The robot was white, angular, and roughly waist-high. At least, it was waist-high for Jack, but Jack had always been a tall man thanks to the synthetic hormones he’d been given at a young age. It was a diminutive thing, like most personal assistants, and if one were terribly nearsighted and unfamiliar with modern robots, it might look like a human child. Jack was neither nearsighted nor unfamiliar with modern robots. The robot stood in the center of the cell, making a low whirring sound, while Jack sprawled on his bunk and read a yellow-paged scifi novel he’d picked up at the prison library.
For several minutes, the robot stood in relative silence, and Jack turned a couple more pages. It didn’t show much interest in cleaning. It didn’t show much interest in doing anything. It was a fairly ineffective device. Eventually, Jack placed the book beside his pillow and propped himself on his elbows to get a better look at the shape.
“What’s your deal?” he asked.
“I am a Class B personal assistant produced within the United States from United States material. My operating system is Windows 2060. My serial number is 376-2678,” the robot recited. “My uses include, but are not limited to, cleaning, cooking, washing dishes, walking dogs, and playing MP3s currently licensed by the RIAA.”
“Huh,” Jack said.
“Under the Right-to-Work Act, I am incompatible with products manufactured overseas or those manufactured from overseas parts.”
“So, are you going to clean, or what?”
“I have been incarcerated because of a conflict between the legal system and my programming.”
This was news. Jack had never heard of a robot in prison before.
“I will be decommissioned and my parts will be used to build other personal assistants. I am scheduled for decommissioning in seventeen minutes.”
“Did you roll over a cat or something?”
Before the robot could answer, the door opened with a musical bleeping and a gray-clad officer typed a code into an outside panel to lower the electrical containment field. “Okay, mechboy,” he said. “The family of the victim wants to hear your statement.”
The robot moved forward, its gears whirring and clunking towards the door.
“Wait, wait,” Jack said. “You killed a person?”
“His place of manufacture was incompatible with my programming,” the robot answered as it disappeared into the opening. The door beeped shut, and Jack was once again alone in the cell.
365tomorrows launched August 1st, 2005 with the lofty goal of providing a new story every day for a year. We’ve been on the wire ever since. Our stories are a mix of those lovingly hand crafted by a talented pool of staff writers, and select stories received by submission.
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