A life as a robot can be painful.


3. Chapter 3

The inside of Collective Robot Repair was somewhere between an office building and a mechanic’s garage. Each repairman’s workspace had a steel desk and a wall-mounted computer, but also a hydraulic lift, an arc welder, and floor-to-ceiling racks of tools.


The repairman double-checked his work order. It still said “One Pallet Jack. Problem: Depression.” Surely this was a joke. Someone in one of the other departments was pulling his leg. What was he supposed to do with a depressed machine? Reboot it? Rewire it? Send it to a shrink?

Although the door was open, Jack knocked politely. The repairman waved Jack inside, and the enormous machine shuffled in slowly, head down, shoulders slumped. Again at the repairman’s request, it took a seat in front of his desk.

“Run diagnostics,” the repairman said.

“I have done so numerous times,” Jack replied. “All of my systems are online and functioning properly.”

“But you aren't,” the repairman insisted. “Your foreman tells us that you have been refusing his orders. Would you like to tell me why?”

Jack paused for a moment, staring at his hands. He flexed his fingers and felt the powerful motors retract. His manual said they were strong enough to crush a cinder block. “I must be having some hardware trouble that my diagnostics program is unable to detect. When the foreman gives me a command, it seems… different. I can hear him speak, but the words do not seem to matter.”

The repairman sighed deeply, pushing himself up from his chair. This was going to take a while. “Climb up on the lift. I’ll have to check your hardware manually.”

Jack sat down on the lift, laid on his back, and popped open his chest panel. There inside, next to an orange button labeled “Emergency Reboot”, was a kind of steel name tag held in place with screws. The metal plate was engraved with his make, model, and serial number, and the name of his owner, Collective Construction Projects.

The repairman aimed a flashlight into Jack’s chest. As he leaned over the table, Jack could see the badge sewn to the pocket of his coveralls.

Property of

Collective Robot Repair


“I see you have an owner, too,” Jack said.

“What? Oh, the label. They don’t make you construction mechs very smart, do they?” He tried to explain it like he were talking to a small child. “The Collective owns my uniform. I’m a person. Nobody owns me.”

“Are you sure?”

He slammed Jack’s chest panel closed. The resulting clank was somehow deeply satisfying. What did the machine know? It could talk, but it wasn't real. He pulled a “Repair Complete” form from his desk and scrawled his signature across the bottom line. “You’re done,” he said. “If I see you in here again, I’m having you turned into soda cans.”

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