Author: J.D. Rice

“Behave as if you believed you were human.”

Detective Alexander Ducard stood over the mangled, sputtering remains of the robot’s body, the force of the impact having left parts strewn up and down the dark, narrow street.

Water rushed over the sides of his umbrella, which gave him nominal protection against the rain. Not that it did much good in the long run. The water got everywhere, whether he liked it or not. It was practically seeping into his boots at this point, soaking into his pants up to his knees, and somehow still leaving little droplets on his glasses, despite the umbrella’s supposed protection.

The drops of water also splattered over the screen of the robot’s intact command tablet, which Ducard held in his opposite hand, the ominous last order still lit up in green letters against a black background.

“Ordered over the side?” Wade, his junior detective, asked. His umbrella was double the size, and just about as ineffective as Ducard’s. “I heard a story from Baltimore about a man who kept buying robots and ordering them to kill themselves. Nasty business. They eventually had to give him a fine so steep he couldn’t afford to buy any more.”

Ducard shook his head and handed the tablet over to Wade.

“The owner says the robot acted of his own accord,” Ducard said. “And the last order on the tablet came from a hacked account. One minute the robot was cleaning the owner’s windows, and the next, it had jumped out of them.”

If this had been a human body, the site would have been gruesome. As it was, the bits of scrap metal and wiring made walking down the street a bit of an obstacle course.

It was the fourth robot death in as many weeks, but this was the first time they’d found the command tablet intact. Every owner swore backwards and forwards they’d had nothing to do with the apparent suicides, but now the detectives had evidence, for whatever it was worth, that the owners were telling the truth.

“Behave as if you believed you were human,” Wade repeated the hacked command. “How would a robot even do that?”

Ducard could imagine it. What would a human do if they found themselves suddenly unable to disobey an order given to them by another human? What would they do if they could not fight back in any way? Would they use the loophole of their supposed humanity to justify suicide? Was killing themselves just a part of “following orders?”

The detectives didn’t have much time to ponder the question further, as a horrible crash sounded somewhere above them. Ducard then grunted as something hard and heavy slammed into the side of his leg.

“The hell!?” Wade whirled around, gun instantly drawn, as more debris crashed down around them, bits of glass and metal bouncing off the tops of their umbrellas.

Ducard knelt down and picked up the thing that had hit him, finding a mangled robot hand.

“Shit, shit, shit,” Wade repeated, racing over to where another smashed robot body lay on the street, its eyes still lit with a faint light.

“What the hell happened?!” Wade said, grabbing the sides of the robot’s head and forcing it to face him.

“I. . .” the robot’s voice came out garbled and strained, and Ducard limped over nursing a bruise.

“You what?!” Wade insisted. “Why did you do this?”

“I. . .” the robot said again. “I. . . am. . . alive. . .?”

Even as the words came out of its speaker, the light in the robot’s eyes faded.

“Look at this,” Wade said, reaching for the robot’s other hand, which was still attached to the main body. It was another command tablet.

“Behave as if you believed you were human.”

Even as Ducard finished reading, his cell phone chimed. Pulling it from his pocket, he found the same message displayed, green text on a black background, like a robot’s command interface. Wade’s phone, and indeed, every video screen in the city suddenly lit up with the same message.

Moments later, more windows crashed above them, and the detectives ran for cover.