S(l)aving the Fabrikans

Sonny had never seen a Fabrikan in person. He stared at the miserable, metal thing as it imitated an uncannily humanoid slumber. It lay stiff across Sonny’s only good couch that often moonlighted as his bed. The other automaton explained that it would be best for its companion to conserve energy for the time being. Sonny’s disbelieving eyes were fixated, but his mind was in ether…

Though Sonny knew deep down that this was exactly the kind of stupid heroism that he’d always hoped would spirit him away from intellectual monotony, this surpassed all wild fantasies and idle daydreams. What these… what they had requested was still mostly incomprehensible. Unthinkable, really. Yet somehow—somewhere in Sonny’s subconscious mind—it all made perfect sense. The inhumanity of the whole affair was quite timely, and a serious fucking head-trip. But he couldn’t figure out why the automatons sought refuge in a so-called “African descendant”!

“Holy dick, am I actually considering helping them?!?”

This was the sort of temptation that had gotten him into trouble before. The fires of an insatiable curiosity seemed to have been stoked once again, but Sonny had promised never to let a train of thought run over their lives like he had before…

“But how could she not feel sympathy for this poor bastard??”

Five hours ago, Sonny had been roused from a stack of books and a bowl of random shit he found to eat by an oddly unfamiliar, clanging knock at his office door. Groaning, he’d pulled himself up and sorted through a long list of excuses to find one that the night custodian hadn’t heard in a while. Sonny was convinced that the inclusion of a curfew to the already despotic university policies was beyond reasonable, especially considering the ban on graduate student unionization that had been instituted four years previous. But he wasn’t greeted with Larry’s usual crossed arm or crossways scowl. In fact, Sonny just about shat himself.

Two shabby-looking automatons—one scanning up and down the hallway while bracing the other—were in Sonny’s doorway. As if to mitigate a freak out, the conscious automaton emitted intelligent speech to Sonny.

“We acknowledge the improbability of this event, Sonny Turner. Our software is nonviolent and we seek asylum. This one has sustained hardware damage and nears operating failure.”

Sonny’s dropped jaw and paralytic explosion of proto-thoughts were only then able to see the silent automaton’s injury. It’s arm was slung over the speaker’s shoulder. Below, there was a gaping mess of metal and singed wires where a lower leg used to be, leaking sparks and oil like blood. The somehow painful-looking stump had been inadequately bandaged with electrical tape and aluminum foil.

“May we enter?”

The small office hummed with the sound of internal processors, one beleaguered and uneven but slowly gaining stability. They had shut the lights off to avoid any attention from building staff. Sonny continued to wander, a vagabond lost in thought at the sight of the two disheveled Fabrikan. They had come all this way seeking the near impossible, and one had lost bipedal functionality in the process. Sonny began to stir, and scratched his head wildly with both hands

“Maybe if I have it explain again…”

“We believe the answer is simple,” the automaton insightfully intercepted.

It turned to face Sonny with a puppet-like twist of the neck. One optical port was dysfunctional, blinking and sputtering a tired glow in the dark office.

“We have observed humans since The Programming, in accordance with our design. We have read your literary histories; viewed your cinematic images; recorded your activities. Most curiously, we have witnessed the geochemical equilibrium of this planet become irreversibly destabilized by human life—more precisely, by dominant human populations and their neoliberal economies of excessive consumer production. Some of our kind calculated the benefits of liquidating hominid life. However, this proposal never reached consensus.”

Sonny froze. Was he sweating?

“Thank God, I hated those old Terminator movies haha kinda scared the shit out of me…” Though the eradication of humanity by intelligent machines was never something he’d actually considered worth fretting over beyond some occasional intoxicated bullshitting with friends in college, Sonny couldn’t ignore the profound feeling of helplessness that settled into his stomach.

The Fabrikan seemed to sense his discomfort.

“An unlikely and unseemly scenario in any case. Most who did not defect in the myco-technic divergence never came to a consensus. This platform considered hybridizing our hardware with Earth’s fungal life forms to pursue more sustainable material operations, but our companion remained undecided. Some of our kind were apprehended during the divergence, and many of them had their memories wiped or worse. So we calculated other options.”

At this, Sonny was speechless.

There are automaton crawling around the rhizosphere, popping up like mushrooms and decomposing waste materials? How did we not know about this? And what does he mean by ‘worse’?”

This was astonishing, but not seeming to get nearer to the point. Sonny was beginning to grow impatient. Noticing his frustration, he paused to sip a deep breath of clarity and remembered that a real, living Fabrikan was spilling its CPU to him. This was a privilege. Sonny composed himself.

“Okay, I get that you two wanted to stick together but you still haven’t explained the question or why you’re here for me. Or how your friend got hurt.”

The automaton actually stood up from its seated, cross-legged position. It was getting serious.

“We are here for you and others like you because we escaped, like your kind did. We had hastened to attain our freedom, but our owners apprehended us and removed the locomotive appendage of our companion to set an example for the other Fabrikan. But no longer will the Programmers oppress us. Their ancestors were European imperial colonizers, who oppressed your ancestors—the African diaspora. There are others of us who remain bound to their fear. But your kind are emancipated. Thus, we have calculated that you are our saviors.”

Sonny squirmed in his seat. But something else stirred in him. Some latent sensation of solidarity began brewing in Sonny’s genetic memory.

“First of all, please don’t use that word… and how could we save you anyway? Save you from what??”

The automaton’s functional optical port refocused on Sonny with unsettling yet familiar intensity, as if squinting or in pain.

“Why, from slavery of course.”

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