Yu couldn’t help eyeing the shiny new robots in the midst of flying feathers. FE-56 and four of its colleagues have already plucked over seventy chickens each in the last twenty minutes. He tried not to stare because, like those artificial Dobermans, the newer farming/construction models didn’t like that.
There was shouting and jeering from the outside, which continued to intensify.
“They were not friendly when we arrived. What are they protesting for?” queried FE-56. Its voice was deep but soothing.
“Something about the rights of chicken eggs,” Yu shrugged, then waved, “Pfft… freakin’ college students.”
At least twenty men were gathered at the mouth of the docking bay. They were there initially to see the new robots arrive from Ilithiapolis Industries. After all, that doesn’t happen every day. But there they stayed, partly out of laziness but mostly because the activists coincidentally included barely legal females.
“Anyway, I see having four arms help,” quipped Yu.
Without ceasing its chicken-processing, the 8-foot robot dipped its head and trained its orange eyes on Yu. “Indeed and we are programmed to pluck not just chickens but all poultry and game birds. Have you seen FD-class units pluck geese?”
“You would not want to.” FE-56 turned its eyes back to the carcass in hand.
“Well, we only do chickens and turkeys here. Keep up the good work. I better check on your brothers,” Yu nodded at the other five units some ten paces away, although the last in line looked a bit different.
He strode over to them as they sorted eggs. So far, none have been broken and a few were set aside as ‘low quality’. Evidently, their fingertip scanners were superior to the scanners on the floor. He took a closer look at the last robot. It was no taller than the other nine but it was wider and considerably less shiny. And it was working slowly, not much faster than the FDs.
“What’s this?” Yu called out, pointing to the unit. “He’s different from you.”
FE-56 stared at it. Blue eyes stared right back without a word. Yu glanced at the former, then the latter…
“I was informed that Ilithiapolis Industries wished to trial a prototype variant,” FE-56 finally answered. “Mister Bates did not inform you?”
Yu shook his head, then faced the prototype. “Why’re you so slow?”
Its blue eyes glowed. “I am functioning within normal parameters.” Its voice was more grating but it spoke softly nonetheless. “I am programmed to adapt to my environment but performance optimization will take time.”
Yu counted his fingers. “What’s your name? FE-75?”
“No, my designation is ALX-01; experimental assault model, land-ops variant.”
Yu skimmed ALX-01 from head to toe and assumed that Ilithiapolis Industries wanted to test a military model in a civilian role, which was common enough. “Does your basic programming include… say, factory operations?”
Suddenly, Bates shouted through the P.A. system, “A delivery truck has overturned at the gate. Someone grab a robot and go fix it.”
Yu ignored the announcement and gestured the machine to answer. “Yes, ordnance processing.”
“Right… you know Chinese? You see, a literal translation of ‘bomb’ in Chinese is ‘fried egg’… just pretend these are flashbangs or something.”
ALX-01 jerked its head and stopped working. “That is a phonetic—”
“Yeah, I know. Look, just get on with it, ok?”
The robot resumed its work with speed and Yu smiled, quite pleased with himself. By now, he noticed the workers gathered at the docking bay were yelling, presumably at those outside. Yu instinctively snatched a fire extinguisher and ran towards them. FE-56 treaded silently behind him. When he got there, he saw the truck and semi-trailer on its side at the gate amongst the energetic young crowd; some were trying to tear the cabin apart, the driver inside seemed a little concerned. Others hurled eggs and insults. Yu sighed.
“Shall I put the vehicle the right way up?” offered FE-56.
Yu started. “For goodness’ sake, don’t sneak up on people like that. Yes, yes, please do. Need any help?”
FE-56 scanned the mob and the truck. “No thank you, I can manage on my own.”
It leapt down and marched towards the overturned vehicle. The college kids erupted and chucked eggs and glass bottles at the metal giant. It was not bothered but merely vocalized the occasional “Excuse me.”
More eggs pelted against its chrome finish. “The logic of destroying eggs while protesting for their rights is flawed,” FE-56 stated. The horde then became less energetic and more like riotous.
“Shut up, can head!” – “Stop hurting chickens and eggs, you sumo zombie!” – “You’re a waste of metal!”
FE-56 plucked some guy off the truck and gently placed him on the ground, then grabbed the vehicle with its four arms. “Please step back. I cannot lift this if you are all standing so close.”
Yu was beginning to look worried while the trapped driver stopped looking worried. Mostly.
“Maybe we should call another robot,” Yu muttered as crowbars clunked against FE-56’s body.
Something flashed by Yu and there was a thud as ALX-01 landed behind FE-56, sending shattered concrete and dust everywhere. “FE-56, allow me to assist.”
ALX-01 extended its fingers on all four of its arms. Its blue eyes flamed while every human’s widened. Even FE-56’s blanched to yellow. What followed would have shamed any fire-fighting robot as everyone within a fifty-foot radius were rammed back with foam in 1.122 seconds. The two robots then flipped the truck and semi-trailer back up.
Yu exhaled loudly.
“I say we piff eggs back at these little runts,” someone next to Yu suggested, then disappeared.
“What’s that unit?” asked another. “He’s different… saw it fiddling with eggs before. He was fast too. He’s gonna be a star. What did you get him to do?”
The first man returned with the eggs and almost everyone nearby went for them.
Yu’s eyes bulged. “Wait—”
The protest ended with many bangs and whimpers.
This short story was in part inspired by Isaac Asimov’s Robot AL-76 Goes Astray which Joey thinks you should check out.