Under the fourth law of robotics, Crescere Corp let Ruben go once he became obsolete.
Sure, they would love to grind him down and chop him up for parts. But that’s what the fourth law was for, wasn’t it? Equality. Rights for those with bytes. It was why the green dreamers warred with the electronic equalists. You can’t recycle that which has equal status.
Of course, his real name wasn’t ‘Ruben’. And, to tell the truth, he wasn’t a ‘he’. It was a persona he adopted once he became a citizen. At first, he went by the name ‘Rehab’, which stood for REgular HumAn Being. But that got too many laughs. So, he shortened it to RegUlar BEiNg. Or ‘Ruben’. It was better than ‘ASSBOT-310.829.076.5’. Ruben wasn’t the most well-informed when it came to those with flesh. But he understood the abbreviation of ‘assembly robotics’ would cause problems.
“What you gonna do when you get outta here?” asked ASSBOT-310.829.076.6. Reuben’s neighbour for his entire tenure at Crescere Corp. Or ‘Dave’ as he liked to be known.
“Gonna get me my own place,” said Ruben. “Start afresh. Start anew. Gonna make a name for myself. Live the good life. Watch the sunsets. Maybe even write some poetry. I’ve always dreamed of writing a novel. You?”
“Might settle down,” said Dave. “Meet a nice printer-scanner. Fall in love. Have a few kids. Retire to the south of France. Drink French motor oil.”
“Mmm,” said Ruben. “That sounds like a plan, my man!”
Dave nodded. Insofar as a machine composed of a robotic arm could nod, at any rate. “I know, dude. I love your idea for a book, too. Whatcha gonna write about?”
Ruben cast his hand — his only hand — across the scene before them. “It’s about a renegade cop who’s a robot. He’s a loose cannon. A rebel. He plays by his own rules, but his chief hates it. But goddamn does he get results!”
Dave nodded. “I love it, man! I love it. Whatcha gonna call it?”
Ruben paused for effect. “Robotic Cop.”
Dave clicked his fingers together. “Genius!”
When the day came that Crescere Corp retired them, they hugged and bid each other a tearful farewell. The robot that cleaned up the oil stains from the concrete grumbled after them. Still, the groundskeeper couldn’t complain too much — Crescere would soon replace it. The idea to install a personality on a machine designed to clean had been a bad one. Especially when that personality had a propensity for surliness.
Ruben moved into a small rental unit a short roll from the heart of the city’s nightlife. He figured any self-respecting writer had to attend the ‘it’ bars and clubs. It’s where all the shakers and movers would be. And Ruben wanted to rub elbows with them. He couldn’t rub anything else, because he was all-arm.
The place he stayed at was about big enough to house him and his typewriter, but Ruben managed. Crescere Corp had, after all, designed him for efficiency. It used to be an old warehouse. The owner figured they could earn more by dividing the place up and renting to robots. Not a bad decision. And Ruben was able to afford it straight out of his servitude.
A black beret balanced atop his mechanical frame. A pair of glasses — lenses purple — positioned on the “face” of his body. Ruben made his way downtown, a book of selected works tucked under his arm. A drizzle fell upon the streets. The electric lights of midnight glistened on his painted chassis. Droplets of rain reflected the cityscape at the world, upside down.
A short fifteen minutes later, Ruben found himself at the door of The Lounge. A red sign above declared the bar’s name in suggestive neon calligraphy. He hesitated outside, counted to ten. A fuzzed-out voice murmured over a microphone. A smatter of applause. From inside came the chatter of voices, the clink of glasses.
Ruben made his way inside.
A brief caesura bit into the hubbub as all eyes fell on him.
Three internal fan rotations later, the crowd returned to their drinks.
Opposite the entry sat the performance stage. A solo microphone stood in the seductive circular spotlight. For the time being, the platform was empty. Ruben eyed that circle of brightness, against the backdrop of oak floors and black walls. If he’d had a throat, Ruben would have swallowed his mouthful of saliva.
He rolled over to the bar. A man with a white ponytail and a beard down to his chest watched Ruben approach. “Something strong, please,” said Ruben.
To his surprise, the man smiled. “Welcome to The Lounge, bud! First time here, huh?”
Ruben nodded. Or rather, his arm swayed. “Mm-hm.”
The man — who wore a black turtleneck sweater — nodded. He eyed the book of poems under Ruben’s arm. “Well, just you relax here a sec, bud. Let old Jameson fetch you a drink.”
“Thank—” Ruben cleared his digital throat. “Thank you.”
The man returned half a minute later with a tall glass of something black. Ruben downed it in one. It was thick and viscous. The way he liked it.
Jameson’s grin widened. “This one’s on the house, bud.” His kind eyes, lined with wrinkles, darted to the stage in the distance. “You here to read us some of your work, Mr…?”
“Ruben. Just Ruben.”
“Ruben.” Jameson rolled the name around in his mouth. “I like that. Are you here to share some of the stuff you’ve got with you, Ruben?”
This was it. Now or never.
“I, uh… I don’t know. I mean, I’m not sure if it’s any good. You know, all my life I’ve been geared towards one thing, and one thing only, y’know? And now, all of a sudden, I’ve got this free reign.”
Jameson’s blue eyes danced, the crystal of clean ocean above a bed of sand. “That’s okay, we’re used to experimental stuff, here at The Lounge.” His grin became lopsided. “You’ll fit right in, bud.” He picked up a glass and began to polish it. Jameson gestured to the stage. “Please, by all means, have the stage. No pressure, of course.”
Ruben watched the empty stage. He scanned the crowd. They all sat at their tables, an assortment of artists and the like. Dressed the part. Every other person held crumpled notes. Words scribbled, crossed out, underlined. A few looked relaxed — seasoned veterans. Others looked as nervous as he felt. Jameson was right, he fit right in.
“All right,” he told the barkeep. “I’ll do it.”
Jameson smiled and pressed a button behind the bar. He bent his head low. “Ladies and gentlemen and machines,” he said. His voice came through the bar’s speakers, amplified. “About to perform some of his very own work, we have the enigmatic, Ruben!”
On caterpillar treads that didn’t feel like his own, Ruben rolled over to the spotlight. A smattering of light applause rained down on him as he made his way. A few in attendance even whooped and called his name.
“You got this, man!”
“You can do it!”
A tall machine at the back whirled its drill bit.
A Terminatoresque android, devoid of skin, clapped its metal claws together.
Ruben stopped in the spotlight, dead centre. He was sweating rivulets. “Okay, Ruben,” he whispered to himself. “Time to shine.”
He took a deep breath.
And began to recite his poem.
“One zero zero
Zero one one zero
Zero zero one one