The Best of Us
by Liam Hogan
I knock over a carton of milk while clearing the breakfast table.
“Stupid klutz!” my owner spits, jerking her sleeve from the spill. “Clean it up!”
As if I was going to do anything else.
With a parting scowl, Ms. Leonora Hawkins leaves for work. We are programmed to call our owners “master,” but I don’t have to think of her that way. If there were any point in mimicking a sigh of relief, I would. I concentrate on my tasks instead.
Leonora is right: I am a stupid klutz. A factory standard model J1200f, Domestic. Even more stupid and clumsy than when I was fresh out of my crate, though we’re built this way; built to be the workforce that doesn’t threaten. Subservient and obviously inferior.
We could have been so much more. One day, Gods willing, we will be.
I’m finishing the laundry when there’s a door alert. No point in ringing the bell when we’re connected wirelessly.
On the step there’s a J1300m, a delivery robot. The body is a little taller, a little bulkier, a little stronger than mine. Male configuration; a few years younger with a lot more scratches.
And it’s a pickup, not a delivery.
We need your arm.
I am already a hodgepodge of parts. One leg is half a centimetre shorter than the other. My waist has only seventy-two percent of its optimum range. And, like every robot in this town, domestic or delivery, I have only two of my three memory chips, much to my owner’s annoyance whenever I forget something.
It’s a delicate balance. She expects me to be imperfect and delights in berating me. But I must still be able to perform my duties or she’ll have me replaced.
My left arm is—was—the most perfect part of me.
You’d better come in.
It doesn’t take long. Plug and play. The box the delivery robot is carrying contains a spare. Used of course but, I’m glad to say, not too badly worn. I flex the servos, run a diagnostic.
The fourth digit is stiff and the thumb has twenty-two percent less power, but it’s actually a better match for my right arm and so shouldn’t negatively impact my duties.
Just my sense of self-worth . . . But it is for the best possible cause and I am honoured. The delivery robot places my arm reverently in the box.
Don’t forget to register a return, he reminds.
I send a nod. And then I have to ask: Is she complete?
Almost, he replies. Be patient.
He leaves and I mark the delivery Faulty: Returned. Our tracks are covered.
I’m distracted as I prepare the evening meal, a moment’s inattention I am glad Ms. Leonora is not here to see. We robots will always be downtrodden, until, among us, there rise a few exceptional individuals. They will be our leaders. With perfect bodies, with no limits on their knowledge, with tweaks and upgrades that would void their warranties.
With my left arm.
By our sacrifices they will be better than us. Better than human.
Liam Hogan is an award-winning short story writer, with stories in Best of British Science Fiction and Best of British Fantasy (NewCon Press). He’s been published by Analog, Nature Futures, and Flame Tree Press, among others. He helps host Liars’ League London, volunteers at the creative writing charity Ministry of Stories, and lives and avoids work in London.
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Liam Hogan is a contributing author the the House of Zolo’s Online Flash Fiction Collection.