It's the year 2117. Technology has advanced to a point that robots are a part of everyday life. Most people own one or several. They perform most of the mundane tasks that free humans up for extra leisure time and more fulfilling challenges.
In the meantime, a software virus that was created some years before is rapidly spreading. The viral code causes robots to instantly malfunction, losing all motor control...essentially going berserk. What at first is viewed as somewhat comical becomes very serious as property is damaged and innocent people are injured and killed.
What's worse is that the virus is quickly affecting more and more robots at the same time. And, the only way to effectively deal with a malfunctioning robot is to euthanize it.
This story follows the life of one man who is licensed to kill robots. At first, his job is just that, identify and destroy malfunctioning robots. However, a massive robot outbreak throws society briefly into breakdown and then the fun begins....
When 22nd Century Technology Fails
Michael I. Oster
copyright 2013, all rights reserved
(chapters 1 -6)
7:21 am, En Route
The morning sun lit Carl's face with a bright orange hue as he sat in the back seat of the cab. He was much more seasoned now and it showed. He had a sense of purpose and a confidence that you could see in his eyes. Lester's coaching had really begun to pay off.
"I'm headed over to the industrial sector to deal with a malfunctioning Mark IV Security Unit. It's a new model, similar to the Law Enforcement version except that it doesn't have a lethal capable pulse weapon. But it does have all the armor plating and the strength of the LEO model. Plus, it can stun you into next week."
Carl glanced down at his pocket screen and then continued. "I've put down a few Mark IV's and they're difficult, especially when they're shooting. You've just got to make sure that you hit them hard and in the right place before they can do too much damage… or hit you." Carl paused. "We're not too far away now."
After a minute or so his attention went from his pocket screen back to looking outside. "I killed my first robot when I was seventeen. Dad was at work and Mom was making dinner. I was upstairs doing homework when I heard a huge crashing noise. Mom started screaming and I went downstairs to see what was wrong.
We had a 'HomeStarr 2100' which was real popular back then. Most of our friends and neighbors had the same model. Well ours just went nuts for some reason. It was destroying the kitchen and had managed to start a small grease fire. Mom and I tried to shut it down, but it was no use. I ended up using a baseball bat. I beat the hell out of it until it stopped."
Carl looked back down at his pocket screen. "Not long after that, I found out you could actually make a living putting down malfunctioning robots. I took a course and got a license. I've been doing this ever since."
"What was the course like?" Lester asked from the front passenger seat.
"The course? Well, it covered a lot. First we learned about various robot types and what they were made to do. We went over their specs, capabilities and vulnerabilities. We learned to properly identify a malfunctioning robot. After that it was weapons training. Everything from the basics of operating primitive firearms to using today's advanced pulse weapons systems. Then, we moved to strategies and tactics. Finally, we had intensive hands-on training and weapons proficiency drills in the simulator. We even learned some basic unarmed hand to hand combat techniques, though I've never found them useful against robots. The course lasted about six months."
Lester followed with another question, "What exactly does a robot do when it's malfunctioning?"
"There are so many different kinds of robots. Makes and models all over the place. They're capable of so many things and they do many different jobs. But when they malfunction, it goes down pretty much the same way. They lose complete control to put it bluntly.
All their motor skills and decision making go out the window. That means that they can cause a lot of damage, even hurt or kill people. Not on purpose, they're just like unguided spastic machinery at that point. They also leak fluids and babble incoherently. Their vocal synthesis chips go crazy too. You can't communicate with them and you can't shut them down either. You're pretty much stuck with destroying them as quickly as possible. It's really the best way."
The cab slowed and arrived at the destination. "Time to get to work."
ONE YEAR EARLIER - 5:33 pm, Smiley's Bar
They've got some old movie up on the telescreen, though I admit I'm just barely paying attention. I'm really more interested in being left alone and enjoying my drink. But between that, the dim lights and the wash of crappy background music, I'm finding it hard not to watch. Besides, this is only my first of what I hope will be many more drinks and a long, boring night.
Well, back to the shitty movie. It's one of those low budget, old classics where the characters are shallow but the chicks have short skirts and tight tops. I can handle that. The movie was supposed to take place in the future, a time where technology was advanced and robots were everywhere. Theirs was a civilization where people and robots coexisted in peaceful, beneficial lives.
Were people a hundred years ago really that stupid? What the hell do they know anyway? Yes, it's only a movie. But if they really knew what the future was like, they'd probably just go back to huffing gasoline or doing whatever bored fucks did back then. I'll tell them this: if their future is anything like my present, it probably going to suck ass.
"Here's to you not inventing a time machine and coming here," I said as I toasted the telescreen. Nobody seemed to notice, but then I'm pretty sure that I had the bar all to myself. Well at least that robot bartender is here to keep me company, though he was doing a shitty job at it. And besides, his drinks were a little weak. Nevertheless, I ordered another…just because I had nothing else to do anyway.
I don't know if I mentioned this or not, but I hate robots. And not just because they get on my nerves. Actually, it's because they really get on my nerves. Whenever I see one, I feel like I'm looking at the pinnacle of stupidity. I mean, they all look some moron got drunk and drew up some grade-school level blueprints which then got manufactured into these pieces of garbage. No matter what model they were or what they were made to do, they looked like they were the bastard offsprings of circus clowns and 1960's era kitchen appliances.
But there's a somewhat intelligent reason for the way they look. It goes back about 50 years or so. At that time, technology had evolved to the point that we could create a robot that was almost indistinguishable from a living human. And some companies actually did. Problem was, those robots were too 'human-like' and they basically creeped people out. Nobody wanted to own one or even interact with one of these things. People were paranoid because they couldn't tell human from robot. Orders never materialized and the companies that made them soon went bankrupt.
Basically, demand dictated the design development of robots over these last few decades and they evolved accordingly. So the robot models that humans were comfortable with were the ones that got made. Simple as that. Hell, even the Japanese were on board with this one. Their robots looked just as moronic as everyone else's.
See, those idiots in that old movie might be looking forward to robots being everywhere and to cheap intergalactic space travel and all, but they're in for a rude awakening. Actually, it's probably their grandkids that will be in for it. Still, there's a reason why I carry a pulse gun everywhere I go no matter how safe they tell me it is.
Perfect example is my bartender. At least it's my bartender now, because I'm the only living soul in here. Anyway, I'm looking at about 200 pounds of synthetic shit, you know, circuits, wires, chips, servos, alloy, paint, and whatever else goes into one of these heaps of garbage and I wondering why the hell I don't waste this thing right now. Actually, I do know why. Because first, I need another drink, and second, there are stiff penalties for destroying someone else's property without a good reason.
The front door to the bar opens and a large, blinding shaft of light disrupts my thoughts. I had no idea it was still daylight outside. I guess I'm due for another drink.
Rise of the "Patterson-Jones" Code
The story, as I remember, goes something like this…. About 30 years ago, late one night in an average college dorm, a couple of engineering students were bored, stoned and drunk or whatever. One gets the bright idea to create a universal algorithm that can be easily uploaded to just about any kind of robot which will cause the unit to instantly malfunction. Though it is believed that their initial idea was harmless in nature, things didn't work out like that.
Yes, they were successful in creating and uploading the code to one of the dorm's maintenance robots. And, yes, the unit began to malfunction in an almost comical way. It started blabbering a synthetic sounding gibberish and limping around in circles while flailing its arms uncontrollably. After a few minutes the robot's vocal noise and body actions became even more exaggerated as it bumped into furniture and struck the walls. The unit also started to leak oil. It quickly created a mess, knocking over chairs, lamps and and then just about everything that wan't bolted to the floor.
The noise attracted the attention of the other residents on the floor who gathered to see what was happening. What was at first a funny curiosity quickly escalated into a serious problem as the malfunctioning robot errantly moved from room to room destroying everything in its path.
I guess the students forgot something before they uploaded their prized code into the victim robot and that was this: robots communicate with other robots wirelessly. That's how they're able to work together so quickly and efficiently. It's so rudimentary and every grade-school aged kid knows it. But, these stoned geniuses must have overlooked that fact. Well, that's how the virus was later spread from one robot to another.
What made things worse was that the code was very sophisticated. Once introduced to a new host, it immediately overrode all emergency shutdowns of the infected robot. Then it would adapt to and outsmart any attempted software fixes. Once comfortable in its new home the code would then concentrate on locating other robots to invade. This left very few options other than destroying the unit before the code could be passed on to other bots.
It's Not Usually This Easy
It's a sound I instantly recognized. Even through the haze of my fifth drink, I can easily make it out. I knew what it was before I turned and saw it. Another robot. From the looks of it, it's an older model, less sophisticated than my bartender unit. And, its got a problem. The erratic movements and synthetic blabbering are a dead giveaway. It's obviously malfunctioning. The first thing I want do is disintegrate the bastard. Hell, that's what I get paid to do. But the law says I have to wait for the authorities to contact me and then deal with it.
Fine, I'll just order another drink and use the alcohol to help tune it out. Meanwhile that obsolete wreck is staggering all over the place making all kinds of noise gibberish that nobody can understand. It's stumbling across chairs and breaking things. And now it's leaking oil. Exactly what a malfunction would do, but it's not my problem yet and I have to remember that. So I did exactly what I should do in a situation like this: I turned away and ordered another drink.
But the sound is getting louder and that thing is getting closer. I look back and see that it's practically trashed the place and now, it's headed over to me. Great. Then it does something I didn't expect. It sits down on the stool next to me. "Fuck, they never make it this easy", I thought.
I tried to ignore it, you know, and not look at the thing. Maybe it would go away. Then it let out the loudest series of ear-bleeding synthetic chirps, squawks and garbles I've ever heard. As it did that, oil started flowing, not leaking, it was literally flowing from all its ports. I'd had enough of this. Any sane person would have had enough of this.
I slid my hand into my jacket pocket and carefully pulled out my pulse gun, making sure the bot couldn't see it. I made a quick aim, though at this range, I was all but guaranteed a clean hit. Then, with a sense of pride, I pulled the trigger. There was a bright flash of green light and a deep, percussive crack. That was it. I blasted that thing right back to wherever the hell it came from.
Not much was left of that pathetic wreck except for some splattered synthetics, fried circuit boards, a servo or two and a pool of burning oil. "Well at least there's that." I thought. Not like I even knew what the hell it meant. "Bartender. Another!", I said in a proud voice.
They Like Glitchy Robots
"Patterson-Jones" is what they called it. Named after its creators, the code quickly transmitted from robot to robot. The bots may have been created for a variety of purposes but the results were the same: a complete malfunction. Service bots, pleasure bots, construction bots, maintenance bots, every damn bot that got infected went apeshit! And when bots went apeshit, things got broken and people got hurt.
Think about it. Robots were such a part of everyday life, even back then. They drove people around. They fixed things. They cleaned things. They served food. They were everywhere. Now what do you think happens when those robots malfunction while performing their programmed tasks?
I mean, imagine for a minute that you're this poor soul. Let's call him "Ralph". Ralph is your typical middle aged professional and right now he's getting a massage from his favorite massage bot. Just before Ralph has his 'happy ending' the massage bot receives a wireless dose of the "Patterson-Jones" virus. Now Ralph is really screwed because his dick is stuck in the pleasure port of that malfunctioning robot. It starts blabbering, flailing and limping about all with Ralph still stuck in it. Then things really get bad. Get the picture?
Think about it. Nanny bots ripping babies to shreds. Catastrophic multiple hover car accidents as robot drivers simultaneously malfunction. Firefighting bots letting flames rage or actually starting and feeding fires. Medical bots rupturing rectums during prostate exams. Anything and everything robot related went to shit. Property damage was widespread and ordinary life suddenly became very dangerous.
Situations like this played out all over the country, then globally and eventually off-planet. "Patterson-Jones" was so simple and elegant that it easily spread from robot to robot and there was no way to stop it. Oh, and by the way, the creators of the virus. Well, they got expelled from college and had to pay for the damages the original infected robot caused. Rumor has it that they were later hired as military contractors. Typical.
I'll Just Pay the Fine
The authorities arrived, late as usual, to a bar covered with bits of blasted robot. The humid air smelled of burnt synthetics and stale beer. A thin haze slowly lifted up to the ceiling. I already had my pocket screen out, ready to make a transfer. You know, they fine people for unauthorized destruction of private property. It was worth it, though. I smiled and ordered another drink.
A quick scan of one of the larger fragments revealed that this robot was close to 50 years old and just a common "helper bot". They were good for light cleaning, taking out the trash, walking the dog, telling stories to the kids. You know, basic things. That model was generally reliable and very popular a little over a generation ago. They were kind of status symbols in their time. Nowadays you can get them for almost nothing in pawn shops and at flea markets.
So I got my slap on the wrist and brief lecture from the authorities on when I could legally waste a bot. Then I went back to my liquid dinner.
7:34 pm, 1244 Oak Leaf Drive
I was about to finish my seventh drink when my pocket screen started beeping. It was a job that would make up for the fine I just paid and then some. The details were pretty typical with a hysterical housewife and a robot going crazy. So I took a cab and headed out to suburbia.
I arrived to a textbook scenario: Housewife in Distress. Almost subconsciously, I had my pocket screen out ready for this nice lady's fingerprint which acknowledged that she read the terms and agreed to my waiver and payment. Funny thing is, they hardly ever read the waiver. But, basically it gets me off the hook for any damages related to doing my job.
A frantic Ms. Ward, pressed her finger on my pocket screen and then proceeded to give me directions to the malfunctioning robot. Like I needed directions. I just do what I always do: follow the noise and the damage path and it takes me right to the malfunctioning son of a bitch.
My eyes and ears led me upstairs to the kids' playroom. Inside was violently thrashing newer model service bot. It was small and fast, with six hook arms and about the size of a beagle. These models were popular with the upwardly mobile families who had small children. You know, a machine that did the work, but also something that the kids could play with. Anyway, this one had gone berserk and made one hell of a mess. There were broken toys, holes punched in the walls, and smashed furniture everywhere. It also exhibited the other telltale signs of a malfunction: leaking oil and making a vocal racket that nobody could understand.
I pulled out my pulse gun and carefully aimed at the flailing pile of garbage then pulled the trigger. Missed! That damn thing jerked right out of the path of my blast. The energy pulse blew a huge hole in the wall and that's exactly where that hunk of shit bolted. My buzz must have affected my aim. Sometimes it happens, especially when I've been drinking heavily. Whatever. I followed that little bastard through the smoldering hole into one of the kids' bedrooms where it started tearing up the bunk beds as if nothing had happened.
Again I aimed and pulled the trigger. Bullseye! I blasted that little shit bucket right back to hell. It looked like a small bomb had exploded. Because of the robot's small size and the power my pulse gun, there wasn't much left of it except for some small shards of metal and bits of burning wire, which were pretty evenly scattered across far end of the bedroom.
The carpet was singed and one of the beds was smoldering, but that wasn't my problem. When Ms. Ward appeared upstairs she was sobbing. She was saying something about how the mess I made was worse than the robot and asking who was going to clean it up. Hell, it's not my problem. I just smiled, thanked her for her business and wished her a nice day. Outside the Ward's house a small crowd had gathered. "Nothing to see here," I muttered as I passed them. Then, I got into my cab and headed home.
(Jump to Part II - Chapters 7 - 15)