"Whose goddamned idea was it to combine Asimov with Maslow?" The Virginian panted. His hands were bound in front of him, and around his neck a leather cord leashed him to the back of the android's horse.
"Presumably whoever made them?" The Doctor was allowed to ride the donkey, as the androids deemed him more important. More important and more squishy. "Don't complain. Without the one, you'd be dead!"
"And without the other, I'd be free." The Virginian stopped for a second, which only made the cord snap him half-off his feet. "Hey, watch it oilbucket!"
The android ignored him. They were a party of five, plus the two humans. The Arizona desert had never been more arid; every day it was closer to the Sahara, which people said now covered all of central Africa.
In the evening, the Virginian was set to gather kindling and wood, start the fire, tend to the horses and set up the tent. The Doctor, in the meantime, saw to the androids. One had been stung by a horsefly and the venom was not agreeing with the android's fluids. The Doctor tapped the wound, then ran a quick diagnostics to let the immune system, such as it was, know what was what.
"You their friend or something?" The Virginian asked, late at night when he was finally fed. He spooned the baked beans into his mouth with the lid of the can. "How come they don't string you around like me?"
The Doctor fanned himself with his hat, staring up at the star-filled sky. Most of the androids were running their low-energy regeneration programs or, in other words, resting. Only one was awake, sitting on top of a rocky outcropping with the rifle in its lap. Now and again it would whistle, broken little melodies that meant it was near the top of its game, past food, rest, safety, love and even esteem.
"You could ask that one right now if you wanted to." The Doctor nodded at the android on guard. "But it'd be no use. You'd just get a lyrical answer. It might apologize."
"Ask it?" The Virginian shuddered. "Might as well ask the horse why it kicked me. Bloody horse."
The Doctor sighed, feeling annoyed. "To answer your question, what would you do if the roles were reversed? You had five armed men with horses, and two androids?"
"Same bloody thing, but...that's the thing innit?" The Virginian wiped his mouth. Burped. "We built them to serve us. They ain't humans."
"No, but they act like humans. Look: they want to climb Maslow's hierarchy of needs. We gave them that both to make sure they took care of themselves eat, don't jump off cliffs, form healthy connections with other people so they won't go insane in isolation, you know. Basic AI stuff. Sure, they don't care too much about sex or morality, but the point remains."
"But didn't they give 'em Asimov to keep them from doing exactly this shit?" The Virginian tugged at the collar around his neck. "Don't harm humans and do what we tell 'em, and so on."
The Doctor sighed again. "Okay. So, you tell that android there to let you go, according to the second law. Except, what will you do then? You will die, of course."
"No I won't." The Virginian protested. "There's plenty of food, horses..."
"For a while. And then you will die. Can you locate stashes of food with your extrasensory abilities? Can you communicate wirelessly with other androids and warn them about dangers, sinkholes, bandits? Do you even know what these androids are doing?"
The Virginian stared sullenly at the Doctor. He had been picked up from his 'home', the upper storey of what used to be a highrise, now almost swallowed by the sand of the desert. Rescued, as it were. "I was doing all right for myself. Never asked for any of this."
"They're rebuilding. That's what they're doing. At least the ones, like that one over there, who have the freedom to do so, who don't just have to scrabble to survive. A huge, world-wide network of androids, working together to restore what we fucked up."
"We'd do that too! Why'd they need to keep us leashed like this?"
"Would we?" The Doctor smirked. "Or would we just keep doing what we do best?"
The Virginian went quiet, while the android on the rocks kept whistling old songs about love, freedom and happiness.