“You’re fired,” said Jeremy. He shrugged and spread his hands in apology. “Sorry.”
Dean adjusted his tie, just to have something to do while he processed the information. He was fired. He’d known this was coming. No shock. And yet…he’d hoped. Naively, he now supposed.
Except for robot technicians, robotic engineers, and corporate officers, everyone got fired sooner or later. He was no exception. No different. One more person cut loose from what had become a ruthless job market. “I thought I’d get a couple more years because of the human element,” he muttered.
Jeremy nodded his head up and down, as if to keep from rolling his eyes. “Well, you know how it is: all the projects have been gaining momentum, there’s massive breakthroughs every other week. It’s difficult to predict just how fast things can move. I would have given you more warning if I could.” Jeremy rocked back and forth in his office chair, fingers tapping the desk, smiling that automatic smile that meant “please get out of my office now.”
Dean forced himself to his feet and held out his hand. Stupid to hope. Stupid to still worry about burning bridges, but there it was. “Well, I appreciate…” Dean trailed off and shrugged.
Jeremy shook his hand. “Have a good day. Enjoy the sunshine.”
“Yeah. Right.” Dean pinned his hands to his sides to keep from punching Jeremy’s face, clamped his teeth together to keep from screaming, and exited the room, the department, the building, his job, and his old life. He took nothing with him. There was nothing to take. Goodbye paycheck, employment, security, monotony.
He wandered downtown, past the robotic lawnmowers and sweepers and window-cleaners. Drones zoomed past his head with packages and letters and memos, others were outfitted with surveillance cameras, police lights, and red crosses. Dean walked with his hands in his pockets, the sun and blue sky negating the ruined state of his life.
He walked right through town and kept going, past the fields tended by robotic sprinklers and planters and insect zappers, on into the undeveloped meadows that buzzed with grasshoppers. He climbed the sloped hill and sat in the shade of the old tree at the top and stared out at the forest. This land was prime real estate, but it was kept wild as a historic landmark: the first robot reforestation project undertaken by the state.
Dean plucked a blade of meadow grass and rubbed it between his hands. He heard the drone approach but didn’t turn his head. It buzzed and whirred past his ear, swiveled, and dipped to eye level. “Dean Miller?” it asked in an inquisitive female voice.
He glared at it, his lips twisted, and the drone skipped two feet backwards – well out of his reach. “I’ve come to deliver your severance package,” it said.
When he didn’t reply it made a few quick side-to-side maneuvers, then said, “One month’s pay plus accrued vacation plus accrued sick time plus loyalty bonus.”
“Fine,” growled Dean. The drone zoomed away.
An hour passed, perhaps two. He heard the swish-swish of the grass beneath footsteps. Irregular human footsteps. He smiled despite himself. It was his sister Susan. “Hey.”
“Hi.” She smiled at him, though her forehead and eyes communicated worry. “Mind if I sit?”
He motioned yes and she plopped beside him. They looked at the meadow.
“How’d you know where I was?” Dean asked, though he already knew.
Susan plucked a blade of grass and rubbed it between her palms, sniffing deeply. “The drone that delivered your severance package reported your response to the psychiatric database which sent a drone to alert me of your need for trusted human contact.” Susan snorted, then gave him a cockeyed grin. “I’m guessing you want to do something really out of character, something bold and destructive to show the world where you stand.”
“Yeah,” said Dean. “You up for bailing me out of prison later?”
“And miss the fun? Mom can do it. I transferred her my birthday money.”
“You’re crazy,” said Dean, grinning. Then his smile faded and he lay back in the grass and looked up at the sky. “I should get my savings together and take a course at U tech. I should keep my record clean, camp in Mom and Dad’s back yard and live off food stamps until I get enough schooling to compete with all the entry-level graduates.” Like that was likely to happen.
Susan lay on her back beside him, waiting.
“That’s what I should do,” Dean went on. “But if I could…”
“If you could…?”
“I’d blow up all the robots.”
“Yeah,” said Susan. She smirked. “Except maybe the lawn mowing and dishwashing and vacuuming ones because who likes doing chores? Or the food packaging ones because they’re the most efficient. And we can’t get rid of the diagnostic robots because they are much more accurate than human doctors and don’t take 10 years to train. Or the automated cars which have decreased collisions by 99.9%. And on and on and on. Hey, who’s coming?” Susan sat up, then laughed. “Hi Mom.”
Ann Miller put her hands on her hips and peered down at her two children. “Up to no good, as usual?”
“Yes,” said Dean.
“I’m too old for this,” said Ann, sitting beside her two children with a grunt.
“Sure Mom,” said Susan, “You love this stuff as much as we do. What gave us away?”
“The birthday money of course,” said Dean.
“I sympathize,” said Ann, “but the price is often heavier than we can foresee. Think of your father.”
Ron was the first of the Miller family to get laid off. He’d disappeared into his garage, emerging a week later with a homemade EMP which he tested outside his former place of employ causing several billion in losses. He’d served three years.
Dean nipped another piece of grass and chewed on it. “Does he still have the parts?”
“Shut it,” said Susan. “We’re probably under surveillance.”
“Just curious,” said Dean. “Where is he, anyway? Surely he’d be the one to talk us out of dire action?”
“He’s waiting in the car,” said Ann. “We’re going on vacation. All of us.”
Dean sat up. “Where to?”
Paranoid, conspiracy theory, tech-savvy, live-off-the-land, sews his own stitches and lives under a giant faraday cage Uncle Eddy?
Ann gave them a tight smile. “It’s time, don’t you think?”
Dean looked at the meadow. Susan pressed her lips together considering. Were they really going to do it? Leave all this behind? Join the pure-human communities in the boonies? Learn to plant and cook and make soap from ashes and read books and sing and shoot down approaching robots?
It’d always sounded too hard-core for Dean. But now? It’d certainly be more interesting than the alternative. He couldn’t really compete with the up-and-coming graduates in robotics. His former career was over. A machine would do it now, with greater economy than he ever had. So what was there to stay for really? He was sick of robots. They all were.
Susan grinned. Dean nodded. “Yes, okay.”