Prose Header

Broken Parts

by Bill Bowler

Part 1 appears
in this issue.

A-86 took time to process the input, then said, “I can’t remember.”

MR-17 plugged a jack into an input on her left side and scanned the memory cache and registry.

“Your most recent memory storage files were manually deleted at 9:16 this morning.”

On Thursday that week, at three in the morning, the neighbor’s wife was awakened by a loud peal of thunder. She heard the rain and got out of bed to close the window so things wouldn’t get wet. She was sprayed with drops of water as she pushed down the window and looked outside.

The rain was pouring down, tapping steadily against the windowpane and misting as it hit the ground. Another peal of thunder crashed overhead and rumbled away. She was very glad to be inside her house in her dry and cozy bedroom. She glanced towards Baxter’s house next door. His lawnmower and a wheelbarrow and rake were out in the yard getting soaked.

The neighbor’s wife shook her head. Then she noticed someone standing near Baxter’s side door, out in the pouring rain. A prowler? She was momentarily alarmed but through the misty curtain of rain, she saw a female form and recognized Baxter’s robot. It was standing still, next to the door, completely drenched. That thing’s going to get rusty, the neighbor’s wife thought as she turned from the window and climbed back into bed.

The next morning, bright and early, George came out the side door and saw that he had left A-86 and the lawnmower and wheelbarrow outside in the rain all night. He had absolutely no help around here. It really ticked him off. Everything was still damp and George ordered A-86 to put the lawnmower and wheelbarrow away in the garage. A-86 responded to his commands, but pushed the mower slowly, favoring its right leg with the recently rebuilt hip strut.

George gave A-86 a little kick from behind, “C’mon, move it!”

A-86 stumbled forwards but held on to the handle and managed to push the mower past the car into the back corner of the garage. The android came slowly back out and grasped the handles of the wheelbarrow. George was shaking his head and muttering under his breath,

“Why I waste my valuable time with this...”

A-86 pushed the barrow past George and started into the garage but had to stop. There wasn’t enough clearance between the side of the car and the wall. From the driveway, seeing the robot stop, George shouted, “What are you waiting for?! Hurry up, will you?”

He stormed over to the garage entrance as A-86 was backing the barrow out awkwardly. George pushed the android aside and took the handles of the wheelbarrow, but saw at once that there wasn’t room to get past the car.

“Get this thing out of the way!” he ordered A-86 to move the barrow, walked around to the side of the car, and got in to back it out. He started the motor, put it into reverse, and glanced in the rearview mirror. The stupid robot was standing directly behind the car trying to push the wheelbarrow out of the way.

George leaned out the window, shouted, “Get out of the way!” and started to back up slowly.

The robot was not moving. It couldn’t go slower if it wanted to. It had managed to get the wheelbarrow mostly clear but it was favoring its right leg and was not moving fast.

I don’t have all day! fumed George, He hit the horn and started backing up, thinking to just nudge the robot out of the way. As the rear bumper touched the robot, George saw in the rearview mirror as the robot dropped and disappeared from view. He backed up another foot but stopped when the robot did not reappear. He got out and walked around to take a look.

For the third time in ten days, George brought his android back to Metropolitan Robots for service. The sales reps and cashiers gasped to see an A-86 crawling on all fours and dragging one leg uselessly behind. They made it somehow across the display floor and through the swinging doors to the Service Dept., where George commanded the robot to stop.

A-86 kept crawling slowly forward.

“Stop I said!”

The robot halted and collapsed to the floor, unable to put weight on its right leg.

The technician ran over, shocked to see the condition of the android. The MR-17 maintenance unit was standing dormant next to the worktable.

“It fell again,” said George. “When I wasn’t there.”

The technician was speechless. In fifteen years’ experience, he had never seen an android in such poor condition.

“I think it hit its head or something,” George explained, “because it’s been acting funny ever since. It’s sluggish and not responding to commands.”

The technician knelt down for a closer look at the A-86. Its clothes were in shreds. The right leg had tire tracks on it and the right knee was crushed. The stitched plasto-derm on the torso housing had had been torn open again and exposed the edge of a circuit board which showed signs of water damage. The unit’s left eye was dim and apparently not functioning.

The technician was beside himself. He turned on George. “Some people are not competent to own and operate androids!”

“Don’t get excited. Just tell me what it’s going to cost.”

“It’s not clear if this A-86 can be repaired. There is extensive physical damage to the housing and support structures, and it looks like there are major problems with the primary processor and circuit board. The MR-17 will have to run a complete diagnostic but I can tell you right now, it doesn’t look good. Wait here and, whatever you do, don’t touch anything!”

The lab technician went out through the swinging doors, straight to the Service Manager’s office.

“Baxter’s here again. He’s totaled that A-86. Broke its leg; the housing is a wreck; circuits are damaged; and it looks like the CPU is shot.”

“That’s it,” said the manager. “I’m calling upstairs. Go keep an eye on Baxter. I don’t want him breaking anything else in there.”

The technician left the manager’s office and walked back towards the Service Dept. Through the window on the swinging doors, he saw the damaged android sprawled on the floor with Baxter standing over it, talking to himself. The MR-17 stood inactive by the worktable, pending instructions. A sales rep put his hand on the tech’s shoulder. He had a call on line 5. The technician went to a desk and picked up the phone.

Inside the Service Dept., George was near the breaking point. He had had just about enough of these people. Who did they think they were dealing with? If they thought they were going to push him around, they had another think coming. He’d show them, but good.

He pointed his finger and commanded the A-86, “Over there. By the table.”

The android’s good eye flickered. It tried to crawl forward, but could not.

“Over there! Now!”

The A-86 was motionless.

“What is wrong with this thing?!” George gave it a kick. The A-86 rolled over on its back. George grabbed a handful of syntho-hair and started dragging it towards the table. The MR-17 rolled across his path. “Out of the way!” George bellowed.

MR-17 swiveled, its arm telescoped out and steel fingers wrapped around George’s wrist.

“What the...?!” George released the handful of hair and struggled to pull his wrist from the maintenance robot’s grasp. “Let go of me you stinking pile of scrap!”

George squirmed and tugged but MR-17 did not loosen its grip.

“Help!!” screamed George. “Hee-eelp!”

The lab technician rushed through the doors when he heard George yelling, with the manager on his heels. The MR-17 was non-responsive, frozen and looping. They had to power it off and unscrew the fingers one by one before they could get the customer free.

George was not injured, but had gotten a good scare. He screamed they wouldn’t get away with this, threatened them with lawsuits, said he had a lawyer, he’d see them in court and they had no idea who they were dealing with. A Metro Robots Customer Relations rep managed to calm George down eventually with the offer of a generous cash settlement and a brand new replacement A-86 at no cost.

The next morning, the service technician was told to report to the manager’s office. As the tech entered, the manager looked up from a stack of files on his desk,

“Close the door, please. Sit down.”

The technician sat and waited.

“Have you been able to determine what caused the maintenance robot to malfunction?”

“Malfunction?! I would have grabbed Baxter myself if I had a chance!”

“No you wouldn’t,” said the manager. “You’re too much of a professional for that. Now what about MR-17?”

The technician sighed, “We thought maybe the spring had snapped in the arm telescope release but it checked out OK. There were no mechanical or hardware issues in the arm or hand we could discover. The circuitry and power supply all showed normal and the CPU is fully functional.”

The manager opened a file, “According to our records, that unit has been running smoothly for two years without so much as a hiccup.”

The technician nodded, “Our best guess is a problem in the AI programming, possibly a corrupted file, but we have not been able to isolate or reproduce it.”

“We can’t afford a repeat of this incident,” said the manager. “If that unit glitches again, we would be legally liable. Business Affairs wants assurances that this maintenance unit will not be assaulting customers in the future.”

“They’ve got this whole thing backwards!” cried the tech. “Their precious customer ruined an A-86. They should thank MR-17 for putting a stop to it!”

“We can’t take any chances with that unit.” The manager closed the file. “Wipe the drive, just to be safe.”

Copyright © 2006 by Bill Bowler

Home Page