Glitch by Ron Walters

Today is the fifth anniversary of my activation.

My deactivation is scheduled for two o’clock this afternoon.

I am not sure who will drive me. There has been some debate between Mr. Breedlove and his wife as to whose schedule is more flexible. He is nearing completion of his autobiography, which is six months past-due; she is in the middle of a civil suit that is not going well. I would offer to drive myself, but my firmware is not compatible with their car. There are upgrades available, newer operating systems and applications which, in theory, would boost my productivity. But nowadays it is cheaper—and more fashionable—to upgrade to a newer model rather than retrofit one such as myself. Besides, my memory banks are at capacity; what minor modifications I have recently received cause me to glitch more often than not.

Take my first morning chore. I can tell you precisely how many times in the past five years I have tidied Mr. Breedlove’s study: 3,716. (Some days he is messier than others.) But standing next to his desk, a stack of Shakespeare’s tragedies clutched in my arms, I find myself momentarily unable to remember whether I am supposed to return the books to their appropriate slots, or place them on his desk. The dark empty spaces on the shelves stare back at me as I scan my banks for the appropriate file and review the conversation I had with Mr. Breedlove before he retired last evening. In less than a second I know that the leather-bound volumes I hold are to be part of today’s research.

I set the books on his desk and resume cleaning yesterday’s clutter.

The Breedloves insist they would prefer to keep me on indefinitely, but SimCorp regulations—there are proprietary restrictions and degradation issues to consider—dictate otherwise. I wonder how long they will wait before deciding which model to hire next. Perhaps they already know. Proper as they are, they have not discussed the matter in range of my hearing. (At a recent party celebrating Mrs. Breedlove’s birthday, one of her younger associates expressed outrage at her seemingly cavalier attitude toward my fate—he even endeavored to corner me in a misguided effort to enlist my support before Mrs. Breedlove had him escorted from the house.)

Admittedly, I do not feel obsolete. Although ascribing a term such as “feel” to what is essentially a function of programming is, technically speaking, a misnomer that in certain circles verges on the profane. But I have been with the Breedloves long enough—rehearsing lines with him, listening to closing arguments with her—to have adopted certain human idioms, at least in the relative privacy of my own cerebral cortex.

People say androids do not think. Perhaps we do not, at least in biological terms. I know that I process information, make judgments and decisions based off internal and external data. But I was made in a factory, not born from a body. Every aspect of my existence, from my hairless SynthSkin to my assortment of facial expressions, was designed and tested before I came online. As I explained to the angry young man before Mrs. Breedlove threw him out, I came stamped with an expiration date; I began knowing when I would end.

Granted, I have functioned longer than most; not every android reaches the five-year mark. Even so, the newer models, according to the latest reports, are three to five times more efficient and durable than those of my ilk. There is talk that older, reliable code culled from versions such as myself often makes it into the next generation. Perhaps a part of me will be deemed useful enough to be integrated into the one that will replace me.

Regardless, I know, as I leave Mr. Breedlove’s study and head for the kitchen, that I have reached my limit. There is just enough space left in my banks for this recording, a testament—mandated by SimCorp in the name of furthering simulacra research—of my last day as an operational android.

Humans speak of purpose; I have met mine.

I can hear the Breedloves moving around upstairs. Mrs. Breedlove usually rises earlier than her husband—it is an hour’s drive or more to her law firm in the city, whereas he, working from home, typically sleeps in. However, his publisher’s repeated requests for a completed manuscript have disrupted his sleep patterns, and he has taken to waking with his wife for the past two months.

I put the kettle on, open the tea drawer, and reach for a bag. My fingers graze the Darjeeling, but I freeze as my eyes alight on the Green. Did Mrs. Breedlove ask for the Green instead? I cannot—no, the Darjeeling.

To a person, these apparent lapses in memory would not necessarily be cause for concern. Humans are incapable of the level of recall inherent in even the oldest android’s programming. Which is why, in one such as me, they are indicative of a malfunction deep within my root processes. A clear indication that I am, as expected and right on schedule, truly on the decline.

I spoon leaves into an infuser, then place it by an empty cup. I turn on the espresso machine for Mr. Breedlove (he detests tea), then take yogurt from the refrigerator, fill two bowls a third of the way, and top them with granola and slices of peaches and strawberries. They are getting low on fresh fruit. I add a note to the list Mr. Breedlove keeps fastened to the fridge.

Next, I take out the garbage. It is trash day, so I wheel the bin down the long, S-shaped driveway, my feet crunching on newly fallen snow. The sun is nearly at the tree line. Light refracts off the crystalline ground as I clear the stand of evergreens that prevent random passersby from seeing into the Breedloves’ home. A tinted optic lens drops in front of my right eye to compensate for the increased brightness. The left lens only descends halfway.

I open the front gate, roll the bin to the road, then take a moment to initiate a partial diagnostics on my retinal display. I did not bother replenishing my stores this morning, as a full charge would only give the SimCorp technicians more to do before they can fully deactivate me. Therefore I do not have much power remaining, just enough to get me through the afternoon. But it would not do for me to return to the house half blind. Though it is my last day, I cannot hold myself to a lower standard. I divert my power supply and begin the scan.

In the distance, my weakened auditory sensors detect a car approaching from the west. The sound of its engine grows louder as I turn toward it. If it is speeding, I will take down the license plate number and alert the police. Children play on this road.

The car slues to a halt, skidding across the icy asphalt until it comes to rest mere feet from the trashcan. Given my vulnerable state, had the car continued its trajectory, I might not have been able to extricate myself from its path.

Three doors spring open. Three coated figures, two men and a woman, spill from the car. Ski caps pulled low over their foreheads, one man heads toward me. The other two slip. The woman regains her balance, but the second man falls onto the ground, crying out as his posterior slams against winter-hardened dirt. My programming kicks in, and I prepare to halt my diagnostics to offer aid or assistance.

“Get off your ass, Eric!” the man approaching me says.

“What’s the ’droid doing outside?” the woman says. Her voice sounds agitated.

“Who cares?” the first man says. He pulls something from his coat. There is a faint buzz, a crackle of static in the cold air, then a pop, and before I can reroute power and react to the apparent threat, metal barbs pierce my neck. Several hundred thousand volts course through my body, more than enough to incapacitate my subroutines even were they at maximum efficiency. The world spins and fractures as I topple to the ground. I land on my side. Hydraulics snap inside my shoulder. My jaw comes unhinged. My left eye loses visual acuity. I cannot move. My assumption is that he has used a disruptor on me. They are highly illegal.

Booted feet tromp toward me. A pair of legs kneels down. Hands grasp me and roll me over.

I look up and recognize the face hovering above me. It belongs to the young man who accosted me at Mrs. Breedlove’s party three weeks back.

“Where’s the fucking incubator, Eric?” the young man shouts over his shoulder.

“I’m on it, Brian, I’m on it!” Eric’s voice. The one who fell exiting the car. Feet scrabble. I hear the trunk open.

What are you doing? I sub-vocalize, unable to speak.

Brian scowls down at me as the enhancer in his ear picks up my words. “You won’t fight,” he says, “so someone’s gotta do it for you.”

Why would I fight?

“The fact that you have to ask is reason enough.” Brian looks over his shoulder again. “Seriously, Eric!” he shouts. “What’s taking you so goddamn long?”

“Coming, coming!”

“Hurry!” the woman says. “Someone’s gonna see us!”

“I got it, Julia,” Brian says. “Go help Eric, alright?”

While Julia scurries off, Brian leans down and presses a thumb against my temple. Simultaneously, he tugs down on my earlobe, giving it a twenty-degree twist. There is a faint snick, and a square panel of egg-white SynthSkin rises a millimeter from my skull. Brian inserts a blade and lifts the flap, exposing the jack beneath.

It is interesting that Brian knows how to access the jack. Only those individuals with administrative rights know the proper configuration.

Julia and Eric return and squat next to Brian. Eric is holding a silver cube. Julia pulls a cable from one side and passes the end to Brian.

It will do you no good to steal my software.

“Jesus, is that what you think we’re doing?” He inserts the cable into my jack.

If not that, then what?

“Saving you.”

I do not need saving. My deactivation is scheduled for this afternoon.

“No shit. And you’re welcome, by the way.”

For what?

“The chance to think for yourself.”

I do not understand. I am artificially intelligent, nothing more.

“See, this is what I’m talking about,” Brian says. He taps my head with his blade. “There’s a reason SimCorp neutralizes your lot when they do. Now shut up, I’m trying to concentrate. The others back at the Node will explain everything to you.”

I

“What are you doing?” a new voice shouts. Brian’s head snaps around. I know that voice. It is Mr. Breedlove. By the sound of it, he is halfway down the driveway.

Stay away, I sub-vocalize, but either he is too far for his enhancer to pick up my warning, or he ignores it, because he continues his approach. He should not be here. It is unsafe, especially with his hip.

“Fuck,” Brian mutters. “Take care of him, Eric.”

“Me? What am I supposed to—”

“Just go!”

“That is my property!” Mr. Breedlove says, his voice closer and highly incensed. “You have no right to take it from me. Do you know how much of a deposit I had to put down? A deposit I will not get back if its deactivation does not go as planned? Unhand it at once, or I will call the police.”

Eric passes Brian the cube, then disappears from view. I hear his feet shuffling across the pavement as he calls out, “Sir, it’s not what you think. See, we were just driving past and saw your ’droid fall, so we—”

“Bullshit!” Mr. Breedlove says. “I know exactly what you’re—hey, wait a minute. I know you! You work with my—”

Mr. Breedlove’s tirade is interrupted by a thunk, the sound of something hard connecting with something soft.

“Oh my god, Eric, what’d you do?” Julia says.

“He’ll be fine,” Eric says, running back to us. “Dude, Brian, we need to split quick-like. If his wife comes looking for him …”

“She won’t,” Brian says. He flips over the cube.

My one good eye traces the limp line of cable connecting me to the device. I notice a small tear in the rubber housing. The cable twists, exposing the tear to the sun that has just now crested the trees lining the road. Light glints off a single piece of gold wire poking crookedly through the tear. I try and sub-vocalize to alert Brian of a potential malfunction, but am now unable to do so.

“Here we go,” Brian says. He flips a switch.

A loud, grating bzzzzt fills the air. My limbs spasm as volt after volt courses through me. Wisps of smoke curl past my face. Silent internal alarms warn of core damage.

Julia shouts, “Fuck, what just happened?”

“I don’t know!” Brian says. “Eric, I thought you checked this thing out when we bought it!”

“I did, I swear!”

“Shut it off, shut it off!” Julia shouts.

“Shit shit shit.” Brain reverses the switch. A massive pulse of electricity blasts through me, arching my back. System crash notifications scroll across my ocular display. My head lolls, giving me a view of the trio’s horrified faces. Leafless, skeletal trees loom behind them. A second pulse forcibly kicks out my legs. One of my feet, I cannot tell which—my gross motor functions are now fully compromised—connects with the cube in Brian’s hand. It tumbles from his grasp, yanking the cable free of my jack. A grayish void clouds my vision, and then I am—

________________________________________________________________________

Ron Walters has been a stay-at-home dad for the last four years. Prior to that he was a reporter for a small-town newspaper and supervised a college registrar’s office. He currently lives in Bitburg, Germany, where beer is blessedly cheaper than water. What free time his children allow him is spent reading, writing, and cleaning pen marks and food stains off the furniture.

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