“I'm not going!”
“Yes you are. You have to.”
“No I don't. You know the law.” Rority was correct; he was perfectly within his rights. There was only one law – do what you want, or do nothing if that's what you wish. Unlike the poor protohumans millions of years previously, nobody had to work. In fact, there was nothing the protohumans would have called “work,” anyway. The protohumans would have called what these folks called “work” a hobby. The nobots provided all the food, shelter, clothing, entertainment, everything a person could ever want.
With the planet's population fixed at two million people after the Great Catastrophe several millions of years earlier had almost wiped them out and had caused the largest mass extinction in the planet's life, there was plenty of land for everyone. Want your street paved with gold? The nobots would pave your street with gold if that's what you wanted, molecule by molecule. There were enough nobots to do it quickly.
The law would have seemed strange to us, their uber-ancient ancestors. Do anything you want? Steal? Kill? Rape? Cheat? Swindle?
But theft itself was obsolete; the uncounted numbers of nobots, the microscopic machines that had at first been called nano-robots, which was shortened to “nanobots”, then “nobots” after nanoscale was large in comparison to the size of the microscopic nobots, made property a quaint anachronism.
Each microscopic nobot contained more computational processing power than the biggest computer the protohumans had ever built, and could sample mechanical vibrations or electromagnetic radiation, and produce the same, as well as manipulate individual molecules, atoms and subatomic particles.
Anything one wanted one only had to ask for, and it would be assembled instantly by the nobots. Want a few billion trillion more nobots? The nobots would get the raw materials and construct them.
Murder? There was no longer any motive for murder, even if murder was possible. The nobots made injury or death an impossibility. They would assemble themselves into armor that would stop any weapon one could dream up, and if the impossible had ever become possible, pain had been genetically engineered out of people. Should someone, for instance, fall off a cliff and and the impossible happened that he had actually hit bottom, the nobots would be in his body already, performing microscopic surgery on every injured cell.
Rape? Unthinkable. The nobots could assemble themselves into a simulacrum of the object of desire, only more desirable, and besides, rape is a crime of violence and hate rather than passion. There was no longer any reason for hate, even if hatred hadn't been genetically engineered out of them like pain had. In fact, hatred and pain were connected in the same genes that had been removed. Without pain there can be no hatred.
Cheat? Swindle? Cheat and swindle out of what?
Gumal frowned; even this was unusual. “But Rority, if you don't go I'll have to!”
“No you won't.”
“But somebody has to!”
“You read the report, didn't you?”
“Yes,” said Rority. “That's why I don't want to go.”
“But look,” argued Gumal, “this one's easy.”
“Sorry, Gumal, I'm not going. I told you before.”
“But look,” Gumal repeated, “you don't mind the genetic reprogramming and changing of your form to match the protohumans, you said so yourself. You told me you even liked some of the protohumans.”
“That's one reason I'm not going,” Rority said. “I particularly like the one I'd have to kill...” He shuddered again at the word, “and damn it, I know what a broken leg feels like and I'll have to get my leg broken. I don't want to know what it feels like to be shot inside a burning barn!”
“You don't have to. Look, all you have to do is shoot the guy, throw the other guy off of the balcony, and get back to your ship.
“No! I have an appreciation for this particular animal. I met him before, when he was a lawyer in Springfield. I learned a lot of protohistory from studying him and I don't want to shoot him. I'm just not going to do it.”
“OK,” Gumal sighed, “I'll shoot the crazy bastard myself. How about shooting this one? It's about a hundred years later.”
“That's another reason I don't want to do it. All the similarities are just too weird; you know how time works, with its impossible paradoxes if something goes wrong, and I suspect something went wrong with the timeline just because of the odd coincidences. You know that whatever I'm going to do was already done, looking at things from a future perspective.”
“OK, damn it, I'll shoot him, too. How about this assignment? I just got it from Rula. Here.” Gumal handed Rority the nobotic book and Rority read it over.
“Hey, now this one I like! Going back to the first time traveler and making sure nobody ever travels farther into the future than he already has been. Yep, I do like this one. It's like this protohuman fiction I just finished reading,” he said, holding a small sheaf of real paper wrapped on three sides in real cardboard.
“You and your primitive books!” Gumal snorted.
“Want a hit?” Rority asked.
“Sure thing,” Gumal said, taking a toke from Rority's stratodoober. “By the way, what is that protohuman book you just finished reading?”
“It actually has to do with the reason for the assignment I just accepted. It's in a genre called ‘science fiction’ even though most of the books and especially videos of this genre have very little science, sometimes none at all, and they often get the science wrong when there's any science at all in them.
“The End of Eternity is the name of this book, it's one of the better ones. It was written by a protohuman biochemist and cancer researcher named Isaac Asimov. He wrote it some time in the first part of the first century.
“Tripe!” Gumal exclaimed.
“Pretty damned good for a barely sentient animal,” Rority replied.