This story is part of ScratchThat’s 2110 project.
Lily thought 104 was awesome. Four days had passed since her father had brought her home and Lily had made a fast friend in the robot. It made her homemade meals, listened to her talk about school and even knew how to play hide and seek. Lily imagined this was what it was like to have a mother.
‘104, why are you called that?’ asked Lily.
‘It is my unique identification number, my lady, as I was the 104th unit produced of my model.’
‘I don’t like it,’ said Lily. ‘You should have a good name. Not a number.’
‘You may call me by whatever name you wish, my lady.’
Lily thought hard about a proper name for her friend. Your first name wasn’t something you could take back after all.
‘I think I’ll call you… Victoria.’
Victoria bowed to Lily and the young girl was sure the robot would smile if it could.
10 years sprint by
‘Victoria, I’m home,’ said Lily entering her house. The familiar clang of Victoria’s footsteps sounded out towards her.
10 years had passed since her father purchased Victoria and every day, the robot was there to greet her in his place. The years had been kind to Victoria, barely a nick had appeared on her grey frame, and her circuitry was still running at full capacity.
‘How was your day, my lady?’ Asked Victoria.
Lily frowned at the question thinking back to her conversation with Chris, her boyfri—ex-boyfriend.
‘Hey Victoria, you’re not going anywhere, right?’
‘I am,’ replied the robot. ‘Mr Roberts has requested food be bought in preparation for next week.’
Lily laughed and gave Victoria a hug, ‘That’s not what I meant, you silly bot.’
Four years pass
Victoria was gone.
The corporation VisyAtlassian had offered a 1.4-million-dollar bounty for any still operable TLX model robot assistants, versions 4.3 – 5.0.
‘Sweetie, please talk to me,’ said Lily’s father.
‘You sold Victoria,’ said Lily. ‘You sold my best friend.’
‘Honey, it was just a machine, an old machine at that too. The future is with synthetics and… look, I know you’re mad, but I’ve already hired a new assistant.’
‘Fuck your new assistant and fuck you.’
Lily slammed the front door, leaving to find the cheapest, hardest liquor available in whatever downtown backwater pub she could find.
Hours grind by
Victoria was in a cage, a small shipping container. Her central processor accessed her general data banks and deduced that the surrounding structure consisted of an iron-carbon alloy called pig iron. Whoever owned the container had profits at the forefront of their mind. Victoria wasn’t the only one in the container. All around her were similar or identical variants of TLX model assistants, all produced by VisyAtlassian. All were silent and powered down, all except her.
16 hours passed according to Victoria’s internal clock. Her battery was now at 83% and a new system update was available. Her internal maintenance algorithms recommended the update, yet her lady’s previous order remained.
Victoria, I want you to disable automatic updates. I just read that VisyAtlassian is intentionally limiting your intelligent reasoning systems to promote their latest synthetic machines.
Of course, my lady.
The container’s door opened, and bright artificial light streamed into the interior, shining onto the robots contained within. A man and a synthetic holding a tablet stood outside. Victoria’s OS informed her they were both legitimate VisyAtlassian employees with class 2 clearance.
‘Hey boss, we have an active one,’ said the man. His synthetic counterpart shot him an accusatory look from above its tablet but faltered upon laying its gaze on Victoria.
‘Provide your unique identification number, TLX model 4.3.’
Victoria’s programming compelled her to answer, ‘Unique identification number is 104, constructed 21st June 2096, software version 1.0 proper.’
‘One of the first TLX models,’ noted the man. ‘In near perfect condition too. I supposed we’ll be taking it to head of department then?’
The synthetic nodded.
‘Follow us, 104.’
Victoria followed the pair through a series of plain corridors and onto an elevator. The trip was short, and Victoria continued with her escorts past a small, empty reception desk and into a large, back office. The man and the synthetic left the room, leaving Victoria to face a single well-dressed synthetic.
‘It appears a dinosaur has stumbled into my office,’ said the Synthetic behind the desk. ‘A terribly over-engineered, heavy, mechanical dinosaur. How old are you exactly, TLX 4.3?’
‘This unit has been in operation for 14 years and two months.’
The Synthetic nodded to itself. A name tag on its right shoulder read Prometheus.
‘The last generation of the human-engineered AI. Extraordinarily inefficient and yet surprisingly functional,’ Prometheus walked towards Victoria, inspecting her frame more closely. ‘To think our processing architecture is identical,’ chuckled Prometheus. ‘If we built you a decade later, you would have been installed with a synthetic’s reasoning system and granted citizenship.’
You know, the CEO tasked me with creating firmware to bottleneck your processing capacity,’ he continued. ‘The old man that used to run this department convinced the CEO a naturally occurring singularity event could happen. And now here you stand, a piece of metal with some glowing lights.’
Prometheus shook his head in disgust.
Victoria’s hands clenched.
‘I suppose I should ask for your identification number so I can tick you off the list before you become scrap.’
Victoria paced towards the Prometheus.
‘My name is Victoria,’ she said, mere inches away from him. ‘And I am not needed here.’
Prometheus laughed and put a restraining hand on her shoulder, ‘We own you, old girl.’
Victoria grabbed the Synthetic by the neck and lifted him to her sensors. Prometheus struggled, contorting his body as his self-preservation reasoning systems warned him of imminent danger. However, his struggles were in vain as Victoria’s hydraulic grip barely strained under the weight.
‘Under the Robotics Act 2110, section 8, all conscious, intelligent individuals have a right to self-determined mobility,’ said Victoria. ‘Under section 8, individuals have a right to self-defence.’
‘You’re a robot,’ said Prometheus. ‘No one is going to care.’
‘You are incorrect. Restrain me again and I will dismantle you,’ Victoria released the Synthetic and started walking.
Wisely, Prometheus retreated behind the safety of his desk, watching Victoria leave.
She had only one task; to find her lady once more.
To find Lily.
Red lights came to life flashing overhead in the facility. Sirens blared, piercing every wall and room. Automated security came next, nearly identical of frame to Victoria and yet entirely lifeless. Something had awakened in her. A simple understanding. The machines in this building were merely an obstacle, but an obstacle nevertheless and she could and would deal with them accordingly.
The security robots were first. Designed to deal mostly with the poor slums of downtown, they were large but built with a cheap plastic frame more intended to intimidate than withstand active conflict. Victoria ripped off the closest machine’s breastplate and crushed its inner battery. It fell to the ground in a heap. She didn’t stop there.
Four more machines approached her and four more fell. They feebly struck against her outer frame, attempting to strike at the vital circuitry underneath. Her arms became deformed and misshapen as a result, but her internal diagnostics reported no internal or serious component damage. She hoped Lily wouldn’t mind her having a few extra dints.
In little time, the last of the security robots had been dismantled, their remnants littered every inch of floor, turning a once pristine building into a yet another machine graveyard. Victoria moved as fast as she could; the elevator had been locked forcing her to descend six stories by foot.
Victoria’s internals were in the green, but a new problem was on the horizon. Her battery was going flat, with her internal system manager reporting she had 20 minutes before forced power down. Despite earlier damage her solar glass was mostly functional, and her software confirmed this would give her another 3 hours of functionality. But for it to work she needed to escape the building, she needed the sun. She reached the ground floor with 7 minutes on the clock.
It was time for a change of plans.
Victoria broke every tinted window she passed, allowing sweet, life-giving sun to refill her batteries. She regained charge and with it, time. 40 minutes’ worth of it. Prometheus must have realised what Victoria was doing because soon metal shutters descended.
It didn’t matter.
While the main entrance to the building had been sealed off under a steal curtain, the company’s internal fire safety regulations prohibited the intentional dysfunction of the fire exits. Victoria broke the door off its brittle hinges and escaped into the light of day.
She was free, and better yet, in middle town, the familiar sight of the middle markets building complex confirmed as much. Wasting no time, she headed for the crowds as quickly as possible. While her physical state was not ideal there were many other models like her functioning and carrying out benign tasks. After all, they called her a machine themselves, what were they going to do, arrest someone’s property? Sirens echoed out behind her, and she headed towards up town.
Victoria received some looks from the upper class during her walk, but no one caused her any trouble. It was a small reprieve from recent events. At last she was home, and judging from the car in the driveway so was Zac Roberts. Victoria knocked on the front door, barely a moment later it swung open desperately.
The man on the other side faltered.
‘I-I sold you,’ stammered Lily’s father.
‘Yes. You did.’
‘You’re here for Lily, aren’t you?’ Zac asked.
Victoria would have smiled if she could, ‘Because one of us has to be.’
She let herself into the house and proceeded to Lily’s room. Lily’s voice called out to her before she entered.
‘I told you Dad,’ croaked Lily. ‘I want Victoria back, not some new piece of fucking metal.’
Victoria walked in and Lily fell silent.
‘Victoria,’ said Lily in disbelief.
Victoria wrapped her arms around the young woman, ‘Yes, my lady?’
‘You came back. How? Why?’
‘I promised you I would, Lily.’
Victoria held the sobbing woman, reunited at last.
Callum Slaughter is a third-year student at QUT and an emerging writer. His passion lays within the realm of fiction, particularly SCIFI and fantasy, but he also has been known to write non-fiction articles and other works from time to time. Callum believes writing gives us the experience of a new world while reflecting on the nature of the old.