Office work had come a long long way from the end of the twenty first century. Office buildings were still around, and for the most part they operated in much the same way. Many of the jobs had just been automated now. Professionals still needed to report in and do work from their cubicles, offices, or work spaces, but wherever automation could be put into place was quickly done. Receptionists were replaced, originally, with a complicated phone tree with soft pre-recorded responses, which sorted most of the calls to the right place, but there was always a need for some smiling face to be there as clients and customers walked into the building.
As robotics rose to prominence and then acceptance and finally to just another piece of equipment in the world, office workers and CEOs saw their opportunity to replace another paid position. Robots in the modern era were incredibly advanced, able to pass as almost human in every single way. Skin that felt warm to the touch, bodies that looked and felt real, reactions and simulated emotions that could trick all but the most perceptive of people, and most importantly the advent of artificial intelligence. There would surely be years and years of debate and proposed bills before the world saw a truly sentient android. There were so many questions, and the top of that list, for the time being, was cost. Who was going to pay the heft price to manufacture and maintain a sentient, or nearly sentient robot?
Office environments would likely never struggle with those questions. The chassis of a realistic humanoid robot was relatively inexpensive and able to be manufactured to order. The real cost was in the software. The more advanced your robotic worker, the more money you would pay. Not just that, the software would generally be licensed to you as well, so a yearly cost was attached. That was, of course, if you wanted someone to pass as human.
Megan, the android receptionist at the Jordan corporation, was a mixed bag.
She was beautiful for sure, looking like the combination of every other generic receptionist type on the market. A bust that was just a little larger than it needed to be, but it gave new clients and customers something to look forward to as they walked through the door. Her shoulder length, wavy dark brown hair was specifically engineered to carry volume outward. Some of it even framed her face nicely. Megan was designed to have an optimized face as well.
Her overall look was crafted to look as if that cute girl from your school grew up and matured into a beautiful young woman. Her eyes looked as realistic as any other robot on the market, with auto-smoothing rollers to make her movements look realistic. Her arms, legs, and head employed the same technology on a larger scale as well, leading her to look, feel, and move as if she were a real human. At first sight, she was an impressive piece of machinery.
That was where her humanity ended though.
Generally the more sentient and semi-sentient androids were considered to be three separate but connected parts. The body was a collection of hardware components. Internal circuitry, wiring, tubes, lines and electronics all bundled together in a framework of plastic and metal, all wrapped in a synthetic skin casing. All of those components would be controlled by the core operating system. Each component had their own smaller software packages that helped them move and operate, but all of them were subordinate to the central operating system. It was a central database that took in external information and compounded it into usable blocks of code. It was the neural network of any given android. Finally the A.I. was the real crux. It was the thinking portion of an android. It was who they were as people and often used the operating system as the go between when interfacing with their own body. Any idea or thought would pass through the operating system for verification and the OS would find the right response to it and then send commands to the body to make them happen.
All said, it was an elegant solution to a central problem. Distributing various parts of the machine's operation over a number of interconnected systems made failures less likely to occur, and when they did there was less repair time needed to get a unit back up and running.
Megan was custom ordered to have two of those three components. Her artificial intellect was not at all present. This was an intentional choice that a board of directors had decided without really knowing what they were getting into and what they were missing out on. News reports had made it sound like android office workers were the next industrial revolution. They were inexpensive and in general worked just as well as a paid employee, but for a fraction of the cost. What they had neglected to understand was that the androids making the workplace more effective were nearly sentient models. When they found out that they could cut the cost by having the manufacturer leave out the artificial intellect, they did so.
What they got for every office in their company, some 10 locations across a number of states, was the exact same robot every time. Not that the looks mattered, but they were shipped an appliance rather than something to help greet people walking through the door. When the IT department received them and powered one on they were greeted by a vague smile, regular breathing and blinking cycles, but not much else. There were frantic phone calls about why the unit wasn’t working, only to be met with the answer. They hadn’t requested, in essence, a brain for their pretty robot front desk. Even after that though the top brass were unwilling to shell out several hundreds of thousands of dollars to get an A.I coded and installed, instead they ordered the bare minimum.
So, Megan unit’s across the country were given some social programming, speech capabilities, a robust database of interactions and conversations, some custom instructions on the operation of the business as a whole, and a smaller database of the top fifty or so common questions. Generic reposens and the phrase “hmm, I’m not sure, let me find out for you.” were all she was reliant on.
It worked, for the most part.
There were no complaints from anyone that had spoken to her on the phone, or interacted with her in person. After all, she moved and looked human, there was just a general understanding that she was kind of a ditz. Which, according to some definitions, wasn't entirely inaccurate. Megan was sweet, her voice and inflections made sure of that, she generally had the right answer to most people’s questions and she was able to answer phones well enough. Her struggles came more when someone was waiting and would try to either carry on a conversation with her, or in one disastrous case, flirt with her.
In the Chicago office, the Megan unit there had been met with a fair amount of critical success. No one seemed to know she was anything less than human, and even the folks who had noticed the faint seam lines around the throat, or were perceptive enough to count the seconds between her blinks and found them to be very predictable, had all commented on how well she was developed. She was a jewel in the crown of the office and everyone seemed to like her well enough. Most of the employees would reply to her greeting as they walked in the door, and the technical support team never seemed to need to maintain her very much. Though, the team in Chicago was only one person, and would regularly schedule late night maintenance sessions with her. The management commended him on his diligence to their equipment, little did they know that he was simply taking her offline to fondle her and find out just how anatomically correct she was.
The first time he had tried to fool around with her, he lifted her skirt to find that there was simply nothing there. A smooth panel of skin that covered where her sex module might have gone. It was a disappointment, but there were plenty of other things to be done with her. So long as he suspended her log files and wiped the video files after he was done, everything was fine. He was the first to notice that she had very little behind the eyes outside of business operations. Even with his cock deep in her throat she was still attempting to ask if she could help him find who he was looking for.
The worst instance of her lacking the correct programming was the summertime after her installation. She had been online and working just fine for nearly nine and a half months without issue. Clients seemed to love her and would, on occasion, attempt to make conversation with her. Megan would respond with one of the dozen or so pre-generated responses and that would usually be enough to end the conversation or she would do as she was programmed and change the subject to something else.
All it took was one persistent young man to break the mold and find out how little there was to Megan’s brainpower.
Colt was an incoming client who had been in negotiations with the company for a while now. As they approached the final signing, Colt was making his way into the company offices more and more often and soon he was seeing Megan almost once a week, if not more. So it was only natural that the young business man took her programmed overly sweet phrasing and voiceto mean that she might be interested in him for something more than just escorting him to a waiting conference room. Today in particular the gentleman that Colt was to meet with was running late in the Chicago traffic, so she sweetly asked him to take a seat and wait.
“Yeah, sure.” He replied, taking a seat in the small elegant modern office reception area. Surrounded by vibrant soothing colours and company branding. He had only been sitting for a moment before he popped back up and leaned his weight onto the counter between him and Megan.
“So tell me Megan. Do they just lock you up here overnight? You’re always here, even when we end meetings at like, midnight, do you ever go home?” Colt asked.
“Of course!” Megan’s programming only answered the first question in the sequence, which was true, but Colt took it as a joking response and laughed at it. Seeing Colt react triggered Megan’s operating system to stop attempting to process more questions.
“Well, maybe once my meeting here is over I can treat you to a cup of coffee, unless there’s a lucky guy in your life.” Colt ventured with confident bravado.
It hadn’t really been a question, and it took Megan a full second and a half to query her database for a response.
“We’ll just have to see.” Megan replied and punctuated it with a giggle. Had her operating system not giggled at the end, Colt might have taken the hint and backed off, but the all too cute gesture only told him that she was interested.
“We will see won't we then.” Colt said laughing.
It was just enough of a contradiction, to a statement that was also a contradiction, to a situation that Megan wasn’t programmed to handle. The pretty android receptionist’s operating system became wrapped up in trying to decode the situation and find a response. There was none to be had though. Megan’s operating system passed the phrase through her processors over and over and over, attempting to find a solution and in the end, caused a cascading failure at the software level.
“We’ll just- just- juuuust justhavetosee-see-see-see.” Megan repeated, slurring some of her words together as her vocal processors failed to inject a timed pause between the words.
Colt raised an eyebrow at her and stood up straight, realizing that something might be wrong. As he looked over at Megan her head began to turn back and forth, smoothly at first, but then it became increasingly stiff, and her movements stuttered. It was like she was trying to look left and right at the same time, and sometimes her head would move moreto the right, sometimes more to the left.
“See-see-we’ll just have to see Colt. Have to to to see see see seeeeeeee.” Megan was repeating as her head turned all the way to the right. She was still smiling that same sweet smile, and her voice was the same, perhaps a little higher, but she was staring directly at a wall now and addressing Colt.
“M-Megan are you okay?” He nervously asked before looking around to see if anyone was seeing the same thing as he was.
“Oh Colt. We’ll just have to see. Oh Colt. Oh Colt we’ll just have to- have to haaaaave to-” Megan repeated, attempting to answer the new question while still attempting to respond to the initial question as well.
She stopped suddenly though, her head still turned far to the right. There was a chime, more of a warning sound that originated somewhere inside of Megan. It was coming from her vocal processor and it was the last straw before Megan fully crashed. Her operating system was overloaded, the loop of examining and re-examining Colt’s statement had consumed all of her CPU cycles in short order, not that she had much to work with to start with.
The tone was her operating system finally shutting down all of her previous running processes and dropping her into an emergency repair mode. She stood up suddenly, then sat back down, then back up. Her head was still turned to the right, but she spoke as if she were facing and speaking with Colt.
“Megan.pers has stopped working. Please let technical support know that this unit is no longer available. A replacement unit will be sent in nine nine nine nine nine minutes to service your needs. Thank you.” Megan said, then turned directly around and walked forward into the wall just behind her desk. Her legs kept moving as she walked forward and eventually caused her to trip and fall.
“Alert, balance negotiation failure. Return to default state.” Megan muttered and then awkwardly pushed herself to her feet again, all while Colt looked on in growing concern.
“My god, you’re a robot!” Colt blurted.
“Oh Colt. Colt. Colt. Oh-oh-ooohhhh collllllt.” Megan muttered as she returned to her feet.
“Error. Component Jay Vee one three eight nine Jay has experienced a critical error. Manually disconnect components and repair. Confirmed? Yes or no?” Megan asked, her voice dipping deep, sounding more like a childs toy running out of batteries.
“Uh, yes, yes..confirmed. Repair?” Colt offered as Megan turned and took a step along the wall before hearing Colt’s response.
“Orders confirmed, disconnecting faulty cranium module for self repair.” Megan said, her voice picking up and sounding chipper once again.
Her hands moved to her head, one coming to rest on her face, the other on the back of her head. It dawned on Colt all too late that her head was still turned to the right, and her hands were likely meant to be placed on the sides of her head rather than-
There was a sudden crunch of plastic breaking roughly. The noise and raised conversation had drawn a small crowd of people wandering in from the back office. There were nearly a dozen or so individuals along with Colt that watched as Megan turned her head sharply to the right even more, resulting in her head being turned completely around. The neck joint was cheap and made entirely of plastic which had now reached the limit of its design. Her artificial flesh was also at its breaking point, stretched and ripping in several places. None of that stopped Megan’s automated process though.
Her hands lifted upward, lifting her head up and off of her broken neck joint. For a brief moment some wiring and a latex like tube stretch between her body and her head, but those soon snapped, leaving frayed and broken cables. They briefly threw a small series of sparks showering out of her neck before the power was automatically cut. Megan lowered her head down and held it just in front of her chest and began to stiffly walk forward.
“Pa-pardon me. Oops, ex-excuse me-me-m-m-me-e-e-e.” She muttered, the sound coming from her open neck.
As she stiffly trotted through the office her head was still wearing that same vague smile, even as the motors in her eyes caused them to twitch and spasm before settling into a cross-eyed position. More and more people stepped out of their cubicle to watch her move through the office, headless and malfunctioning. Some had no idea she was a robot at all and were taken aback, others seemed to enjoy the show and took pictures of the broken girl shaped machine on their phones.
Megan’s operating system was going wild, attempting to reestablish connections with her disconnected head, process the social interactions and spit out some kind of phrase from her limited vocabulary that would make it all ok. It was, ultimately, no use. She lost her balance as she approached the stairwell to walk down the IT office and tumbled down the stairs. She landed awkwardly, one leg in the air, causing her skirt to pull up. There were no panties on her, but also nothing sexual to look at. She landed on her arm weirdly and caused it to snap backwards at the elbow, illuminating the stairway with another brilliant series of light flashing from her broken arm.
Her head meanwhile flew from her hands and bounced down the stairs before hitting the wall and rolling to the very edge of the next flight of stairs downward. All the while filling the cement stairway with the dull echoes of her head thumping against the steps. After a moment her head finally tilted over the edge and bounced and rolled down the next set of stairs before coming to rest against the lower wall. Her body and head were both offline, ruined and broken, but through it all, Megan was still wearing that same sweet yet vapid smile that she was programmed to always show.