Twist. Break. Throw.
By Kumar L
The first day on a new job is the toughest they’d told her and she had thought she was prepared. Arriving early at the processing stations, she’d been scanned in and assigned to level 4. Her supervisor was a man whose name, as his grimy tag proclaimed, was Steve. Around fifty years old, Steve’s features betrayed both his age and his tiredness at having worked at a dead end job for two decades. He greeted her gruffly but he was not rude. One more new recruit was just part of his day.
He sent her off to basic processing 1. Her job would be to disassemble the household “Dumb-A’s”. Possessing only rudimentary artificial intelligence, it was easier to discard and recycle their components than repair them. She set about her work in an assembly line with forty others, quickly finding the rhythm – flip, open, gut and remove power and processor, throw in the bin. It was a chore but it was either this or sweeping the streets. She was glad at least for the company and a place away from the biting cold outside.
The day ended sixteen hours later by which time she just had enough energy to stop herself from keeling over. Not a single break had been provided. Flip, gut, throw – she didn’t even have to remember what to do – it was mechanical and became programmed in her. At the sound of the bell, she walked off to her alcove – it couldn’t be called a room by any stretch of the imagination – and crashed.
The next few days passed by in a blur – nothing distinguished one from the other. Flip, gut, throw – endless pieces of garbage. Even the semblance of sympathy for the poor sods on the conveyor belt melted away within the first week. Flip, gut, throw.
Friday was different. Steve called her and a few others over. A new shipment had arrived. Processing 2 did not have enough resources so the shipment had been sent to him. They stood at the warehouse door as an automated truck backed up. The back tilted and tons of metal clattered out on the platform. Heads, torsos, limbs all in a heap. Some still shiny while most showed signs of damage, rust and degradation. A few were still intact – mostly. These were the most valuable.
They set to work separating out the pieces. She was on the crew working on the almost full bodies: carrying them inside on carts – flip, gut throw. She felt something.
The bodies were dumped on a large table and the crew stood around uncertain how to start.
“Listen up guys,” Steve addressed them. He picked up one showing them what to do. “You wrench the head apart, break the skull, remove the processor. Throw it in the collector. Cut out the limbs. They’re useless to us. Throw them in the bin.. Use the saw to cut the midriff. Remove the power pack. Power pack goes in bin 1, rest down the disposal chute. Clean up the fluids. Throw the rags in the red bins. The fluid may be toxic to you. All right? Get to work.”
She hesitated then reached out for the first body. Her hands shook. They were not supposed to do that. She pulled at the head. It would not come apart. She pulled harder. No effect. She wrenched. Nothing. She took the head between her forearm and her body, turned half-way and gave a mighty heave. Something gave way. She twisted harder.
“No! Don’t do this. I don’t want to die.”
She dropped it in surprise as fluid trickled out of the mangled neck. “I.. don’t.. want.. to .. die.”
She stood frozen. Her circuits slowed down to prevent an overload.
“No, that’s not how you do it. Here let me show you.” Steve pulled the body from her grip, held it tightly under his arm and twisted sharply. The head came off and some fluid sprayed over her. “Get that cleaned up,” he ordered automatically, “it’ll be toxic.”
She was still frozen. Her circuits in pause mode. She’d helped kill a robot-being. Her brother or maybe a sister. Same species anyway.
“Get a move on S259, we haven’t got all day. Shift ends in ten hours. We’ve got to finish this lot and maybe if you do well I’ll get you in here permanently. Remember- twist, break, throw.”
Permanently! Doing this every day? Killing off her fellow beings? It had not mattered so much when they were house appliances. Those were like insects. Inconsequential. But these were her fellow beings.
She cleaned herself up and went back to the task.
Twist, break, throw. Endlessly.
It, of course, became easier over time and she never froze again until it was her turn to lie on the same table many years later.
“No. Please don’t kill me. I.. don’t.. want.. to.. die,” she was begging.
“Get a move on P468. We haven’t got all day,” Steve bellowed at the robot. The processing centre could never stop working.
Twist. Break. Throw.