“What do you suppose this Martian robot is saying?” asked the President of the Reorganized States of America. “It hasn’t stopped talking since you brought it to my office.”

“I don’t have the slightest idea, Sir,” said the Chief of Staff. “Linguists from the State Department are on the way. They should be here any moment.”

Meanwhile, the robot kept babbling.

“Do you think the Martians made this machine to look like them?” asked the President. “If so, I hope the ugly bastards never land. The whole world would panic.”

“I have to admit,” said the Defense Secretary, “I never figured anything in the universe would have a square head. Or four arms. Not to mention those eight things that are sticking out where legs should be.”

At that moment the receptionist buzzed the President. “Sir, the linguists are here.”

“Send them in.”

A dozen nerdy-looking civil servants entered. One of them said, “That thing just spoke in an obscure Swahili dialect used by only a few hundred African natives.”

“What did it say?” asked the President.

“Repeat or die.”

“Now it’s saying the same words in Southern Chinese,” said another linguist.

“Hey, it just said the same thing in Latin,” said another.

Within minutes, the robot had repeated the same words in seventy-five languages in which the linguists were fluent: “Repeat or die.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” the President asked the Secretary of State.

“Sounds like a death threat. But I don’t get why it’s saying repeat. Repeat what?”

More linguists were brought in from nearby universities. Within five hours, over 250 languages spoken on Earth, including obscure dialects, had been identified. When the words were translated, all said the same thing: “Repeat or die.”

The President’s staff contacted London, Paris, Moscow, Beijing. The heads of state from those countries were also scrutinizing similar robots that kept saying, “Repeat or die,” in a thousand languages and dialects.

The Secretary General of the Amalgamated Nations convened an emergency session. A robot was taken to the General Assembly Meeting Hall. Representatives from Earth’s seven hundred and fifty six nations listened to what the robot said. All confirmed that it was repeating the same words: “Repeat or die.”

After two days of the most intense international discussions ever held, the Secretary General asked for advice from the world’s religious leaders. Afterward, he requested airtime over all TV and radio stations.

“Citizens of Earth. This is the Secretary General of the Amalgamated Nations. It is my duty to inform you that members of the AN representing every nation, plus leaders of the world’s religions have conferred and agreed on the following four points:

One: Talking robots been dispatched to our planet from Mars. They have been found on every land mass and body of water on our planet.

Two: These robots are repeating a message in every language and dialect known to mankind. The message consists of three words: repeat or die.

Three: We have decided that the three words are a warning informing us that we must repeat everything we do. If we fail to comply, we must assume that Martians will kill everyone on Earth.

Four: To avoid genocide, from now on we must repeat every behavior twice. For example, eat breakfast twice in a row. Brush your teeth twice. Read the newspaper, then read it again immediately. Put a sock on, take it off, and put it on again. And so forth. We believe this is the only way we can save humanity from total annihilation.”

Everyone on Earth was notified to repeat their behavior through radio announcements, phone calls, TV newscasts, email, telegrams, loudspeakers, smoke signals, jungle drums, handbills, Morse code, letters, road signs, semaphore, graffiti, theatre marquees, banners, telepathy, sky writing, twitter, iPad, and sign language.

The repetition of all behaviors was maddening. Nations were in chaos. People bought SUVs, then bought them again, just seconds later. Babies that stopped crying had to be pinched to make sure they cried again. Commuters caught busses, got off at their destinations, took other busses back to their places of origin, then repeated the trips.

Nevertheless, seven days later, thousands of Martian spacecraft surrounded Earth and fired death rays. Within hours, everything on Earth was reduced to smoldering ashes.

“Why didn’t those stubborn idiots obey?” yelled Mars’ fanatically religious Emperor. “They could’ve saved themselves. I wasted billions manufacturing and shipping robots to their miserable planet to warn them. Why were they so willing to be obliterated?"

He ordered his aides to form a Blue Ribbon Panel and conduct a thorough investigation. Only the best minds on Mars were appointed to the panel.

Three months later, the panel announced their findings.

“Because of budgetary restrictions caused by our ongoing wars with Mercury, Saturn, Neptune, and Uranus, we decided to save money by outsourcing the talking robot project. Goofus, one of Neptune’s moons, was low bidder. By outsourcing we saved one billion-trillion jeboolas. However, we didn’t know that Goofus does not educate its citizens. Goofonians are hopelessly illiterate. Not familiar with any alphabet, they made a one-character error when installing the robot voice program. This caused the robots to say REPEAT instead of REPENT.”

"Gross Misinterpretation"

Copyright: © 2010 Michael A. Kechula


Michael A. Kechula is a retired tech writer. His stories have been published by 128 magazines and 36 anthologies. He’s won first place in 10 contests and placed in 8 others. He’s authored three books of flash fiction, micro-fiction, and short stories: The Area 51 Option and 70 More Speculative Fiction Tales; A Full Deck of Zombies--61 Speculative Fiction Tales; I Never Kissed Judy Garland and Other Tales of Romance. eBook versions available at http://www.booksforabuck.com/ and http://www.fictionwise.com/ Paperbacks available at http://www.amazon.com/.

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