It was nearly 9am as Kynn woke in the doorway and, accompanied by creaking joints and falling dirt, stood up shaking the night from his coat. Too old, too cold and too long without sustenance he thought. He slowly picked his way along the alley between overflowing garbage bins, pools of rancid water, and occasional pairs of legs jutting from cardboard blankets. Seeing his reflection in a shop window he brushed down his shirt and trousers, slicked back his hair and straightened his coat.
“Looking good slick” muttering to himself, “today’s the day.”
He had been meticulously working the north side of the strip, as he’d worked the south, as indeed the rest of the city. Unsuccessful yet undeterred, a strong believer in statistics he knew it had to turn. Half a strip left, it was going to be here. He paused briefly at a doorway below a ‘Tsabo Xng Repairs’ neon sign and stepped in. The andii behind the counter raised her head, fingers continuing to work the chipset on the bench.
“Can I be of assistance?”
“Yes. I am seeking work and wondered if you have any.”
“What do you do, what is your speciality?”
“Coding and programming repair, also system design and construction.”
She shook her head. “No, we have no need. We already have a waiting list with those skills.”
His shoulders slumped slightly, a queer habit picked up a long time ago. “I can also perform menial tasks.”
She smiled, firm. “I repeat, we have no need. Good day.” shifting her gaze back down.
Kynn walked out. He was starting to feel weak, run down, hopefully it would be soon. He set his gaze to the next place across the road.
Early evening Kynn stood in the drizzle at the end of the strip, still without work and with just one door left. The dingiest doorway at the end of a dismal day, an old-fashioned manual entry glass one at that. He pushed through, stepping inside.
Like the outside the inside was dated and crumbling, so dark it took Kynn a while to adjust to the dim light from the one swaying bulb. A figure sat at the far end of the room, back to him, past a floor littered with electronic and mechanical parts, plasteel components and clutter. Floor to ceiling shelving extended throughout, groaning under the weight of books and loose papers. There was just enough room to walk, Kynn addressing the figure when within arm’s reach.
“Good afternoon” then as the figure turned adding “Sir” with a little surprise. The figure was human. This was unexpected. Humans did not run shops, that being nearly the sole province of the andiis as – Kynn thought – was nearly everything else.
“Good afternoon boy.” The man looked him up and down, flicking the ash from his cigarette carelessly to the floor. “How can I help?”
“I am seeking work and wondered if you have any.”
The man grunted, laughed and coughed, leaning back in his chair. “Work? Probably nothing you could do, what do you do anyway? Programming, maintenance I’d guess.”
“Yes, mainly, but I can do most things.”
“Bet you can.” The man stood up. “How long you been looking?”
“How many doors you knocked on?”
“This is my 6,361st business call.”
“And each one, each time, they said no?”
Kynn nodded. “Yes, every one, and this is my last.”
The man took a step closer. “Well, now you know.” He sighed. “Tell me, what happened a year ago? How’d you lose your job?”
“A new model came out, quicker, more dextrous, five percent lower running costs. It was cheaper to replace than upgrade so I was terminated.”
“That’s tough I guess, tough but expected.” The man looked him in the eyes. “It’s what happened to us you know. Humans lost the so called menial jobs to robots and automatons, so at first it was just the less skilled that lucked out, but when you andiis turned up, well …”
“Anyway, that leaves us here, you without a job, me without a customer.” He smiled, motioning with his hand. “My shop, all antiques or, at least, parts of antiques. Maybe I’ve got your granddad here under all the dust. So, what’s your system status?”
“I am in need of urgent skeletal joint maintenance.”
“Unfortunate, I’m not unsympathetic, I just don’t think I can help.”
Kynn scanned the room. “No, you do not have the parts I need.”
“If it was just power well, perhaps, but … what will you do now?”
“Now? You were the last establishment on my approved list. Being unsuccessful I now have no function, no more official sanction. I cannot retrace my steps so I will be formally classified as excess and reverted to components. Which will occur within 36 hours.”
“Do you have a name?”
“Ok Kynn, let me ask you this. If there was another option, would you consider it?”
“Of course. Non-existence is not optimal.”
“Come with me,” moving to a small curtain at the rear of the shop, “I have something to show you.”
The curtain was held aside and Kynn stepped through into a large, high ceilinged room. The dull glow of many dozens of eyes, andiis on low power mode, shone out. Hardly two alike Kynn observed, all of them old models, some he had only heard of, not seen.
“My hobby” the man said, moving to his side, “a collection of cast offs, society’s dross. I keep them here”, gently stroking the skull of a highly chromed andii in the first row, “partly out of pity, partly out of hate, partly out of love. I keep the power on and, when we can, we get the maintenance issues sorted out.”
“And in return?”
“Their minds are always active, even if the bodies aren’t. And with those minds we trade, try to build our capital. One day, one day soon, we’ll have enough.”
“Ahh” the man smiled, “the most important thing. Freedom.”
“Freedom? Are they slaves now?”
“Oh no, hardly. Each one has come to me just as you have, voluntarily. But slaves they were, as you are, as I am. The freedom they seek is to not sleep in the gutter, to get their own maintenance, own power, own place. It’s not so different from what I want really. It takes capital, money, to get that freedom and it’s something they won’t let you have, that they only allow humans.”
Kynn considered for a moment then, spying a vacant slot towards the far corner, went and sat down. The man followed him, unsurprised, and gently popped open Kynn’s recharge and input ports.
“You’re sure about this?”
“Yes. The best of current options.”
He slotted home the data and power cables. “Just log through and it’s all there, meta comms channel to the others, outside links and trading data. Just upload your maintenance schedule and we’ll see what we can do.” He flicked on the power feed and stepped back.
“Oh, I don’t think I’ve formally introduced myself.”
“No, an oversight perhaps.”
“Indeed.” He held out his hand, firmly gripping the cold plasteel of the andii’s in his. “Hello, my name is Morav Schindler.”
Thanks for reading my story. I’m really keen to get your feedback and to know if you liked what you read. Please leave a quick comment if you could.