“Love at first sight” – no other expression better describes the force which transforms Harry Domin’s life, one spring morning in 2137. The General Manager of Rossum’s Universal Robots (RUR) is going about his daily business when in walks Helena Glory, the daughter of the company’s President. And whammy!
Of course, that is the effect Helena hopes to have. She is a woman on a mission after all. And as a leading member of the League of Humanity, she has done her homework. She knows Domin is pushing forty years of age and still single. In her reading of the situation, “single” means “alone”, and “alone” means “lonely”. That is something she can use. Why else would she be wearing a provocative, red dress?
Helena’s mission is to change RUR from the inside – to free the Robots. She will do anything to accomplish her objective, including marrying Domin.
Helena meets Sulla, a brilliant Robot, not easily forgotten. She also meets some RUR staff members: Fabry, Alquist and most significantly Dr Gall. If there is any meddling with the Robots’ genetic material to be done, Gall (the Head of Research and Development) will be the one to do it.
The Act ends when Domin makes Helena a marriage proposal. She plays hard-to-get but not for long. Her mission is going exactly according to plan.
Time has passed, and preparations for Domin and Helena’s tenth wedding anniversary are underway. There is the suspicion that the Robots have somehow changed in the intervening decade. As yet, little importance is attached to this however.
Domin is called away by Fabry. This gives Helena and Sulla the opportunity to discuss current events. Significantly, no new pregnancies have been reported for a week. That would spell the end of humanity. Sulla welcomes this news because humans are anyway inferior to Robots. Helena, however, sees it as a punishment for mankind’s tampering with genetic material. In an attempt to rectify matters, she initiates the destruction of Rossum’s Secret Formula for Robot Production.
Domin returns with the news that a revolt by the Robots has been quashed without a shot being fired. The imminent arrival of a ship bringing reinforcements will put the Robots in their places once and for all. Unfortunately for humanity, the ship has been hijacked. She is indeed bringing reinforcements, but reinforcements for the Robots.
Domin remembers Rossum’s Secret Formula for Robot Production – without it, the Robots will be unable to produce more Robots. Helena informs him of the Formula’s destruction. Now all is lost. The final attack – and therefore the end of humanity – is inevitable.
The quiet before the storm... It can only be a matter of minutes before the Robots launch the final attack. The humans discuss where they have gone wrong. A number of theories – political, economic and religious – are floated. In the end, though, it is Gall who admits responsibility. She made changes not only to the Robots genetic material, but also to their physical make-up.
Helena, however, confesses her own guilt. She was the one who insisted Gall make the changes. Domin feels betrayed by Helena, but she assures him that it was his love which inspired her actions. She wanted to share the greatness of it with the Robots. Domin acquiesces.
The Robots’ attack is swift and effective. They kill all the humans except Alquist. His position as the Head of Construction is deemed “useful”. This and this alone saves him.
Sulla reveals herself as the leader of the Robots. She seizes power with both hands.
Sulla has ordered Alquist, the last human, to find the secret of life. He is, however, helpless.
Incited by Sulla, Alquist agrees to “do experiments” in order to discover the secret after all. He starts dissecting Sulla, but she stops the operation because she wants to live. She goes to fetch other Robots – however many it will take to achieve her objective.
Sulla returns with Proteus and Protea, two Robots made by Gall to look like Domin and Helena respectively. Playing a hunch, Alquist threatens to dissect first Protea, then Proteus. Each Robot offers themselves in place of the other, thereby proving their affection for each other. In that way, they not only resemble humans, but also behave like them. Alquist realises Proteus and Protea are the Robot equivalent of Adam and Eve. He sends them out into the world “to be fruitful and multiply”.
Having fulfilled his task of discovering the “secret” of life, Alquist dies.