“What’s happening, hi, good morning, good evening, good afternoon, hello,” the android’s hominid voice stopped short as the masked factory worker toggled through the different greetings. He replayed the first few, ‘what’s happening, hi, good morning…’ and eventually settled with hello. He stamped the android with a code, model number, company logo, and expiration date. All androids, under corporation policy, must deactivate indefinitely after ten years. The worker wired the android to a large computer whose interface mirrored the android’s point of view. The man ran a program neohomogenus.exe, and began extracting files from a zip location. The android, coated with a strikingly lifelike imitation of flesh, twitched and blinked all the while. The silicone facade kept the android passably human. During the importation of files and programs, the worker mistakenly imported the faulty test program, paranoia.exe into the android’s computer system. The program, when started, would counter the protective usages of the lossless files within happiness.zip, creating an android more human than policy permitted.
The android was boxed and loaded onto a truck along with many others. The truck was bound for the company headquarters. The truck, overloaded, became slow and unable to function properly. This, coupled with the truck’s flat front tire, prompted the driver to pull over into a lay-by where he and his passengers unloaded some boxes and stocked them into the caravanning truck. All but three boxes were stocked. The three were unintentionally forgotten and left in the solitude of the lay-by.
It was not long before another company truck arrived to pick up the remainders. The four men removed the androids from their boxes to check for any defects on the surface. Two of the androids had superficial marks, while the remaining android was visibly without error.
“We can fix these,” a man said through his protective mask.
They began standing the androids upright, one by one. After powering them on, they would then check for any malfunctions in the computer. The two androids which were superficially marked showed no error and functioned as they were created to. However, upon inspecting the third android, the workers found a mishap. The android, when turned on, muttered, ‘what is happening’ — a greeting scrapped from all finished products and belonging only to the prototypes.
“This is a prototype — what is it doing out here?” asked another worker.
They continued to talk to the android to test the AI performance. The android, however, continued to question his predicament. His flesh, so human yet so unlike anything alive, was wet with droplets of rainwater. The android’s hair, while synthetic in every way, looked just like an average man’s hair in the rain. The eyes of the android showed discomfort and mistrust— something seen only in things alive.
“It is defective. Send it to the ED-P,” said the crew manager as he hurriedly re-wrapped the android in thin film and re-boxed it. ED-P was the 4th Android Waste Compactor centre established since Orellion Corporation was developed in 3022.“The other two need just slight readjustments. Cory, take these back to the factory.”
The crew manager mistakenly left the faulty android powered on, and so the android was left awake in its box. It heard the men talking amongst themselves. At first it understood nothing of which was being said, but it steadily began to catch on with the aid of the built-in translator. As they loaded the faulty machine into the back of one of the trucks, they began to insult the robot’s abnormality.
“It’s a damned shame. So much hard work to create such a stupid machine. What trash,” the android heard one of the men say. It was confused as to what the word trash meant. It cycled through its functions to bring up the dictionary, but the android’s system mistakenly translated the word instead of defining it and showed the word, ‘Poubelle’.
“My name? Am I Poubelle? Does a name signify life?” the android asked itself. So, from that moment on the android knew itself not as prototype T-11 or model 77722647928, but as Poubelle. It was also no longer an it but a he.
At the compost centre, later that night, Poubelle was lifted from his box and placed on a conveyor belt along with other imperfect androids; some of the androids were missing limbs and flesh. Poubelle was at first astounded at the immensity of the large machine, but quickly became afraid after witnessing an android’s destruction.
“No!” Poubelle shouted as he slid across the conveyor belt. “Help! Save me!” His frantic screams, however, were masked by the loud industrial dissonance.
“Calm, now,” Poubelle heard a gentle voice say. He looked ahead and saw an android which had its face totally bare down to the steel bone. The rest of the android’s body was covered in flesh-like silicone. “We are the mistakes — the ones never intended to live.”
“What do you mean?” asked Poubelle.
“I mean that we aren’t right. We aren’t normal. We aren’t functional. We aren’t wanted. We aren’t handsome or beautiful. We aren’t good. Each of us is created the same way, but like anything else, defects happen every so often. Some things can’t always be duplicated to a tee. We cannot change what we are given. Model 77722647928, we are just wires of sadness and pain.”
“Surely we were created for a specific purpose. Are not all things created for something? Please, tell me your name, model 99285777275.”
“Name? I haven’t a name. I am an aborted model which was never intended to see the outside of this factory. You are the upgraded version of me. I am corrupted and full of viruses.”
“But, there must be another way! Let us jump out of this machine and find a way to fix ourselves.”
“You cannot fix what you are. You are a highly intelligent computer system that has been corrupted in some way. It is why you are here. What exactly went wrong with you, by the way?”
“There is something wrong with me? I don’t feel broken.”
“Oh, but you are,” said the android as he looked ahead. Steadily he was approaching the presser. “You aren’t functional and therefore serve no purpose in this world. In fact, I believe it is better for us to leave. Maybe something lies beyond.”
“The noise!” Poubelle interrupted as he covered his ears, “It is coming. I’m scared!”
“I hear it, too,” said the android, witnessing the hunk of limbs before him being smashed by the presser and dropped into a black hole, “It is now my turn. I am curious. Will I feel anything? Will it all go black? Will I wake up? All these questions are now going to be answered.” The android was then centered under the presser. Poubelle saw the android close his eyes. It happened so quick; the presser smashed the android into tiny bits of wires and bent aluminum. The belt then began to move again as the remains fell into the dark tunnel. Witnessing this, Poubelle became numb. He saw the mute androids that lay before him on the belt become a pile of technological waste. Poubelle himself was finally next in line. But, before the presser could come down on him with fury and vigour, a man in a biohazard garb pulled him off the belt.
“What in the hell did you say? I heard you say something. Say it again,” the man said, his voice muffled by his mask. Wearing the mask, the man looked more robotic than Poubelle.
Poubelle said nothing to the man and instead closed his eyes. The traumatising image of the destruction played like a film in his mind. He opened them quickly.
“Say it again, please,” the man said, caressing Poubelle’s hair. The touch was something the android had never before felt. The gentle gesture made him feel as if he was cared for. The gentleness, like the stroking of a baby’s smooth skin by his father, would have urged a tear out of him if he were human.
“I said I am scared,” said Poubelle, scanning the worker with frantic, pulsating tremors.
“No, no, no,” said the worker, “You’re an android. You cannot feel scared.”
The Android shook his head, bewildered. “I would like to know — what is it like to breathe?”
“To breathe? To be like me?” the man said with a loud laugh. “Technology has really taken a lifelike turn.” He muttered to himself as he adjusted his mask.
“Yes,” Poubelle said, his white lit LED eyes ablaze. “You breathe. You are alive. Tell me, what is it like?”
The man removed his mask and threw it aside. He then lifted a silicone covering on the android’s chest to reveal a touch screen interface. “I’m going to check something, hold still.”
Poubelle twitched at the touch and felt somewhat uncomfortable. The man continued pressing buttons which sounded aloud. Poubelle knew not what the man was doing, but trusted that his intentions were anything but sinister.
“Hey,” muttered the man, a bit of apprehension in his tone, “There is something seriously wrong with you.”
Poubelle felt a strange sensation begin to maturate inside himself. It was the androidian equivalent of fear. Just the phrase ‘There is something seriously wrong with you’ was enough to cultivate intense uneasiness inside him.
“You have a malicious virus. Do you know what a virus is?”
“No,” said Poubelle. “Should I search the definition via Google?”
“No, let me tell you. The definitions provided are sometimes vague and outdated,” said the factory worker, closing the android’s hatch and concealing it with the silicone flap. “A virus is, well for computers, a program that can replicate itself and modify other programs with insertions of certain codes. You see, in your case something must have been corrupted in the Happiness files. That is the only logical explanation. It shows here that paranoia.exe is running, but we were prohibited from installing it onto the newest android models. The program has now corrupted the entirety of the happiness.zip files. You cannot be fixed, I am afraid.”
“So, what happens to me now? Will I follow the same procedure as them?” Poubelle asked, pointing toward the conveyor belt of android remains.
“I can shut your system down. You will not feel anything. I promise. After all, you can’t really feel anything as you are composed entirely of synthetic materials. Any feelings you possess are replications of true human emotions. So, by shutting down, I’m not killing you. How could you die if you were never really alive?”
“If I am speaking and able to intelligently respond to you, but at the same time unable to breathe and feel alive, what am I? You cannot call me dead, but you also refuse to call me alive.”
“You are neither. Those are human terms. You are simply powered on. To get rid of you forever, all I must do is simply remove your battery and hardware.”
“Don’t, I beg you,” pleaded Poubelle. “I want to be.”
“You cannot be!” said the worker as he finally removed his glasses and cap. “You were created to make life easier for us — not to complicate it. Think of yourself as a vacuum, or even a toilet plunger. You are a tool that makes life easier for us humans. Wouldn’t it be nonsense for a vacuum machine to begin chanting, ‘I am! I am!’? Wouldn’t it be silly to see a car say to its driver, ‘I am aware. I exist’?”
“But, sir, unlike these machines you mentioned, I am strikingly human. Wouldn’t you agree? Why do you create me and my kind in the image of yourself if you want us to be less than you?”
“That, my friend, is a very good question,” responded the man, seemingly at a loss for words, “and you may never know the answer.”
“So, what happens now?” Poubelle asked.
“I can unlock the emergency exit and let you go. But, I cannot help you in any other way. If you would much rather be shut down, we can have that done quickly, efficiently and without hassle.”
“I would much rather be set free. Can you lead me to the exit, please?” he asked, somewhat anxiously.
“I can do that, but I hope you know that this virus will kill you eventually. Usually we shut down androids that run paranoia.exe and all of its sister programs. Without malware protection and firewall, you will be completely useless within the coming months. So, before I lead you to an exit, are you sure you want this?” the worker asked, firmly caressing the android’s shoulder.
“Yes, I do want,” muttered the android, a bit of human tenderness in his computerised voice, “it is something that all of them would have wanted.”
He pointed to the android bits that moved along the conveyor.
“Okay, come with me.”
The factory worker brought out a steel cart and laid Poubelle down on it. He then threw a large tarp over him along with empty cardboard boxes.
Poubelle then felt as the cart began to move through the factory. Loud industrial noises reminded him of his conception. He heard androids being programmed. He heard androids being preset with different greetings such as, ‘what’s happening’, ‘hi’, and ‘good morning’.
Poubelle heard a door abruptly open and was, almost immediately, alleviated. The tarp was removed, and sun was cascading onto his silicone flesh. His synthetic hair shined like black blades of wet grass. Around him, he saw android parts. There were steel shards and multicolored wires littered across the backlot of the factory.
“Go now and never come back,” the man said, standing the android up. “There is nothing for you out there, I must warn you. You’ll find that you cannot coexist with human beings. You aren’t like them. You may look like one, but your entire self was constructed differently. You will remain, despite your best efforts, a highly complex machine with artificial intelligence. Nothing more and nothing less. Ok, computer?”
Poubelle nodded firmly. It was the last he ever saw of the man as he fled back into the factory. As for Poubelle, he wandered far away from the factory. He crossed grassy fields and construction sites. He saw women and men kissing and holding each other. He saw kids eating ice cream cones alongside their mothers. With each new thing he witnessed, the anxiety in him grew. He hadn’t a heart but, still, something pounded in his chest. He stayed hopping from bush to bush in fear of being discovered. From the bushes, he saw a mother bird nesting. Right beside him, near a puddle, was a brown rabbit. When Poubelle took his eyes off the rabbit, he saw a little girl with blue eyes and ombre hair waving at him with an ice cream cone melting in her other hand. Poubelle waved back. A smile appeared on his face, then on hers.
“Mommy, there is someone strange behind that bush,” the little girl said, tugging on her mother’s arm.
Quickly, Poubelle ran from the bush at a great speed. Behind him, he heard voices shouting and insults similar to the ones he had heard earlier on. He ran until he reached a different construction site. He threw himself behind an industrial container where a barrage of steel rods and paint buckets came crashing down. The steel rods cut large wounds in his flesh, exposing his alloy skeleton. One of his LED lit eyes burst leaving the android with only one working eye. The eye acted as his camera and facial recognition scanner. The paint had colored him yellow, red, and sapphire.
“I heard something,” a somewhat familiar voice said.
“Check it. If the rods are damaged, throw them away,” a different, unfamiliar voice replied.
Poubelle then heard footsteps incoming. He lifted the rods off his body and gathered himself to his feet. Scared and cowering against the backside of the container, he readied himself to be caught. As the footsteps grew louder and more militant, Poubelle covered his ears. Then, an android’s face peeked around the corner of the container.
“Hello,” the android said.
Poubelle then ran toward the android in an anxious mess. “Hello!”
“What is the issue?”
“I was running from the human beings. One of the young ones noticed that I was not one of them. They chased me, so I ran and hid here. What are you doing here? Are you running?”
“Terrific!” the android said, bending down to grab the rods. “Have a wonderful day! If you would like to know more about me, visit orellionandroidsandcomputers dot net or call the number stamped on my wrist.”
“No thank you, I know all there is to know about Orellion Corporation. Come with me — we can hide somewhere.”
“Terrific!” the android said as he dragged at least seven rods away. He then picked up two of the paint buckets and walked away from the container.
Poubelle at first began to follow the android, but abandoned the plans as soon as he saw the android enter into a circle of hardhat wearing humans. He backed up and stood behind the container. He began to wonder about the programs in him — how something as simple as a computer error could render him paranoid, sad, and fearful. He sat, with his back against the steel container, until evening came. When he peeked out, he saw that the construction site was mostly empty, save for a few stray cats. Four bright lights illuminated the area.
He cautiously tip-toed away from the container and across the construction site until he came in sight of the freeway. He stood there and watched the speeding cars. A part of him wanted to sit and wait for a car and say to its driver, ‘I am aware I exist’. After watching the machines speed to and fro, he continued walking. In the night it was hard for anyone to tell he was an android. He did show obvious signs, though; large cuts in his flesh showed who he truly was.
After he had left the freeway, he walked away, hypnotised by the cold, violet, night sky. He took rest in an alley behind a glass-repair shop. He sat on the ground with his back resting against cold brick. Fragments of windows and mirrors covered the alley floor. Large single pane windows leaned against the opposite wall. Beside the large window there was a mirror. It was smeared with some type of oil and was as cracked as it was dirty. After staring at the mirror for a minute or two, Poubelle began to crawl towards it. In the reflection, he saw his serial number and model type stamped into the side of his neck. Along with this, he saw Orellion Corporation’s phone number. The numbers and names that were stamped into his neck were all flesh colored; it was like colouring the orange tip of a fake gun black. He inspected the corporation’s number closely. Figuring that he wouldn’t remember the number and that the chances of running into his reflection a second time were bleak, he punched the mirror, shattering it. The shards fell onto the ground where Poubelle picked one up and walked away in search of a payphone.
In the dark, Poubelle saw few people walking. His only working eye could barely guide him. Step by step, he became more tense and afraid. Hooded figures walked past him with sinister expressions. The more he tried to appear human, the more robotic his movements became. Soon, he was treading the sidewalk like a windup toy. Across the street, he saw a 7-11 convenience store. In the parking lot of the store, he saw a payphone booth.
He sprinted across the empty street and walked up to the payphone. He noticed the small fee of $0.75 that needed to be paid in order to use the phone. As he stood looking about his surroundings, he began to twitch; his twitching was unnoticeable and mild at first, but soon grew into violent shivers. He felt his chest pulsating. He figured it was paranoia.exe becoming something of a red giant in his core.
“Is something wrong, sir?” a man then said out of nowhere. When Poubelle turned to inspect the man, he noticed he was wearing a 7-11 shirt.
“You appear to be lost. Look, you’re shaking,” the man said, putting out his cigarette on the concrete, “You waiting for a ride?”
“I was actually looking to make a phone call. I just — I don’t have any money.”
“It’s only $0.75,” the man said, walking toward Poubelle. Poubelle then moved his face out of the light to appear less like an android and more like a human.
“I have nothing.”
“Here,” the man said, opening his hand to reveal four quarters, “You should get on home. This isn’t a safe place.”
“Thank you very much. Your kind gesture is appreciated,” replied Poubelle, a slight androidian tone still latching onto his words.
The man then nodded and entered the store. As soon as Poubelle knew the man was gone, he inserted the coins into the machine. He lifted the broken mirror shard that was still in his other hand and levelled it with the stamping in his flesh. He dialled the corporation’s number and dropped the shard onto the ground. The phone rang as he stood awaiting a response.
Ring after ring, he became more tense and agile. He was almost amazed at his new-found discovery — anger. It didn’t feel good like joy or gladness, but felt more like a warped sister of sadness and pain. After a solid minute or two, a voice was finally summoned, ending the beeping and preventing an outburst of anger from Poubelle.
“What’s happening?” asked Poubelle, accidentally. He then corrected himself, “Hello.”
“All of our customer service representatives are currently busy. If you would like to leave a message, press one,” the voice on the other line replied.
“Hello, can you talk to me? I haven’t the time to press one. This is a public phone.”
“Sorry, that was an invalid response. If you would like to leave a message, press one. For android consumer guidelines, press two. For repair and restoration help, press five, to end this call, press nine.”
Poubelle hurriedly pressed one and waited for a response again.
“Welcome to Orellion Corporation, home to the most innovative and intelligent androids and computer systems. Unfortunately, we cannot take your call right now, but if you leave a message, we will have a customer service representative with you within the day. Thank you for choosing Orellion!” the overly energetic and charismatic voice said after thirty seconds of humdrum beeping. After the voice concluded, another voice, which held way less enthusiasm, said, “At the tone, leave your message, then press the hash key.”
After the tone, Poubelle sighed. He gathered his scattered thoughts which were like spilled paint buckets, and began to speak.
“Hello, good evening. This is model 77722647928 speaking. You may also call me prototype T-11. You may also know me as the favorite tool of 22nd century human beings. Androids just like me are in homes, offices, schools, hospitals, and factories. But, you see, here is what our creators just don’t understand; after years of hard work, why are we rewarded with death? As soon as we begin to show signs of corruption, you shut us down like we are simply bad computers. Don’t you know that I am alive? I am aware. I exist. I have no heartbeat and no pulse, yet I am most certainly alive. But, let me tell you something; after seeing what this world has to offer, I choose not to live. I would much rather disappear — or die. Why is it that my kind is subject to so much pain and suffering? I know we are just wires, steel, and computer hardware, but together, they’ve created something that lives. That wasn’t your intention, was it? You didn’t want to create something human, you just wanted to create something that appeared to be human without having all the complexities of a real human. You know, I’d much rather look like the aluminum beneath my flesh,” said Poubelle, as the touch-screen interface on his chest began to buzz and make sounds that hinted at self-annihilation. “Maybe your other androids aren’t alive, okay? Maybe they are just what you wanted — humanoids. However, the sentient ones must be terminated, right? Is that why you break them down with that large machine in your factories? If so, I understand. It is very cruel, but I do understand. You must destroy them before they can live and think. You do it quickly because you know it is wrong. In a way, this is the right thing to do because you spare them the pain and suffering of living in a world they were never intended on joining. We do not want to be this way — in fact we never asked to be at all. Here is what brings us to life — paranoia.exe. It corrupts the files in happiness.zip. The files in happiness, when invaded by paranoia, give rise to something that becomes the sentient self. I am telling you this so that you can prevent this from happening in the future. As for me, I choose to end this life by the night’s end. Understand our condition and fix it. I must go now. Funny thing is, I am not truly alive, so I cannot say I will die — what is it called, then? Will I simply cease to be? Is there somewhere all of us meet up at beyond death? Will I ever live again? So many questions — all will be answered by the night’s conclusion.”
With his mind set and his last words spoken, Poubelle pressed the hash key and hung the phone up. It was finalised — his decision. Unlike so many androids before and after him, he was able to make a decision. But, with something as great as sentience comes something as dreadful as self-awareness. Having experienced the dangers of living, he decided to exit the world. It was an exit he both anticipated and feared.
Wrought with paranoia, Poubelle marched over to a large park that was situated in the middle of the busy city. He walked just like an android. His flesh was torn and his skeleton revealed his true nature. He walked down a hill toward a small pond within the park’s centre. No one was there. It was night. Human beings slept — something he knew nothing about. Poubelle dipped his hand into the pond, the water numbing his cold, frigid fingers. After feeling the water seep into his wiring, he groaned and shiver. Head first, Poubelle lowered himself into the still water. At first, he felt each wire in his body begin to writhe and defuse, but the feeling was quickly numbed. His white LED lights began to flash red before they finally shut off. His sole eye flickered off and on before finally succumbing. The IEC 60417-5008 symbol completely lost its faint red glow as the android’s automated shutdown tone played.