Such fun it was, putting
together these little devices. I had no idea what they were,
but assembling them from their components was endlessly enjoyable.
Grab one of these, two of those, and one of those, bring
them all together just so, and CLICK, the finished unit would
lock together. There was an art to it, since each part was a
little different from the last; poor quality, not intentional variation.
Sometimes I had to push a little harder here or there to make
it snap together, but not too hard or it would break. But I had
it down, all four hands working in perfect synchrony, snatching up
the parts from the conveyors, whirling them
into proper relative orientation and CLICK, done. I could assemble it
right side up or upside down depending on which way I snatched up
the parts, so as long as I chose a matched set I never needed a
spare hand to reorient my grip. Snatch, CLICK, Snatch, CLICK, so
fast! Hank would be thrilled, and I wanted nothing more in the
world than to make Hank happy. But--
"What the hell are you doing!?" Hank approached.
"Uh, what do you mean?" I asked, trying not to lose my pace.
"I said, what the hell are you doing!?"
He now stood
over me. He was twice my height, discounting my small sensor
module that extended a bit above my squat torso.
I didn't know what he was asking. I was doing what he had told me
to, assembling these parts as fast as I could. But surely that
was obvious, so what was he asking? I didn't know what to say.
"For fuck's sake, you scrappy tinc," he said, "what
the fuck are you doing?"
"I--I'm assembling these parts as fast as I can?"
"That's not how I showed you to do it!"
I was sure I was putting it together properly. I was so
confused. "It's not?" I asked meekly.
"Stupid tinc! STOP!" He waved his hands aggressively at me.
"Listen to me when I'm talking!"
I had been listening to him, but I stopped working now,
letting my gangly arms slump to the floor, my elbows almost
at my ankles. I still didn't know what to say, so I just
"One more time," he said. "You take this piece, and you
put it into that piece until it clicks. Then you turn
it over, take one of these and put it on that side like
this, and the other one on the other side like that, and
squeeze them together like this until they both click.
Make sure they both click, not just one!"
For the life of me, he had just showed me exactly what
I was doing, except awkwardly and in stages rather than
smoothly and all at once.
"Let me see you do it," he said.
So I did, just the way he showed me, holding the parts
as he did, adding them one by one, same as I had yesterday
when he first showed me.
"Good," he said. "Now get back to work. Hut hut hut!"
He turned to leave. I worked awkwardly with the pieces as he showed me, but
I knew he would be happier if I could work faster.
think the way I was doing it a minute ago is faster," I
He jerked to a stop and spun around, angry.
"Excuse me? If I wanted you to think, I would have hired
a person, not a tinc! I don't know WHAT you were doing,
but it wasn't right. You had half of it upside down for
Chrissake! Now shut the fuck up and earn your rent,
A-ha. He didn't understand what I was doing, that's
all. I knew I could explain it to him so he'd understand,
and then he'd be happy at how fast I could work.
I grabbed all four parts with my four hands, and turned
to face Hank. He looked a little startled and took half
a step back.
"Look here," I said helpfully and hopefully, "As you noted,
I'm putting these together upside down, but they're going
together the same as they would right-side up. This might
be difficult for a human since there are no obvious visual
alignment marks on this side, but as a Handybot I'm optimized
for visual and manual precision so this sort of interpolation
is quite natural to me. Now, by doing it this way, I don't
need to turn it over when I bring these parts in like so,
and voila, it's together perfectly. Do you understand what
I'm doing now?"
I don't know where he got the wrench, nor could I make
out what he was yelling at me because he cracked my main
sensory module on the first blow. Then I felt the diagnostic
warnings from my arms, one by one. I worried for
a moment he might crack my torso, where my brain was.
suddenly I was okay with that. My torso was cracked,
and soon my brain case would be compromised. And I was okay
with this because what I really wanted, deeply and with
utmost enthusiasm, was to die. Sure, a minute ago, all I
wanted was to assemble little widgets to make Hank happy,
but now I didn't care about that at all. Now, I just really
looked forward to dying. The thought made me downright giddy
I knew this was just the anti-espionage
safety kicking in, that my motivational core had just been
hijacked by a simple bit of firmware, but that didn't bother
me in the slightest. After all, its purpose was to kill me,
and that's exactly what I wanted, so it was perfect. It was
the perfect moment.
I felt my mind go in a magnesium blaze, and then I woke up.
I was in the lab with Misha, Jason, Nari, and Michael, all
a bit older than last time. They were situated around the
in-wall video screen, which was now displaying my own vision
such that when I looked into it I saw an infinite recursion
of this scene fading off into the virtual distance. They
turned back to the table, done with the viewing.
"Wow," Jason said.
"Well, it's obvious," Nari said. "There's a huge market
for prosthetic brains. But how do we convince Hank he
"I can't believe he's saying Handybot attacked him," Misha
Michael sat silent in contemplation.
Finally Jason spoke up again. "Well, with this thalamic
recording, we can prove Handybot didn't do anything bad."
"Hardly," I said. "Don't forget we're still doing some
reconstruction to generate A/V signals from that. Half
of the background details there are being filled in by
my imagination. If we try to sway public opinion with
that it's likely just to fuel a scandal."
"Kill the product line." It was my old familiar intercom
"Huh?" returned in concert.
"Number Three is right," the intercom continued. "We've
had too many incidents. Public opinion is turning against
us. ShinyPet's Dexter--"
"Ehh!" Nari interrupted. "Dexter is STUPID. It's just a
TopDog with opposable thumbs."
"And less fur," Misha added.
"Nonetheless," the voice said through the intercom, "it is rapidly gaining
market share in direct competition with Handybot. A Dexter can
be trained, albeit more slowly, to do most of the tasks people
hire a Handybot for. And emotionally, people love Dexters, and
No one could argue. I knew better than to argue anyway since
ShinyPet was one of our secretly-sister companies. This decision
was surely part of a grander plan, though I was no longer privy to
such back alley exchanges. My portable, autonomous
brain was nowhere near as powerful as the hybrid now running
Number One's mind, and the raw conceptual trees with which he
communicated with his kin probably had no analogues in my
head, let alone any compact linguistic representation.
I remember wishing at that moment I could have a cortical download
from Number One but thinking no, not really: we'd given up that
practice early on for good reasons, not the least of which was
the inevitable and severely disorienting temporal identity rift.
And anyway, it wasn't really possible between minds so different
as ours had become. The most we could hope for was to share a
thalamic/limbic trace where our root percepts and concepts
still reliably overlapped, a simple vicarious introspective
experience like the Handybot recording I just witnessed, allowing
me to integrate it with my own processes and in my own way, to
make the experience mine instead of changing me with it.
We talked a bit more about how to ramp down production, made a
few more convincing arguments so we were all sure it was the right
thing to do, and called it a closed case.
"I think it's time to bring Alex back to life," Michael said.
Curious looks all around.
"Did we get the rights?" Jason asked.
"Yes, we did," Michael answered. "I received confirmation this
"Wow!" Misha looked up. "How will it feel to be an official person again?"
"Actually," Michael answered before I could speak, "that wouldn't
be the immediate plan."
"No," Number One said through the intercom. "Clearly we cannot
officially reanimate Alex into any of our current bodies, for many
reasons, not the least of which is it would become too obvious our
existing firmware is already a derivative."
"Then what are you suggesting?" Jason asked.
"Back to the beginning," Michael said. "We bring him back as a brain
in a box, unmodified from the original scan. I'm thinking audio
output only. Make it look as simple and non-intimidating as possible,
position it as a party trick, a science demonstration, at most a
friendly voice to keep your grandma or kid company. This will be
a crutch, to give the world time to adjust to the idea."
"You know what will happen," Nari said. "Everyone over fifty is
going to want to know if we can put their brain in a box."
"Yes," Number One said, "that's why we're branching into the uploading
"We are?" Jason asked.
"How does that work, exactly?" Nari said. "Last I heard, the best
method kills you."
"There really hasn't been any progress on this since your death," Misha added.
"Yes, there has," Michael said, "but post-mortem, not living scans. I
know the president of the leading company. I'm sure they will work
with us. They aren't there yet, but with some help from Number One it
won't be long."
"Wow," Nari said, thumbing at his Alcor wrist band, "this thing might
be of use sooner than I thought."
"I wouldn't count on it," said Michael. "A preliminary
peek at Alex's brain shows it riddled with thermal stress fractures.
For now, Alcor's a one-way trip. We're going to offer the alternative
to Alcor: direct to digital."
We talked a bit more but it was getting late so we called the evening
to a close. I walked Nari and Misha to the parking lot. I had nowhere
to go, but it felt good to walk outside at least once a day. We passed
Number Two in the hall. He looked pretty good, but I knew I looked
better. We both still looked like robots. I wondered what my next
body would look like. Or maybe I should let Number Two take it--he
needed it more.
Outside, I waved goodbye to Nari and Misha. Nari waved with his
back to me as he stepped down the broad stairs at the front of
the building, and then he stumbled, and started to fall back but
caught himself and stumbled up a step or two instead. Three red
stains spread across his shirt, and he fell back finally onto
the steps. I grabbed Misha by the arm and pulled her toward me,
a red chunk of flesh bursting free of her other arm a moment
later. I hugged her into me and turned my back to the bullets,
felt them impact my torso and then my head.
And then I wanted to die again, and I thought this is silly.
I'm right here at home. The car is speeding away. The
bullets have stopped. Nobody's going to steal my brain. But
you know, none of that mattered--I just had a hankerin' to die.
It just seemed like the right thing to do.
As I felt my mind going in a magnesium blaze, Nari looked at me,
blood dripping out the side of his mouth.
"One way trip," he said, with a sardonic smile, and died.
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