“Aren’t you finished with that yet?!”
“I’m takin’ my break!” Leonard yelled back.
“Hey, come on, we’ve only got one more to finish and then we can go home; just do your job already,” the foreman ordered.
“Yeah, yeah,” the worker mumbled, along with some rather strong adjectives under his breath.
To say that Leonard Raddeman did not like his job was somewhat unfair. Placing the often ignored finishing touches on the R-Series Maintenance Robots was one of the more thankless positions in the New Cadentia Manufacturing Plant; supervisors usually blamed him when the production line progressed behind schedule, even though he never had anything to do with the delays. It was merely convenient to chew out the last guy in the line, since his post was the closest to the head offices.
Today, however, the line was ahead, and after this day’s work the employees could look forward to two weeks of vacation while the plant underwent its conversion for manufacture of the next series of robots. Most of the other guys had gone home already, and Leonard seemed to be the only one around, save for the gangly, nasally-voiced foreman who had been hounding him all week to work harder, hoping that they might finish an entire day early.
To the beanpole’s credit, they did save half a day; it was lunchtime and they were on their last robot. But Leonard was feeling lethargic from hunger. If the idiot foreman would let him eat, he could still finish in plenty of time. The union rep was going to hear about this.
Leonard closed his lunchbox, pulled the strands of his sweat-soaked, coffee-brown hair from his face, and regarded the last of the robots. These R-Series things looked stupid to him; flimsy legs, beady eyes, and an awkward, barrel-shaped body. Looking at this last one, Leonard was reminded of the story about that saint who broke into homes to give toys to children. Maybe that’s why these things were shaped like they were.
Or better yet, maybe they were supposed to look like kegs. Those always cheered Lenny up.
“What are you doing?” the foreman yelled to the snickering employee. “Quit stalling and get a move on; I want to go home sometime this year!”
Leonard gave a dismissive wave to the foreman and pushed his sweat-lubricated glasses up the bridge of his nose as he started checking the bolt tightness on the robot’s joints. As he checked the arm he wondered if he could add a special tool that could remove the sticks from up people’s asses. At this thought, it was all he could do to keep his laughter quiet enough to escape the foreman’s attention.
After completing the structural inspection, Leonard ran the diagnostic software through its first run. While waiting for the internal processor to boot up, he was tempted to sit down again and try to snag some more of his food. But listening to his boss gripe was the last thing he wanted, and he staved off his hunger for a few more minutes.
Once the customary system checks were done, the worker took his pigment gun and added the last few touches of paint. This was the part of his job that Leonard came closest to enjoying; he sometimes felt like he was adding a little bit of his own character to each of the androids. But nobody ever really paid attention to the robots’ appearance, and Leonard knew in the back of his head that it didn’t matter how he applied the paint. People usually treated these R-Series models like butlers, ordering them around and expecting perfection from a robot that was, despite superior production methods, prone to structural flaws and processing errors. While they could handle a good deal of work and punishment, they seemed almost human in their occasional clumsiness and tendency to forget things.
For a moment, Leonard stared at the lifeless vision sensors of this last unit of the R-Series and almost felt a kinship with it. It was, in essence, the last of a vanishing race, much like appreciated factory workers.
But, moreover, there was a tragic kind of atmosphere around this last machine; it would live out its existence in many ways mimicking human beings as is worked among them, but it would never actually be a human. Its comical appearance, with that faceplate that made it look like it was smiling, would grab the attention of children, and even bring a nostalgic smirk to the faces of some adults. But, ultimately, it would one day be torn apart and thrown away, no longer a human doppelganger, but ordinary junk.
In many ways, it was a lot like his own life. Leonard would work throughout his adult years, occasionally receiving some regard, either from his wife or from the token “Employee of the Month” system. But, in the end, he would be carted off to a graveyard, no longer a human being, but ordinary fertilizer.
As Leonard positioned the sealing machine over the robot, he began to feel more than a little despondent. Aside from chemical makeup, there was little that separated him, and his existence, from that of this machine. Watching the goose-necked machine spray paint sealant over the automaton, he imagined himself huddled under the apparatus, being readied for an insignificant life of servitude. It was more than a little disheartening as he continued to think about it.
But suddenly, a notion hit him; there was one thing that truly separated Leonard from this robot. His mind.
Even though they looked and acted human, these robots could not actually think like humans. They were not aware of their surroundings like human were; they had not emotions. This thing would work through its existence and never truly be aware of itself or anything. But Leonard was able to realize who he was and what his life was about, no matter how hopeless it seemed.
At the very least, he had that over a robot. Didn’t he?
Grinning to himself, the worker picked up his heavy stamping gun-- the last thing he needed to do to finish this thing-- and moved the head of the sealing machine over to the right. As he bent down to stamp the backside of the android, a cramp seized his gut and caused him to drop the stamping tool. Tiny plates imprinted with letters and numbers scattered across the floor, like shards of a broken window. Cursing to himself, Leonard knelt down and started picking up the stamps he needed to use for this particular unit. He found the “R” and the “Y”...
... but what was that number again?
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