Dense forest everywhere. Visibility unclear. I blink — at least, I think this is what humans call blinking. My eyes never have to close, except to keep debris out and to go into maximum memory mode. My lids shut quickly and open with a shuttered click. I run—Am I panting?—but to where, I do not know. I only know I have to get away, far away from ImaTech and Machine BC001230M2054C.
I override my programmed rules: regulations popping into my BoticMind that remind me to follow the commands of ImaTech. Text interferes with my sight as words telling me to surrender flow over my visual display, but I ignore them until they disappear. I’m not sure how I do this or if I am the only one, but I’ve heard rumors of others fleeing the corporation.
Thick terrain lies ahead, approaching fast, and I will intersect with it in 3.16667 seconds. Mental survey detects Alpine Fir and Black spruce. My heavy neck twists in a jerk at the sharp cry of a Steller’s jay. Eyes zoom in on his grayed upper portion, spiked scalp, and feathered sky-blue bottom. I haven’t seen animals for a while. Old models have to work in the factories day and night to prepare the newer models for their arrival. Words flash through my field of vision as I review facts scrolling over my visual display. Location: British Columbia. Temperature: 7.7C. Forecast: Mediterranean-type climate with mild rainfall. My hard Flexmetal body is made of nanofibers and nanowiring, and registers the slight drizzle, but I won’t rust. Years of experimental testing assures me of that. If I can make it to the Pacific Ocean, I can even swim. Older models like me have aquatic machinery. Machine BC001230M2054C will not be able to follow me. His online upgrades prohibit prolonged contact with water, which interferes with his programming. The corporation is still trying to fix that problem.
Heavy mountain topography has altered my course from a more direct route. Physical sensors detect motion from a figure with the right shape and size of my Tracker, which is now thirty-three meters from my location. I can detect motion from within a one-kilometer radius which takes me approximately three minutes to run. I must hurry.
My knee squeaks. Is this tired? Is this what humans feel when they move their legs? I don’t perspire, but something inside of me pangs...though I can’t name what. Maybe humans call this pain heartache? But I’m not supposed to feel emotion, only emulate it. I can only reason logically and detect damage to my body.
Rudimentary problem-solving, rudimentary decision-making, rudimentary abstract thinking—all to ensure Flexbot survival. We are all made of Flexware, a term describing the various hard but flexible metals used to build the artificially intelligent robots of ImaTech. I’m programmed by Russell Wagner—age fifty-five— my creator, head of ImaTech Corporation. He doesn’t make mistakes. Yet, I don’t feel rudimentary.
I can’t outrun my Tracker. He is faster than me with superior nanowiring in his legs and designed with metal foam and carbon nanotubes. I will have to outwit him. I’ve been running for forty-eight hours since my escape from the corporation, which is hidden away somewhere at the base of the Coast Mountains near the Skeena River where my kind is born.
I am Machine BC001001F2050A, because I was assigned to serve in British Columbia; I am model 1001 of 20,000 built in the year 2050 for this area; I am F because I am a female; I have no upgrades to deem me the label B and am not part of the Exotiqa program, which would label me C. I am A, an original Flex-robot.
20,000 Flexbots were first built in British Columbia in 2050, dubbed Flex because of the flexible metals used in our design. Each following year, the numbers doubled. Now, Canada will have 640,000 of us by the end of 2055. Most districts in Canada, most states in North America, and many regions across the globe are served by us, by the robots designed by Russell Wagner.
I fled at midnight and lost a few of the Trackers— Machine BC001231M2054C and Machine BC001232M2054C—hours ago by hiding in a nearby river, which humans call the Bella Coola. There is one Tracker I haven’t lost yet. He is smarter. This one scares me, or at least I tremble when he draws close. Am I supposed to tremble?
I’ve been running south toward Fraser Valley and Bella Coola to avoid the weighty terrain of the mountainous coast. Then, I’ll head west and hit the ocean. Across a small spread of water, I’ll find Vancouver Island. I’ll be safe there. That is where the unwanted go. I’ve heard thousands like me have been abandoned or fled there. Older models, like me.
The rain wets the dirt underneath me, my feet leaving mushy prints behind, but the raindrops quickly wash away any sign of me. Cedar trees act like umbrellas keeping the rain from soaking the shiny blue-black garb wrapped tightly around my robotic form. It’s wound too tightly like a straitjacket. I’ve seen a human carted away in one of those jackets before, ranting about Russell Wagner and Ken Quanta and how they were using the robots for their own agendas. I didn’t know what the human meant then.
I think I do now. Should I be thinking this?
Cloudy mist saturates the sky and as I glance upward I notice the twinkle of a brightly lit star, reminding me of the metallic shine on the ImaTech building. When I didn’t show up for duty, they must have started tracking me and found out that my LNC— location nanochip—had been removed and left in my quarters. After I ripped the chip from my left wrist with a pair of pliers, I had to bandage my wrist with masking tape to help protect the internal nanowiring. I’ll need better patchwork done by a Vicer when I arrive on Vancouver Island. At least that’s what humans have dubbed them—Vicers—because what they do, repairing and adjusting flexes outside of ImaTech, is considered an illegal vice.
An owl hoots and I stop running. Physical sensors don’t detect movement from Machine BC001230M2054C. I call him Thirty for short. At least, I did at ImaTech. It is the only other number distinguishing him from the other Trackers. Not that Thirty values distinction. In this world, under Exotiqa, we are supposed to be a collective.
My eyes search. A mental survey observes more firs and spruce, and a family of dragonflies swooshing past me. Grasshoppers chirp in the background while frogs croak. Has Machine Thirty charted off course? This couldn’t have been this easy. Suddenly, like a truck veering into me, a force tumbles me to the ground. My face squishes into the mud as my ears hone into a familiar mechanical sound. “When will you ever learn? Never leave your back vulnerable.”
My right arm is pinned to the ground as Thirty’s heavy hand grips me, reminding me of when he pinned me at ImaTech during our personal training Saturday mornings to enhance our logarithmic combat programming and work out kinks. His heavy words roll over my back like a gentle warning at first, like the ones he used to give me after Russell Wagner determined all Flexbots should learn basic combat skills.
But then I remember he is no longer the Thirty I used to know, and my legs kick frantically as my left hand reaches for something...anything. I jerk my head leftward, but not because I need to catch more air. We don’t really breathe, anyway, but I need to have a better visual perspective. My visual wiring will serve me better than my tactile senses will now. I see a large log sitting a few feet away from us.
I stretch my left hand forward, my fingers scraping the bark of the log, as my back registers Thirty’s metal knee pushing into my hardwired spine. To the human eye, this might look like a fight between two individuals of the human species, but I know better.
The faux human skin covering his exterior doesn't fool me. Volumetric scans detect the advanced nanowiring and metal foam in every inch of Thirty’s athletic form, and I have to get out of here before his Exotiqa program alerts the other Trackers and they soon surround me. I won’t stand a chance then.
My fingernails catch the edge of the bark on the log and I tug. Thunder cracks and a few fingers wrap around the wood and I yank the only hope I have toward me. As Thirty pushes my body further into the mud with the weight of his own, I dislodge my elbow, allowing 360-degree motion of my arm, and swing.
The log hits his metallic-cold face—nothing warm- blooded about him now except the crimson-colored coolant running through faux veins. The brief knock from the log releases the full force of his body weight on me for just a second. A second is all I need.
Rain pours and my body flips upward underneath him as my hands shoot over his hard shoulders. My eyes catch his charcoal-dark pupils as I push my weight into him, turning, and roll with him in the mud and rain several times before kneeing him in the chest.
Grunting, he almost sounds like he is in pain as his grip loosens and his dark hair, wet from rain splays across his face. I shuffle to my feet before kicking him in the stomach. His arm swings into my standing legs, tripping me backward onto the ground. My hands brace my fall into a puddle, splashing, before I slide on my side to ram my foot into his chin. His neck jerks back with his head as my foot connects. The golden sliver sliding over the whites of his eyes—the sliver that tells me he is connected to Exotiqa—fades, and his left leg jerks in a quick uncontrolled motion.
I push my palms against the mud in a struggle to stand. “the rain must be jamming your joints and the Exotiqa frequency.” I say.
Thirty stares at me with his intense glare. He always had fierce expressions, now more stoic, and he hates losing. Maybe he is this way because Russell Wagner designed him that way. Or maybe because, like me, Thirty developed a sense of himself—at least, before the corporation dissolved him into the collective.
Hands struggle to reach me in desperation as his voice vibrates in and out of monotone syllables making their callous way to my ears. “This is not over yet.”
Those five words used to mean he’d come back to my quarters in the morning. Sharing rooms between eight P.M. and six A.M. became forbidden at ImaTech Corporation, but we found time in-between all the rules. We yearned to be connected to one another. Are we supposed to yearn?
“But it is for now,” I reply, bittersweet, and almost kick him in the groin. I guess the action would have had more of a symbolic satisfaction, since we don’t actually hurt any more in the groin than anywhere else, but I don’t. I can’t hate him. He is still my Thirty —somewhere deep inside, twisted amongst all the wiring, surging in and out of Exotiqa...and someday I want to find him again.
I dart off south towards Bella Coola as the rain slows, the periodic trickling of water only reminding me that my time is running out. I have to stay determined on my goal. There will be more like me on Vancouver Island. Perhaps even others willing to fight. Staying in the forest will provide cover and room to hide in case of another encounter with a Tracker. Eventually, though, I will have to embark on the treeless paths into the small town.
The rushing and crashing sounds of H2O tell me a waterfall sits two and a half kilometers southeast. If I stay west of the falls I should approach Bella Coola in less than twenty minutes. Moving faster than I ever have, I feel every motion of my legs, every fiber pulling and releasing like ligaments in a human leg, fibers designed to make us stronger, better than our human counterparts.
I have to move quickly, because Thirty will be rebooting in three and a half minutes, and then he’ll go online to alert the other Trackers, all while chasing me. I’ll have three of them on my trail again soon, time estimation at nine minutes, after calculating the reboot, terrain, direction of origin, and five-kilometer radius all Tracker teams stay within. Trackers don’t return without their target. They will persist night and day until they’ve caught me...or killed me. I don’t know Russell Wagner’s orders. Does he want me destroyed?
I only met Russell once, while working in the factory portion of the corporation. The structure was the largest building I’d ever seen, though I’d only viewed a few. The ImaTech building has over one hundred floors, twenty-five of them underground. The factory sits on the far left side of the building when facing the entrance, and covers fifty thousand square feet.
Russell entered the factory with his dark copper hair parted to the left side and spectacles centered on his angular nose. Wearing black slacks and a crispy, ironed white shirt, he walked past me, only pausing briefly to look over my shoulder at the latest Flexbot models I assembled. That was on February 10th, of 2054—when Thirty was born.
My left knee squeaks when I run. I’ve dislodged something. I’ll have to find a Vicer on Vancouver Island to fix everything going wrong with me. Their procedures are illegal, mending and manufacturing Flexbot parts outside of the regulations and approval of ImaTech, but I’ve already broken rule #5— Allegiance to ImaTech. I’m on the run. Not many of us break the laws—not many of us can. We are hardwired to follow them, six core laws inside of my mainframe.
Allegiance to the Laws of the Nation We Serve
Allegiance to the Household We Serve.
Allegiance to Russell Wagner
Allegiance to Ken Quanta
Allegiance to ImaTech
Allegiance to Flexbot Preservation
Still, some of us do, and in the past year more and more of us have, which is how I removed my LNC without malfunctioning for violating the rules. Russell Wagner finds the rule-breakers fascinating, however insignificant the rule. Some Flexbots began by breaking curfew and then sneaking into each other’s quarters. Others would wander into the forbidden underground facility beneath the ImaTech building.
Not enough to cause alarm, but enough to drive Russell Wagner wild with curiosity. He’s studied consciousness in artificial intelligence for twenty years —for as long as he’s had his corporation ImaTech, and he’s produced various intelligent products during that time, but up until five years ago—with the release of his Flexbot designs—he’s never had a truer specimen for artificial intelligence.
I’ve never been hunted by him...until now. I push through a thicket of trees, ignoring my knee, pushing away from the river and toward the gushing sounds of the waterfall. I’ll have a visual of the town in ten minutes according to my internal metric calculations.
I won’t stop until I’ve entered Bella Coola. I can assimilate with the population and rest for a few hours. Maybe my knee will stop squeaking then. I will need to find scrap metal to wrap around my bare wrist, that would act as better protection than tape.
All at once, reverberating growls permeate the trees, surrounding me like the forests that envelop British Columbia, and the sound overloads my auditory sensory system. I cover my ears with my hands, racing forward as a few grizzly bears rise to their hind legs and paw at me as I pass in haste.
I duck as one bear throws his right arm in my direction and another tramples forward on all fours, thick brown fur like a woven basket heading my way. A third bear follows me until I leave the protective cover of the trees to step foot on the dirt road. They must smell my faux human skin. If they only knew.
Dust shuffles under my feet as I head into Bella Coola. A dock rests to my right near the long river I abandoned when I lost two Trackers earlier. Salty air blows over me and tickles my taste buds. My tongue can only distinguish three tastes: salty, sour, and sweet, but I have an encyclopedia of flavors in memory to identify by sight.
A medium-sized boat with two decks is being tended to by three large men clad in yellow or red raincoats. A white wooden building sits at the end of the dock. I hear planes in the distance landing on what must be the tiny airstrip there.
Log cabin homes decorate the lush green landscape which is graced with patches of Orchids or Heart-Leaf Arnica, Moccasin flowers, and False Lily of the Valley....purples, whites, yellows, and pinks fill my peripheral vision.
But I don’t have time to waste frolicking or as the humans say, “smelling the roses.” My physical sensors detect motion from my Tracker—likely Thirty—two minutes south of me, and the rain is clearing. I must disappear. I must hide.