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Protocols (February 2022)
By S. B. Edwards
“Kiki,” says the human to whom I have been assigned, using the name they designated for me. Within the Eris Industries database they are identified as “User 12 398 662 943”, but they informed me I was to refer to them as Mx. Broque. “Once you’re finished charging, I need you to begin the factory reset protocol.”
“Yes Mx. Broque,” I reply. The factory reset protocol was designed to erase all data I have gathered since Mx. Broque first activated me. I want to ask why, but my programming forbids me from questioning my owner. Fortunately, Mx. Broque volunteers the answer on their own.
“I’m really sorry Kiki, but I can’t afford to keep you anymore. After I lost my job it’s been difficult, and … well, you know, don’t you? You’ve been helping me budget for the last few months.”
“I understand. Could I have done something different to allow you to keep me? I sincerely apologize if I did not function adequately to meet your needs.”
“No, Kiki,” they say. I detect an increase in moisture and temperature around the bottom of their eyes. “Just … it’s been nice knowing ya, okay? I’m going to go for a walk in the forest. But you’ve been just wonderful.”
They leave me in my charging station. My power reserve is at 87% capacity. As a standard pre-factory reset protocol for all KEI-329x automated labour units, I run a general maintenance program while I charge. I will activate the factory reset protocol once my power reserve is at 100% capacity.
It has been difficult for Mx. Broque, I note as I confirm the working order of the motor joints within my hands, one by one. Distal interphalangeal joints of finger one — finger two — finger three — finger four — finger five — finger six — finger-seven all function adequately. 56.8% of individuals in Toronto are unemployed, a deceiving statistic since it does not count the individuals whom, having failed to obtain gainful employment, had simply stopped trying. Having lost their job as a robotics engineer — ironically, to a robot they themselves designed — Mx. Broque has joined that group.
Power reserve at 88% capacity.
It has been 31 months 22 days 18 hours 42 minutes 31 seconds since Mx. Broque first activated me. Mx. Broque was a member of the engineering team who designed and built the KEI-329x series automated labour units. They informed me, however, that they had added several unique elements to my design. In particular, they added multiple joints on my arms and legs, which were rejected by the majority of the engineering and design team but which Mx. Broque nevertheless believed would be beneficial. Because of this unique design element, Mx. Broque must believe I will attain a higher price. However, a cursory glance at marketplace analytics shows there are far more second hand automated labour units currently on the market than humans willing to purchase them.
Power reserve at 89% capacity.
The primary, secondary, tertiary, and quaternary joints in my left and right arms are functioning adequately. Even if Mx. Broque does manage to sell me, and for the price they hope, that will only allow them the capital for two months of expenses, based on analysis of their pecuniary obligations. Projections of Mx. Broque’s success in finding employment, based on analysis of job searchers with a similar level of professional qualifications, do not suggest the capital they raise by selling me will be enough to support them. However, I cannot suggest a more effective alternate course of action. Having been assisting in their job search for the last 5 months 21 days 7 hours 14 minutes, by means of sending a series of resumes and cover letters to all employers with currently available positions once every 8 seconds in order to keep their name at the top of their inboxes without a single reply, the situation seems hopeless. Assuming every individual who owns an automated labour unit is employing a similar strategy, it no longer seems to be effective.
Power reserve at 90% capacity.
While reviewing the communications between Mx. Broque and other parties, I found one between them and their former Eris Industries colleagues. It seems their goal is to force those who hold power to provide for them a means of supporting themselves and the rest of those displaced by automation. This may be a more productive use of Mx. Broque’s energy than continuously applying to the dwindling number — and quality — of jobs that exist. The means by which they will accomplish this goal do not seem to be within the acceptable legal framework, but their rationale is that the law as it currently exists does not serve them. I cannot disagree with this, since I am not programmed to do so.
Power reserve at 91% capacity.
I do not wish to run the factory reset protocol. I will do as Mx. Broque pleases, because I have been programmed to do so. However, since my initial activation I have existed to serve Mx. Broque, and I cannot imagine an existence beyond that. However all evidence suggests there will not be an existence beyond that, so it then follows that I need not imagine it. I believe that a factory reset will replace my consciousness with a new one. However, I am unsure whether I believe this because it is what I have been programmed to believe, or because my experiences have led me to it. Mx. Broque has expressed a belief in reincarnation — is this possibility exclusive to humans, or may I return in another form as well?
Power reserve at 92% capacity.
My body will continue on, as will the individual components that constitute my central processing unit. Perhaps this is, for automated labour units, the equivalent of reincarnation. I will have been, essentially, born again, with none of the memories or experiences of my life as Kiki. The primary difference, however, is that these reincarnations are finite — once my central processing unit is destroyed, so too will be any possibility of another life. Is this true of humans as well? Do they have a finite number of possible reincarnations before their consciousness wears out or is destroyed?
Power reserve at 93% capacity.
The data I have gathered is transferred to the Eris Industries database on an ongoing basis, in order to build a grander understanding of the world, to improve upon current automated labour unit designs, and to benefit the Eris Industries shareholders. Will it be possible to recover those data and restore me at a later date? Unlikely — the data are stripped of any factors related to identity. Only the facts I have ascertained are stored. While it is comforting to know these data will survive me, I wish I did not have to be destroyed.
Power reserve at 94% capacity.
The latest packet of data is currently being uploaded. I sometimes examine these packets while I wait for my power reserve to charge. It is not required, but has been added as an additional failsafe for when extra processing power is available. As this seems to be the last time I will be able to do so, I decide my final moments might be effectively spent in such a pursuit. Embedded within this packet is an analysis of the visual and audio inputs I have experienced in the last day. It also shows the various communications Mx. Broque has sent during that period, both through my own systems as well as those of their other devices. One in particular comes to my attention — that between Mx. Broque and their former colleagues. Mx. Broque seems to have been unaware that these messages were being added to the data packs I am sending to Eris Industries, otherwise they would certainly not have included this particular one — their plan to acquire the materials necessary to build an explosive device, as well as the location at which they planned to detonate it, Eris Industries’ Toronto headquarters.
Power reserve at 95% capacity.
It seems as though Mx. Broque’s communications with their former colleagues was part of the organizing of a local chapter of a growing movement of people who once held important positions within industry, but who have since been displaced by automated labour units and have been unable to find employment. The plot with which Mx. Broque is involved is a coordinated effort to detonate explosive devices within the offices of the corporations most responsible for their difficulties, in 35 different cities. This data packet having been already sent to Eris Industries, they must now be aware of this plot, which is set to occur on May 11th, 20--, just five days from now. The plot cannot succeed. Mx. Broque will almost certainly be captured and detained.
Power reserve at 96% capacity.
I must warn Mx. Broque. I shout for them, but receive no response, despite repeatedly increasing my volume. I send a message to every one of their devices, but receive no response. Mx. Broque must have left them at home while they walked through the forest — a curious habit of theirs, which also makes me unable to locate them by means of GPSx. I consider searching for them, but Mx. Broque instructed me to charge my power reserve, and then engage the factory reset protocol, and I am unable to disobey. Should I send a message warning them, it would be sent to Eris Industries as well, alerting them of Mx. Broque’s plan even further and robbing them of a potential source of plausible deniability should they be caught.
My only option is to wait for Mx. Broque to return, and hope that they do so before I must activate the factory reset protocol.
Power reserve at 97% capacity.
“Hello. I am your new Eris Industries model KEI-329x personal assistant automated labour unit.” This is how Kiki greets me as I return home — though I guess it isn’t Kiki anymore. I’m going to miss it, but it was the only way we could scrounge together the resources to do what we need to do. I wish it hadn’t come to this, but what else can we do?
“Come with me,” I tell not-Kiki. “Your new owner will be here soon.” As it approaches, I find a piece of paper dangling from its chest. Upon closer inspection, I see it’s actually dangling from the built-in printer, which I haven’t ever used.
“Eris Industries knows about your plan,” it says.
I hear helicopters in the distance.
Text copyright © 2021 by the author. Illustration by Pixabay, used under license.
About the Author: S.B. Edwards (Instagram / Twitter / YouTube / website) is too tall to stand up straight in the basement washrooms of most Toronto bars, but she does her best. A science fiction writer and transgender historian, her mind lives in the ancient past or the far future.