasn’t really love, he told himself—not if the things that adults liked to tell smugly about life’s complications always getting worse, never better, were to be believed; or the words of the songs that they got sentimental over, that dated from somewhere in that vague span of time between the appearance of personal computers and the last ice age. But any reaction that could make him turn his head away from the screen not once but a second time, and fixedly, just when he and Taki had found the error that had been hanging up the tactile-array interrupt routine, had to be somewhere on the same emotional continent.

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Categories: Hogan, James