Friday, 24 June 2016

The Black Sheep - A First Law: Override short story - Part 1

The Haustan Foundation had always been good employers. In a world rife with corruption and double dealing, it was the Haustan Foundation who were always the ones in the digi-pad news, with articles covering the latest charity gala, or public service they had held to aid the struggling workers of Honos. Ever so often the Foundation would find itself presented with less than favourable press, it was after all based out of Anchorage Falls, a location most well known for the bonded labour that was enforced by other, less charitable, organisations. But even during trying times such as those, the Foundation always remained a positive influence on the world, it always ensured that it's employees were paid a fair wage, and that a healthy percentage of it's annual profit was reinvested back into the city's most deprived areas. It was for this reason that Bradley Markov held a great amount of pride in his position within the Foundation.

Bradley was a Shell Tester. He worked on a production line within one of the Foundation's many factories that manufactured their own range of 'Compliance Mechanicals', a small robot device which was cable of assisting it's owner in a wide range of tasks. It also took orders directly from it's owner and was built with an improved version of the First Law programming chipset making it incapable of harming it's owner, or anyone the owner my cross paths with. Compliance Mechanicals came in a range of different forms, some of them bipedal, others more like crabs, or even dogs, but it was their usage that interested most of the foundation. Ranging from military, to culinary, there was almost nothing the Compliance Mechanicals could not do. Outside of the brochure however, Compliance Mechanicals had a different name, Link-Bots.

It was Bradley's job to apply a range of pressure, impact, and temperature tests to the outer shells of the mechanicals. As long as the read outs were in the agreed levels, then the mechanicals were sent out for distribution. If the readings were off, then the machines were sent back to the production line. Faulty mechanicals were not disposed of, it was deemed that such an action would be a waste of resources, resources that could be better spent in other avenues of investment. Instead they were recycled and resided, sometimes into other Compliance Mechanicals, sometimes into the very machines which in turn built the Mechanicals. Very little was wasted in the process outside of the energy in the production itself. The issues present in the production process was less to do with waste material, but more the life threatening danger that it posed to those who operated the production line.

Two weeks earlier one of Bradley's friends had been operating the sixth Compliance Tester. It was yet another stage in the production line to ensure that the Mechanical's First Law chipset was not faulty, and that the previous step in production had not caused a malfunction. The Tester was called Roger, he was an old man, his skin pale and thin, with blackened fingers from years of manual labour. When Roger spoke, he did so with a rasp in his throat, a symptom of the burned tissue that lined his throat following a previous accidental industrial fire. The machine before Roger was humming with life, the Mechanical, a small humanoid machine with a ball like head and tiny grasping hands, the latest in the Foundation's Child-Assistant range, lay motionless awaiting it's next command.

Roger swiped across the digitally projected display to the commands that were suitable for this part of the production process. His fingers danced across the commands:


The Mechanical did not respond.


The Mechanical did not respond.

Roger's fingers moved across the display once more, his digits spelling out his own unique series of unusual commands, the sort that would be unlikely to be caught through basic programming, but could prove a problem when exposed to someone unpredictable like a child.


The Mechanical sprung to it's feet, a whir of pistons and robotics. With a thrust of powerful legs the machine launched itself at Roger, tiny cylindrical arms with equally tiny pronged grasping claws reaching for his face. The Mechanical was showing no signs of aggression, nor anger towards Roger, it was merely performing the task that had been assigned to it by it's temporary owner, Roger.

It was not the first time that Roger's commands had triggered a violent response from a Mechanical, and as the elderly man shrieked in fear, it was Bradley who rushed to the old man's aid. Putting himself between the Mechanical and Roger, Bradley weathered a flurry of kicks and scrapes from the small machine as it reached and grabbed, desperate to fulfil it's latest order and 'Get Roger's Nose'. Once the Mechanical had been properly restrained, it's programming disabled, and in it's entirety returned to the production line to have it's chipset re-worked, Bradley himself was sent to the factory's resident nurse.

Bradley had always hated visiting the nurse. It reminded him of his time in school, of sitting outside the headmaster's office after getting in trouble for some real, or imagined, wrong doing. The problem was, Bradley's visits were almost weekly. The nurse swore she would see him almost every week, but there was little Bradley could do about it. Whenever he saw someone in trouble, he just had to help them, even at the risk of his own life. Sometimes he wondered why others were not like him, how when there was an accident on the production line it was him, and him alone who rushed to help without a second thought. Once he even asked the nurse for a psych evaluation, to try and quantify why it was that he felt this need to help others around him.

"You're just wired that way" the nurse had said, almost blushing as she did. She told him about her own daughter who was a terraformer, how no matter how dangerous an environment may be, her daughter just saw it as a challenge that needed to be overcome, and woe betide anyone who warned her otherwise, especially her worrying mother.

"I wish I was there to protect her" Bradley answered, almost overcome with empathy for the nurse and her family.

The nurse had smiled and gently patted Bradley on his head, complete with close cropped hair which Bradley kept that way out of convenience more than fashion.
"I know you do..." The nurse replied.

- Your friendly neighbourhood Doctor Loxley

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