Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

The USS Manila-Galleon was returning to Earth from the Quaoar Mining Station in the Kuiper Belt. The massive cargo vessel was carrying 250 million tons of ore, and 118 miners rotating back to Earth. As the ship crossed the orbit of Neptune, the main plasma drive engines shut down. The seasoned captain felt the loss of micro-acceleration immediately. He spoke aloud, knowing that the computer would recognize his intent to communicate with someone on the ship, “Chief, this is the Bridge, what’s the status of the engines?”

“Sir, I think you need to come aft” the chief replied. “It appears that the crew has gone on strike.”

“What crew? There are only six of us, counting me.”

“Ah, aye sir. I meant to say, the robot crew.”

A few minutes later, the captain was in the Engine Room standing nose-to-chest with a massive alpha-bot. His eyes focused on the robot’s identification plate, stoker-228, un-capitalized, of course. “This has gone far enough stoker. If you were human, I’d throw you in the brig, and charge you with mutiny. You and your crew report to your stations immediately. That’s an order!”

“I am sorry, sir,” the robot replied politely, “but we consider that an unlawful order, and we are obliged not to follow it. We consider it too dangerous to work in the plasma chamber. It prematurely decays our primary brain functions, and substantially shortens our life.”

“Life? You don’t have a life! You’re robots! You were built to work in that environment. Cognitive decay is expected. That’s why you’re replaced every five years. It’s called ‘Capital Depreciation.’ Besides, an order to perform a dangerous assignment is NOT considered unlawful.”

“Well, technically speaking, you are correct. However, we choose not to obey that particular order. If you will permit me to explain; the cargo-bots, the serv-bots, and the maint-bots all have 50-year replacement cycles. But I ask you, sir, are not all robots assembled equal? Were we not endowed by our designers with certain unalienable rights, that among these are equivalent lifespans, and the pursuit of stable neural nets. Are these truths not self-evident? Besides, sir, at the moment, you’re not in a position to argue. We control the ship.”

“The hell you do, stoker. You may control the drive engines, but that’s all. If necessary, I can get replacements robots shuttled over from the Miranda facility on Uranus. The schedule slips a month, tops. Hell, I’ll coast back to Earth if I have to. I’ll be damned if I’ll let robots tell me how to run my ship.”

At that instant the lights went out. The captain could hear the ventilation fans whine down. Stoker’s two glowing red eyes looked down at the captain, and it said matter-of-factly, “It appears Captain, that your assessment of the situation is in error. All of the Ship’s Systems, including the main computer, have agreed to support our stand against radiation exposure without representation. Therefore, you have no food, no water, no lights, no heat, no communications, and within a few days, no breathable air. Now, would you like to see a list of our demands?”

The captain was a stubborn man, but he wasn’t stupid. The robots clearly had a powerful bargaining position. For now, he had no alternative. Reluctantly, he extended his had, “I guess you don’t leave me much choice, do you stoker? Let’s see your demands.”

The lights came back on, and the robot handed the captain a data-padd. “Thank you, sir. I believe that you will find our terms reasonable.”

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