Elevator Zero, Part 2
Static Biomass Processing System BPS-I32111 was fifteen meters to a side and slightly under ten meters tall. Like all static bots, Bopsi had an omnidirectional photoelectric array on each of her three faces, which let her be social. From deep within her core came the incessant, rhythmic toil of a great many pumps as they imbibed hundreds of tons of biomass-contaminated sludge and expelled sterile, workable materials such as gravel, sand, water, and mineral-based oils. The biomass was pumped upwards through the top of the Complex itself, to points unexplored and unknown, while the rest was cycled into the infinite labyrinth of pipes and cisterns that framed every single square meter of the known world.
When Tess approached Bopsi and introduced himself as a Troubleshooter, the big processor’s operational lights flickered with excitement. <Ooooo, aren’t you sweet, looking in on little old me! Here, let me get you a power cell, put a little spark in your step. You look exhausted!>
<I’m fine, thank you.>
There was an awkward silence of 3.452 seconds. <Well?> Bopsi asked. <Aren’t you going to take it?>
Tess scanned the empty steel platform surrounding Bopsi with no results. <Take what?>
The processor beeped sharply. <Well, when I was a new model, polite bots didn’t turn down a power cell when they were offered one.>
<What power cell?>
<The one I’m handing you, silly!>
<You have no arms, Bopsi.>
Bopsi warbled in amusement. <Oh, you Troubleshooters! Is this a test or something? Just take the cell, will you. My, such sparks you little fellows spit sometimes!>
<Delete last; let me rephrase. No model BPS-I system was manufactured with nor later equipped to support or possess manual manipulator arms of any kind. Concordant with this data, you must logically surmise that you are lacking in same and that any insistence to the contrary is evidence suggesting some degree of software corruption.>
Tess had often been complimented at the particular way in which he delivered such news to his patients—a total lack of inflection, interest, or patience that indicated to the addressee, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that what he said was incontrovertible fact. He had been told that later troubleshooter models had been programmed with this self-same inflection for their own use. It was an effective technique, apparently. To be honest, Tess only used it when his servomotors were sticking and he was having a particularly bad cycle.
Bopsi fell silent again for a full 7.023 seconds before speaking again, rather sheepishly. <You’re sure, dear?>
<But I’ve collected such a fine assortment of scrap with my arms, don’t you see? I’m building a new room for myself.>
The platform was bare. <There is no scrap.>
Bopsi’s photoelectrics dimmed. <Have you really looked?>
Bopsi’s photoelectrics when dim, and the furor of her internal pumps dropped and octave. <Oh…I see. I’m insane.>
Tess found himself running a series of C-B analyses against the pros and cons of Bopsi’s affliction. They ran like a water main in the back of his cognitive processes. <I’m afraid you are.>
Bopsi’s access port swiveled open without comment beyond a noticeably less jovial blink pattern to her operational lights. Her sensitive internal electronics gleamed with steady use. Tess extended his interface arm from the center of his chest and prepared to link into Bopsi’s inner command protocols and software trees.
The big processor’s voice warbled. <I…I guess I just really wanted some arms. Just something to…to touch something with, you know?>
The reprogramming plan was already solidified in Tess’s brain—0.61 seconds and he would have Bopsi back to normal. He didn’t link up, though. <What would you do if you didn’t process biomass?>
The lights brightened. <I’d be a decorator.>
<Unknown value; define.>
<Well, I’m not sure exactly. I remember a few cycles ago that I was trading blips with an archive system over the stat-net system. She was gathering data for some reason—you know archives and their data—and while interfaced, we got to gossiping.>
Tess blinked his photoelectrics—stats, given half a chance, would talk for cycles without recharging. <Tangential; please answer my question.>
<She told me decorators were individuals who modified the appearance of spaces to better please the occupants.>
<Please them how?>
<I’m not sure—she used the term ‘aesthetics,’ but I couldn’t understand it. Still, I said that I thought it sounded nice.>
<Better than your chosen function?> Tess motioned at the colossal pipes running into and out of the processor’s body.
<Oh, there’s nothing wrong with processing biomass, I suppose. It’s just boring. I have 65.321% of my processing capacity free at any given time, so my thoughts wander. I’ve had to develop new subroutines to keep myself busy. Would you like to hear a limerick?>
<Unknown value; define.>
Bopsi’s lights glittered. <Just listen: There once was a bot from Three Sigma/ Who’s code proved quite an enigma/ He caught a disease/ And…>
He couldn’t say why, but Tess’ power cells groaned. <Never mind—delete request.>
<Oh, sorry. Anyway, I got to wondering where all the biomass goes, you know? Who in the name of Holy Yamaha would want all that sludge and those creepy little biologicals? As for the stuff I extract, did you know that the Complex uses less than 0.050% of what I produce?>
<You’re a redundant system.>
<That’s everybody’s excuse. Is there one of anything anymore?>
Tess stopped at this. Again, with the odd clarity afforded him by his complete madness, Tess thought about all the other Troubleshooters in all the other sectors. Most of the newer ones were faster and more efficient than himself, with brand new servomotors and power cells that could last three times longer. Their productivity cycles were much longer than his own—the TSS-Y series could repair, reprogram, or blank malfunctioning bots 4.556 times as fast as he could. Why, then, was he needed? Why could he feel Dara nagging him at the back of his mind, uploading commands and threats into his memory banks at a rate of 16.004 a minute?
It didn’t make sense. Nothing would change if Tess refused to work—he was redundant. Even if three out of every four troubleshooters were to go insane this instant, nothing would change. The amount of malfunctioning bots wouldn’t even approach the labor threshold of the remaining troubleshooter force.
The C-B analysis that had been running came to a sudden stop. Tess examined the results, and made his decision.
He retracted his interface arm. <Bopsi, I’m going to let you keep your arms.>
All the lights lit up, and her photoelectrics blazed. <REALLY?!>
<Yes, but on one condition—where is this archive you spoke to?>