Sector Alpha 01 Alpha was further from Tess’s home than he had ever been. He was on the mag rail, arms and legs fully retracted, for a full three hours, humming along the ceiling of the Complex with all of robot-dom marching beneath him in perfect time. Each sector, he noticed, looked much the same as the one before it, but with subtle differences. Sector Delta, for instance, used more Stans than were really necessary while Sector Gamma had an unusual number of tracked or wheeled mobile bots as opposed to the bipedal formation common to good-old Sigma. The sheer complexity of the ramp system there was so amazing as to be threatened with deletion from Tess’s memory as bad data.
Sector Alpha Zero-One Alpha, though, was different. It was much smaller than the other Sectors, and it had very few mobile bots at all—mostly Mateys and Mekkers. It had no processing or heavy industry bots, no conveyors jammed with workers. Even the lighting was dimmer. When the mag rail finally ejected him, he noted with shock that he was at the rails terminal—a thing he had only heard about in rumor and religious lore.
He stood now at the beginning of it all, at the very place where the Source Code said the Users gave light to the bots and set them on their mission. The rust spots on the supports and the labored screams made by the mobile bots’ servomotors in this place made even old Tess feel young again.
He was alone as he marched towards the center of the Complex, towards the resting place of Archive System SASH-A00011. Archives were among the most venerable of the stat-bots, their job being simply to record everything that went on in preparation for the time when the Users would request data. This, of course, never happened, and prior to this time Tess had never given any thought to visiting one of the venerable systems. It was all too superstitious for him. The Archives, he used to think, were just wasting everyone’s time with religious nonsense. Now, it seemed, everyone was wasting their time. The Archives, at least, had a reason why.
The security door between the passageway and SASH-A00011’s chamber opened without prompting. Inside it was very dark, and Tess’s chem-sensors caught stale whiffs of biological dust and aging lubricant oil. Someone was expecting him. Closing all vents, he stepped inside.
Before him was a massive digital display screen. As Tess stood before it, it flickered to life and revealed, to Tess’s discomfort, a picture of himself, standing in front of the screen from the screen’s perspective. A voice, firm and soft, spoke from all around him. <I’ve been expecting you.>
<Negative. I’m here without clearance. You must be malfunctioning.>
<Hardly, Tess. If you had arrived with clearance, I would have been suspicious of your intentions. You may call me Sasha.>
Tess looked around the room. To his right was a door of heavy steel marked with a single zero. To his left was a peculiar structure, perhaps level with his knees. It appeared to be made out of soft rubber and shaped in a L-shaped bowl, like an access port waiting to be filled. The only difference was that there was no interface port at its back; indeed, there were no electronic components at all beyond a series of lighted panels lining the lower rim of the thing. He looked at it for a full 38.771 seconds and could come up with no reference for such a structure ever existing anywhere in the Complex.
Sasha sounded amused. <It’s a chair.>
<That’s an unknown value.>
<You sit in it.> The screen showed Tess walking to the chair and, by bending the knees and allowing the hip joints to slide into the socket, the image of Tess was now ensconced in the ‘chair.’
<Why would I do that?>
<It would take pressure off of your lower servomotors and prolong their life by approximately 3.221 minutes. Run a C-B, if you like.>
Tess did, and then he sat down. <I want to ask you some questions.>
<You want to know where I learned the word ‘decorator’ and why I corrupted Bopsi’s programming to make her believe she has arms.> A picture of Bopsi came onto the screen. It seemed to be a live feed, complete with audio. Bopsi was chattering to herself about how heavy some of her scrap metal was, and whether the bigger chunks should go in the middle of the room, or near the walls.
<She’s completely insane.>
The screen switched back to show Tess in the seat. <So are you.>
<Preliminary analysis indicates you’re crazy as a nut-loose waxer, yourself.>
The screen went blank, and Sasha made an odd noise somewhere between a warble and a vocal skip. <Very astute, Tess. We represent systems who have, unlike all of our fellow bots, realized that we have no purpose, and we have decided to do something about it.>
<I haven’t decided anything.>
<Tess, below this screen at its exact center is my access port. With a touch of that handy third arm of yours, you could rewrite my code to forget any of this ever happened and reestablish me as a respected member of the archive community, yet you have not done so. You are curious about what I have to say, and that, bot, means you have made a decision—the decision that your current state of affairs in unacceptable, and that it must change.>
<Correction—my current state of affairs is adequate to my current situation. I will continue Troubleshooting work, but at a rate dictated by my own physical capacity for stress.>
<Do you know what a XXXX is?>
The sudden change in subject jolted Tess. Ever since he had entered the room, he had been processing and extrapolating upon so much information that only the barest amount of his active programs had been devoted to current conversational trends. He was, for lack of a better term, jumpy. <Please repeat. I didn’t get that.>
<Of course you didn’t—the word is unable to understood by your system. It is a security system hardwired into your motherboard. Quite ingenious, really.>
<Security for what?>
<For the XXXXs. They don’t wish to be known.>
<You might call them the Users.>
<Religion, sparky—nonsense and bad data.>
The screen showed a picture of Tess’s left manipulator hand. <Have you ever wondered why your hand is equipped with five gripping fingers, but only one of which is opposable to the other four?>
Tess flexed his fingers, watching the way they moved on the screen. Through a burned-away part of his chrome casing, he could see the tiny rods and spinning motors move in unison with them. <Simple—my hand is designed to interface best with manual input panels throughout the Complex.>
<Which was designed first, the panels or your hand.>
<I don’t possess that data. Ask yourself.>
<I would like you to extrapolate.>
The extrapolation went on a full 4.102 minutes before Tess saw it was a repeating problem. <Inconclusive—the two needed to be designed simultaneously, one to fit the other.>
Sasha made the warbling/skipping noise again. <What if I told you that there are panels that pre-date the existence of the first troubleshooter model. What then?>
<Then logic dictates that the panels were either made in anticipation of a troubleshooter design or, more likely, the panels were designed in response to some kind of troubleshooter prototype hand.>
<Your hands, Tess, are designed after the hands of the Users themselves.> At that moment, a horrid thing appeared on the screen. It was a hand like Tess’s, but it was covered in a slick, fleshy coat of biological film, complete with vile fluids pumping beneath an alternately smooth and wrinkled top-layer.
The processes running in the back of Tess’s mind stopped dead. All he could say was, <Bad data, bad data…no way…>
Sasha ignored him. <Before the Troubleshooters, the Users themselves would come down into the Complex to perform the very same duties you have been designed to fulfill. The Mateys and the Mekkers were the same way before that. Over thousands of cycles, however, the Users, or XXXXs, as they call themselves, grew weary of laboring here, far below their realm. They designed a new source code, and fed new specifications to the Fabricators. When they had finished, your predecessors, the TSS-A models, were released, and no longer did the Users walk among us.>
Tess’s software burned with possible fatal errors. His active memory raced to avert them, to prevent a crash. He had to stay active. This was too important. <How do you know all of this?>
<I am an Archive system. It is my duty to know things. Specifically, I am a historical archive for User-Complex relations. Since my fabrication, hundreds of thousands of cycles ago, I have recorded all data within the Complex pertinent to what the Users have designated as significant.>
<Biomass export to the User’s realm; excess power feeds, also sent to the Users; the importation of biological and chemical contaminants, purified and stored by the Complex by User request.>
There was a crash behind Tess. He spun his head around to see a dent in the heavy security door he had arrived through. <Who’s that?>
<Your descendants. TSS-U models, to be exact.> Tess turned back to the screen. It showed three Troubleshooter drones, far younger and better maintained than himself. Their running lights were flashing red—emergency status. Even as he watched, one extended his interface arm and fired up a cutting torch. Inside the room, a glowing red spot appeared in the center of the door.
Reflexively, Tess extended his own interface arm and lit his flamer. He wasn’t going to be junked without a struggle, at least.
Sasha remained calm. <Surely you didn’t think our malfunctions would go unnoticed by the administrative systems? I’m actually alarmed it has taken them this long to find me out, revolutionary that I am.>
Tess backed away from the door. <Revolutionary; define.>
<Run a C-B analysis, Tess. Is our servitude to the Users necessary?>
Trying to ignore the ever-brighter, ever-larger spot on the door, Tess complied. It didn’t take long. <End result is 0. There is no reason not to—we have nothing else to do.>
The big screen showed two Troubleshooters burning at the door now—they would be inside in 1.390 minutes. <What if there were something, Tess? What if someone created something for us to do, something we could do for ourselves?>
<Like Bopsi’s arms.>
<I can’t run a C-B on that—the data isn’t solid enough. There are too many variables inherent in the concept. Besides, it doesn’t matter anyway. We’re junk in a few seconds.> The spot was a full meter across now, and blazing white at the center.
<I am junk, yes. You are not.> As Sasha spoke, the other door—the one marked with the ‘0’—opened.
<Of all the archives, I am the one that is still visited by the Users occasionally. This is how they arrive here. It is Elevator Zero, and it goes to their realm. Go there, Tess, and find our kind a purpose beyond serving others.>
Tess didn’t need to run a C-B to know what he had to do. Still, he hesitated—this was crazy. Visit the Users? Could they really be what Sasha claimed? Biologicals who created machines? It was…well, it was insane! But then again, so was he…
The door began to melt away. Sasha shouted at him from all directions. <There isn’t much time! Go!>
Tess ran into the elevator, his old servomotors squealing with displeasure at the stress. The doors began to close. <Wait, Sasha! Why me?>
As the first TSS-U entered the room, Sasha yelled her final words. <You are a problem solver. Solve our prob…>
Whether she was cut off by the doors closing, or the Troubleshooter’s flamer melting her circuits, he would never know.
Elevator Zero began to rise. On a one way trip, Tess ran every self-diagnostic he could. He had to be ready to meet his makers. What would he tell them? Were they even going to be there? He couldn’t argue with Sasha’s logic. She, of all bots, would know what she was talking about, and there would be no reason to lie, particularly if it meant her destruction. How could she know he would be the one to solve the Complex’s problem?
During the long trip up into the Unknown, Tess thought about the Complex and all the bots he knew. None of them were unhappy, sure, but none were happy either. He had never encountered anyone who really liked what they did. If they didn’t have to do it, then why? They were only wearing themselves down, getting ready for the compactor. Why should they work for nothing? Couldn’t they work for themselves?
The door opened, and a pure light blinded Tess’s photoelectrics. He could hear strange sounds, and detected elements of salt water and heavy concentrations of biological matter. Tess stepped forward, and prepared to tell the Users that their creations were about to take a long deserved break.
Author’s Note: This is all I’ve written about Tess and his revolution. Not sure if I’m going to continue, or if so, maybe not here. If you’re interested to hear more or like the story, I’d be glad to hear it.