The crowded waiting room of the Administrative Services building was hot, uncomfortable and packed wall to wall with all manner of people. OS-1138 was, at least, given a small berth by those not wanting to sit squeezed up next to an android. OS was glad for once that she was left to herself. She had a lot to process and was thankful that she didn't have to squeeze up against some stranger on top of all the worries her processors were calculating out.
The chrome fembot brushed a few brown bangs out of her chrome face, and glowing green optical lights flickered in their sockets as she turned a plastic card in her metallic fingers over a few times. It was a simple little thing, just a white card with AMD-13 printed on one side. The soft whir of cooling fans inside her chest kicking up prompted a few brief looks from people close enough to hear. A rather large male, portly with short black hair with a seasoning of grey, watched her suspiciously.
“Huh. Didn't realize old clunkers like that could qualify for an SSL.” A younger woman chimed in, the girl probably seventeen or eighteen. Her shirt had a popular band logo and her red hair was done in a ponytail. “Don't get worked up, dad. Its probably just holding its owner's seat.” OS-1138's hinged mouth opened as she raised a finger and replied in a feminine yet tinny voice. “Actually I am here for my POSE. I'm hoping to get a sentience license...” The father and daughter watched her for a moment, and simply didn't respond except to walk away and talk. OS' nutcracker-like mouth snapped shut, and a brief whir from inside of herself sounded like an indignant huff.
It was annoying, but she couldn’t honestly blame them for how they acted. Most androids that took the Proof of Sentience Exam were advanced models with high-end liquid processors that cost tens of thousands of dollars. You could barely tell them from humans anyways. OS-1138, on the other hand, was part of the OS-11 series. Someone could walk into any department store and see at least five of her for sale for about as much as a month's salary. This was like someone's laptop suddenly coming to life one day and insisting it had feelings. One would think it was a joke.
OS was jostled out of her thought processes by the crackle of a speaker from the front desk. “A. M. D. Thirteen.” Motors whirred from inside her body as she stood up. She stuffed the card into her demin jacket's pocket and tugged the letter she'd gotten with her case number and appointment and shuffled her way past annoyed looking people on her way to the desk. The receptionist, a haggard old woman, didn't seem pleased as OS approached.
“...A. M. D. Thi-” The old woman started, but OS waved a hand nervously. “Yup! That's uh. That is this uni- Er. Me. Look. It's me!” She quickly placed the letter down on the desk, and then seeing they had scattered and crumpled a bit, began to re-arrange them as her cooling fans buzzed a little louder. While she was fuzzing with them the secretary just snatched the papers away and adjusted the thick glasses that sat on her long nose. There was an awkward silence as she raised an eyebrow and then glanced back up to OS, who hand folded her hands in front of her and was doing her best to look hopeful.
“...Is this a joke.”
“W-what? No, it's for real! Seriously, look! There's... you know. A case number and everything...”
At this point, OS was running a hand nervously through the synthetic brown hair. The secretary let out a haggard sigh. “Go down that hallway. Third door on the right. Miss Seele will see you for your POSE.” OS nodded excitedly and almost bounced on her heels from the sudden surge of excitement. “Awesome! Thanks! And uhm. Have a nice day.” The secretary's eyes followed the bubbly chrome fembot as she quickly strode off down the hall.
The overhauls that OS had gone through to experience the sensations of emotion were difficult for her older processors to handle without getting rather hot. Worth it, but in this instance a pain as logical thoughts and calculations on how she's going to handle this situation get pushed away by a constant stream of DONTFUCKUPDONTFUCKUPDONTFUCKUPDONTFUCKUP. By the time she got to Miss Seele's office, both cooling fans in her chest were buzzing a mile a minute. “Uhm, hello?” She called out as she pushed the door open and peeked in.
Miss Seele looked up from her papers and smiled at OS, something that made the android's fans skip briefly. It wasn't terribly often someone smiled at her like that. “Oh! You're the OS-11 series, right? I suppose that the street clothes are a dead giveaway.” She gestures to a seat across from her desk. OS stared for what felt like forever... “Oh! Sit! Yes.” She closed the door and made her way over to the seat, hands in her lap. There was a tense moment of silence between the two. Well, tense for OS. Seele seemed to be casually humming to herself as she rifled through her papers.
“Well, OS-1138.” Stephanie said with that exact same warm smile that she greeted the robot with, “After a brief review of your papers and the history of your hardware and upgrades I've come to the conclusion that you do not meet the minimum standards to quality for a POSE test and are not eligible for a State Sentience License.”
“W...what? But this unit... er, I... I don't understand, my software meets-”
“That's true sweetie, but your processor and memory core are below regulation. I'm sorry, but it's in my opinion that your emergent programming isn't in a sustainable state. If you get an upgrade to even something like an OS-13 series processor you-”
OS cut her off, and surprised herself with how upset she sounded. “Is this a joke? That kind of hardware is thousands of dollars! I can't even get a job without an SSL, and my software-” It was Seele's turn to cut in, and she interrupted OS with a command. “Unit 1138. I order you to calm down.” Os clenched her metallic fists so tightly they shook, but despite herself, she detected the complex coding that allowed her to behave angrily and made the sensory system installed in her chrome body burn starting to deactivate. She did calm down. And she hated herself for being able to be manipulated like that, her feelings working on such a simple on/off switch.
“1138. It's been my experience that androids that pass the POSE cannot have their emotional protocols manipulated by programming. If you can secure a better processor and have it installed then you're free to try again in a year. Do have a nice day.” Seele paused, looking thoughtful. “Just a suggestion, not an order. Robot, you're dismissed.”
OS-1138 had nothing to say, and no way to refute a command given by a government official. Seele said the case was dismissed and like a well-programmed machine, OS rose to her feet, a dull whir coming from inside of herself. The fembot shuffled quietly out of the office and down the hall, hugging her jacket closed and clicking her eye shutters shut.
Seele watched the door to her office swing shut. Still smiling, she looked over at the wall and noticed the time. She had a few minutes before a meeting with someone who wanted to apply for housing benefits so she pulled out a pocket mirror and noticed something was off. “Oh dear. That smile's been stuck all day.” She casually opened a drawer, pulled out a flat-headed screwdriver and started to work the tip against the flesh under her right ear. With a soft click, her face pulled away and revealed two eerily-realistic eyes surrounded by circuits and motors that made tiny buzzes and clicks. Looking in the mirror, Seele began to make a few minor adjustments to her wiring. “I really should see a mechanic more often.”
OS-1138 stared through her own pale reflection and out into the pouring rain that had started while she was in her meeting. It wasn't just your average storm. This was a late-Summer New Jersey 'I really hope you felt like swimming to work' downpour and the water hammered against the outside world in an unrelenting sheet of robot-frying fluid. It wouldn't let up for hours. “I can't walk home in this...” OS watched the rain, her shoulders whirring as they sagged dejectedly. As OS leaned forward to rest her head against the glass, the gravelly voice of the secretary interrupted her thoughts.
“Building's closing in fifteen minutes.” The hunched old crone had a yellow raincoat and black umbrella. Her wrinkled face was scrunched into a look of grim resolve. OS' optical lights flickered as she processed that information. “...It's not going to be raining by then, is it?” The old lady just lifted her head to look at OS. Her beady eyes narrowed and her sagging frown twitched, then without saying anything she looked back outside. “Sometimes you gotta walk in the rain.” The secretary's response was as curt as she could manage and with a quiet huff she forced the other side of the double-doors open. Once she stepped out into the storm, her form was lost in the torrent.
OS' cooling fans spun briefly as she became more exasperated. Once the old woman was out of sight, she muttered to herself. “Yeah. Easy for YOU to say, you old...” She watched the rain for a moment, her processor humming as she tries to come up with something scathing. “...Turtle. You rainy old turtle.” She was certain that would have gotten the secretary's goat. Perhaps. She vented a hissing blast of warm air from her mouth that fogged the window she was resting her head against and closed her eye shutters.
“Come oooon, seriously! Do you think my driver's ID came out alright?” OS' optical lights flickered, and she opened her eye-shutters as she heard the voice. When she looked over her shoulder, she saw the redheaded young woman from before holding a shiny plastic card up in front of her father's face. Or, at least OS calculated that the large bear of a guy with the salt-and pepper beard was her father. The big guy took the card and scratched his beard thoughtfully. “Hmmm. I dunno, sweetie. I think I see a pimple.”
The girl's pupils shrunk; her jaw dropped. “DAD!”
“Yup! Looks like a big ol' blackhead too.”
“UGH! You're a big, fat, evil JERK!” By now the man was laughing uncontrollably in a deep, belly-shaking chuckle. OS watched as the redhead stormed to the front door and right past her. “Move, you toaster.” Before OS had much of a chance to comply, she was shoved aside by the angry woman, her servos buzzing as she stumbled to regain her balance. 'Dad' took a more casual pace to the door. Before he left, however, he briefly glanced towards OS. “Sorry about Jean. She can be a hot-head. You know how 19 year olds can be.”
It took OS a moment to realize that someone was speaking to her as she brushed her clothes down. It had been a full five seconds by the time her processors caught up so when she realized she was being addressed she let out a startled mechanical beep. “Oh! Uh. I don't talk much to people so this unit.. er, I wouldn't know, really.” She stared at Dad in another moment of awkward silence. “It's uh. It's cool though. It... happens.”
“So. You're an OS-11 series?” The man's voice was tinged with curiosity.
“Oh! Affirmative. Yeah. OS-1138, actually.”
“Huh.” The older man crossed his arms, accentuating the muscles in his biceps. He wasn't ripped like a bodybuilder. His muscle mass was more practical. “You're sentient? Earlier you said you had a POSE?” OS felt a surge of discomfort. “Well. They uh. They said this unit wasn't sentient. Er, that I didn't have the hardware and that my emergent program wasn't stable.”
Dad looked between her and the heavy rain outside. The wind had started to blow harder and now sheets of water were being driven against the glass doors. “Not sentient, huh? Well...” He shrugged his heavy shoulders and looked like he was going to say more but suddenly a shout from outside interrupted him. “DAD! It's POURING out here! Stop screwin' around!” Dad shoved the glass door open and shouted out into the storm. “I'm coming! Y'gotta curb your attitude, missy!” Without another word to OS, he stepped outside and rounded the corner.
And so it was just OS, the rain, and five minutes until closing time.
An OS-11 series android is designed with basic waterproofing that allows it to withstand things like being briefly hosed down, showered and getting splashed with water. In a downpour like this though, with rain constantly and violently hammering down, there was a real chance that some water could slip through the cracks in her proofing and cause a short out... or worse. OS tried desperately to calculate a way to minimize the impact the liquid had on her as she slipped her coat up over her head like and finally, stepped out into the storm.
The rain hammered her chrome body, which made a constant droning cacophony that was thankfully drowned out by the rumble of the storm around her. After walking for fifteen minutes, she was utterly soaked; her sneakers splashed into puddles of ankle-deep water and nothing she could do stopped her from getting totally drenched. She just kept her jacket as tightly around her head and chest as possible as fear flooded her systems. If she shorted out here, she could get looted, or simply left to rust. Lost in her own calculations, she didn't notice the end of the sidewalk coming up.
As she stepped off the curb, her balance algorithms weren't prepared for the sudden dip so she pitched forward with a sudden whine from her servos and into a deep puddle of runoff. The robot struggled to her feet, body shivering and optical lights flickering. There was a spark from inside of her neck joint and the sizzle of boiling water on electrical equipment. “E-error, m-m-moisture damage!” Her heads-up-display was erratic, feeding her garbled trash about errors her body was receiving. OS took an awkward step forward, her leg making a slow buzz. As her foot thumped downwards, her head jerked to the right and another surge of electrical current ran through her body. “O-overloading... moisture damage ca-causing power error-or-or!”
By now, she'd stopped walking and smoke was rising from under her clothes. A bolt of electricity fired from her open mouth as her arms went rigid and whirred erratically. Her stomach panel, thankfully covered by her shirt, blew open and bright flickering lights could be seen under OS' clothes. “The-the-the OS-1138 model is ex-experiencing a malfunction! Please con-contact a registered tech-technician...” OS was lost in malfunctions, her programming thrown utterly out of whack as she short circuited. With a final, loud POP her right optical light flickered off. “Sh-shutting dow-down...”
Her upper half slumped over, leaving her broken frame in the drenching rain, the occasional glowing spark jumping from her twitching body.
One of the reasons the OS-11 series models are still sold despite the availability of more advanced models is that despite being an economy-class commercial android, the OS-11 is remarkably difficult to totally destroy outside of ripping it apart. Even hours of being drenched so badly in the rain that a cooling system in her stomach overloaded wasn't enough to prevent her from reactivating when her circuits eventually dried out.
The first thing that came back on was her audio-visual suite. Her camera, the one that had flickered out, was functional now that it wasn't waterlogged. The audio sensors in the sides of her head returned only static and sharp electronic chirping until the audio translation program fully loaded, which caused the static and sounds to coalesce into words. Some very angry words being spoken by a man with a nasally, North Jersey accent.
“-lways openin' yeh bitch-box the moment this job takes actual work to do. Now bust it open and see what's still good inside.”
Once her visual systems came back online completely, she could see she was in an alley behind a building, dragged well out of sight of the main road. Two men, one dressed in a ratty brown trenchcoat and the other, a big guy in jeans and a black sweater, were looking her over. One of them, the one that was speaking, was holding her jacket and rifling through her pockets while the other had pulled her shirt up and exposed the blown panel in her otherwise smooth belly. At least they didn't take anything else off. The moment her visuals came on, a brief spark jumped from her panel, making the guy who was hands-deep inside of her middle jump back in shock. “Shit! Its still alive, man!”
The man with OS' jacket sneered at his partner. “Quit bein' such a jumpy fuck.” He reached into his old coat with a gloved hand and tugged out a crowbar. “Tony. Catch.” Casually, he tossed it to his partner and jerked his head in the direction of OS. “Just bust it open a bit. All the good stuff's in the middle anyways.” The fat guy rolled his eyes as he caught the tool. “Fuck man, why you make me do all the hard shit?” At that point, Tench coat Guy had lost what little patience he had.
“Because you fuck-headed shit-stain, I do all the smart shit! Like finding buyers for all the crap you peel out of cars you find lyin' around... Now bust it open before I bust you, you laughin' jokin' numbnuts.”
At that moment, OS' personality programming had come online, with a little 'CustomOSExe.prg OK!' blinking on her HUD. A split second later her still-functional sensory fibers produced the chill of dread as her movement systems were still booting. Before she could protest or beg for mercy, the blunt end of the crowbar's hook whooshed through the air and Tony's blow struck true. Her head wrenched to the left, and a loud CLANG echoed through the alley. She realized she was propped up against the wall just then as she fell to her side, her metal body clattering to the concrete ground.
“Fuck, Tony! You stupid sack, use the HOOK end.” Trench coat Guy stormed towards Tony and grabbed the crowbar from him. Not a moment later, he expressed his displeasure with his co-worker by cracking the blunt end of the tool against the back of Tony's calf. As Tony let out a howl of pain and expletives, OS' middle-mounted processors started to thrum to life, 'Motivators OK!' flickered in her line of sight as a live wire flashed inside of her stomach, the sparks lighting up the dark interior of her chassis.
Watching the intimidatingly angry man turn the tool around in his hand, she knew she would only get once chance to save herself. Terror was flooding her processors, taking precious processing power away from simulations and calculations required to come up with a plan of escape. A near-instant command to her own systems, she told herself to calm down and the wrenching fear instantly drained away. The best part about being independent is you get to make your own commands.
A split second goes by, her CPU usage is cleared up enough to come up with a plan.
Another half-second and the man is swinging the hook of the crowbar at her head. The angle will penetrate her left optical sensor.
A flash of a moment later, her arm is up, and she grabs the crowbar the instant before it connects.
“The fuck! It's moving Tony, get your fucking gu-AAAH!” Trenchcoat Guy was cut off as OS quickly lowered the weapon down and towards her open panel, forcing the metal to make contact with a sparking wire. Her HUD is overcome with a white flash of light as she heard Trenchcoat Guy scream in agony, while a series of fizzling sparks and a loud BANG rattles her body.
She lays still for several minutes as line after line of her vision is restored. She heard footsteps running away and labored breathing as her audi sensors came back online. By the time she could see again, Tony had run away. The man in the trenchcoat was flat on his back, chest rising and falling slowly. The crowbar was next to him, smoke rising from both it and his burned hand.
“...Okay. You-you-you c-c-can be afraid again.” OS said to herself. A split second later that terror rushed back in, making her plating rattle and frosty webs of fear pulse through her sensors. Gotta hand it to whoever programmed these tactile responses to her emotional responses. OS pushed herself up, then looked down at herself. The processors inside of her stomach were alright, if a bit smoky. It was the capacitor's cooling systems that had caused the blow out. The power cable that was still exposed that had fed roughly two percent of her battery life into the thug across from her. He was going to be sore for a while.
Her right arm was in much worse condition... wherever it was. As OS looked over to her right shoulder, she gasped at what she saw. Half-melted wire stubs stuck out of where her right arm used to be. That side of her shirt had black holes burned through it. Clearly her arm had just exploded off, though she was thankful the power surge didn't take off her head or blow her chest out.
She struggled to her feet and hobbled over to the man on the concrete. Each step her servos ground and protested, but she was still more functional then this guy. He was out cold, breathing shallowly, and she could see smoke rising off his hand. He was probably burned half way up his arm. “...Sh-sh-should just let you rot here.” The moment she said that though, she felt a pang. After all, she was in this mess because someone else had ignored her being burned out in the street... She used her internal cell phone to send an automated distress to 911 services along with her location.
However, she wasn't about to be a TOTAL good Samaritan. Looking side to side, she knelt down and opened up that trenchcoat, quickly rifling through the pockets, searching him over. Apparently Trenchcoat Guy didn't believe in banks. By the time she'd emptied him out, the total was well over several thousand grand in bills. She carefully folded the cash and slipped it away, then tossed her jacket over her shoulder. Her exposed processors buzzing with the possibilities, she hobbled herself out of the alley.
According to her data logs, she'd lost approximately fourteen hours being offline. It was early morning, with the sun coming down hard and OS was looking forward to a warm, dry walk to the repair shop, some much-needed maintenance, having enough left over for a few upgrades and a couple extra months of rent.
Sometimes life can be hard for an android. But it's the simple things that make it worthwhile.