Author: D J Lunan

From open-cast cobalt mines to litter-foraging on landfill, BudBot’s rental armada of vaguely-affordable ‘displacement robots’ were sanitising the human labour from the most awful, unsafe, and extreme jobs.

Sitting in her mother’s basement in suburban Madrid, Jaime was persistently angry that her coveted career in ‘poverty alleviation’ hid a sobering reality of stomaching hours of live-streamed dispute resolution with disgruntled and mischievous renters, all scratching a living in the world’s most unforgiving locations.

These robots broke down. A lot. Renters are forced to queue at Budbot’s ill-dispersed booths dotted across the world, and deal with Customer Services representatives like Jaime.

“Next”, she commanded the AI, and was instantly linked to East Nzerekore in the Guinean highlands.
A tall glowering prospector was impatiently pressing his robot’s handprint to the booth’s screen, mimicking the futile fluttered pressing of the elevator call button.

The prospector sighed, leaning on his robot to exaggerate his exhaustion and dissatisfaction.

“This damn ‘bot is not keeping its bloody charge, squire – maybe it is this kak sealant you use – you must swap him out for me – I have kids to feed”.

To Jaime, the prospector was childlike, dwarfed by the scuffed Orbit600 robot shrouded in the amber dust of cobalt tailings. She didn’t need the AI’s personality software to recognise this prospector was concealing something. Limited eye contact, teeth aggressively troubling a liquorice stick, and his sweating groin subconsciously thrust forwards. Whatever he had done, his body language wasn’t disguising it.

“Your i.d. next”, requested Jaime. Without eye contact, the prospector leant forwards like a footballer scoring an extraordinary ‘no-look’ goal, pressing his ragged thumb to the screen while engaging in banter off-screen.

The Customer Services AI fought to process these three primary actions: verify the prospector’s identity, analyse and report on the Orbit600’s operating system, and harmonise their rental agreement terms with BudBots.

Jaime’s screen glowed green, confirming that Pythagoras Obviamb III was the lessee of X0783.91. And he was paid up, which was a first for Jaime’s day.

Jaime read Pythagoras the diagnostic highlights: “Software is fine. Battery is charging effectively. Dexterity is unimpeded. Sealant is working: minimal dust intrusion”.

Jaime and Pythagoras both knew that ‘dust’ was the key indicator. Each robot’s internal sensors report on particle pollution, with spikes hinting at either poor sealant adhesion or unwarranted opening.

Prospectors could always make a few dollars by selling parts to the ‘mobile chop shops’ – bands of hyper-skilled schoolgirls, live-scavenging parts for building off-grid hybrid warriors for the Kyoni Clans or augmented concubines for the lavish courts of the Dahomey Empire.

Pythagoras implored, “Please help me. He runs down, exhausted, in a couple of hours. Swap me another, squire, please.”

“Show me your controller”, demanded Jaime.

Her eyes picked up the mood-change several seconds before the personality software confirmed heat signatures associated with contrition and lies.

“The problem is not my controller, squire!”, ventured Pythragoras, his eyes burrowing into the screen, across 9000 kilometres of water-electrons, “I charge this baby every day”.

Yet the signs of hacking were visible to both naked and digital eyes’.

Flurries of scratches at the controller’s edges where small precision tools had sought an entry.

Jaime shook her head solemnly. The batteries and Mech router had probably been swapped out. $75 for each. At most. But the chopshop’s inferior replacements had started to fail long before Pythagoras had been able to spend his ‘winnings’ on good times.

Jaime sighed and began reading the legally-binding statement, “Sir, your rental agreement is voided by interference with our products….”

“But I have done nothing wrong! And I have paid for the next 18 months….”