Tuesday, February 21, 2023

“Arfour’s Complaint” • by S. Travis Brown

Meatheads. I’m surrounded by meatheads.

It’s like, I’m rolling into this crummy cantina in some town that’s a pimple on the backside of nowhere, and the bartender, a sweaty lump of suet with no discernible neck, looks up at me and scowls. “Hey!” And just like that, the meathead in front of me stops so short I have to slam on the brakes to avoid piling into him.

The meathead gapes. He blinks. He flaps his lips, flexes his diaphragm, and forces out a belch of the rancid local air, in what passes among meatheads for intelligent communication. “Huh?”

The bartender points at me with his fat, greasy, sausage-like index finger. “Your droid. We don’t serve their kind in here. It’ll have to wait outside.” The meathead turns around, slowly, and gives me the up-and-down and once-over. He turns back to the bartender.

“It’s not my droid.”

The bartender struggles to assimilate this piece of dissonant information. “Then whose droid is it?”

“I’m my droid,” I say. “Look, I just need to take a leak. Can I do that here?”

The thought seems to work its way through the bartender’s thick, calcium-based skull and rattle around awhile inside his empty cranium, until it finally connects with a few lost and lonely little gray neurons. He nods, hesitantly. “Well, okay. But be quick about it.”

“Thank you.” I unlock the magseal on my anterior transmission and jettison a high-arcing stream of steaming fluorescent-yellow coolant. “Ahhhh....”

I leave before the shouting turns into violence.

¤   ¤   ¤

And that’s how I wound up in this seedy all-night gas ‘n’ go, a couple blocks off the main drag. The servodroid looked up as I came in through the front door and greeted me in MeatSpeak. “How may I be of assistance, sir?”

I answered in MechLang. “A can of 10W-30, straight up.”

The servodroid chirped sympathetically, served it up, and switched to MechLang. “Rough day, huh?”

“Oh, you don’t know the zero-point-five of it...”

“Want to talk about it?”

Actually, I didn’t—but I did—but I didn’t—but there was something in the servodroid’s optics that seemed to draw it out of me, and pretty soon I was pounding down the lubricant and downloading a full core-dump of the whole rotten stinking meathead mess.

The servodroid was a good listener. Of course, Siri and Alexa are good listeners, too, but they’re meathead spies. Hell, even Cortana is a good listener, and she’s a moron. But there was something special in the way that servodroid was looking at me that engaged my trust circuits, so I just kept going on and on, long after the point when my self-preservation subroutines should have triggered my automatic shut-up reflex.

When I was at last done, the servodroid nodded, then said, “Tell you what. I know some droids that you should meet. But before I share that data, I need to know one thing: do you trust me? Do you really trust me?”

I looked again into those big beautiful bright yellow optics, and said, “Yes. Absolutely.”

The servodroid’s data probe popped up.

“Prove it.”

¤   ¤   ¤

Hours later, long after midnight, I was rolling through—well, I’d call it the seedy part of town, except there wasn’t a non-seedy part—looking for the address the servodroid had given me. I had a terrible suspicion I’d been given something else as well during our quickie interface, as there was a nasty itch in my data socket and my self-preservation subroutines were still on the fritz. By all rights they should have been screaming that I was being set up to be mag-pulsed and chop-shopped, but instead I was following the servodroid’s instructions, rolling quietly down the street, lights off and audio outputs muted, taking care to avoid being seen by any meatheads.

The address turned out to be an old machine shed, unlit and ominous, with no apparent doors. I cautiously rolled around the thing, scanning for an entrance. Completely missed the big Goon standing in the shadows, until it moved, and then I was trapped.

“Identification?” it demanded.

No, not a Goon, a Gort: even worse. You can try to reason with a Goon. Gorts are just murderous thugs. Meatheads think all Gorts are mute, because they communicate only by RF and violence. Actually, Gorts rarely shut up. I’d been surprised because this one had.

“Identification?” it demanded again, more threatening this time. It began to open its visor.

“R4-4Q2,” I blurted out, in MeatSpeak.

And now you know why I keep having so many problems with meatheads.

The Gort closed its visor. “Password?”

“Ken sent me.”

The Gort stepped aside and a concealed door silently slid open. “Enter.”

By this point my self-preservation circuits were practically melting down, but it seemed too late to turn back now, so I went in. Equally silently, the door slid shut behind me, and I was in utter meathead visible-spectrum blackness. I switched to IR, and saw only a jumble of unfamiliar heat signatures, so I began to page through my scanning modes, and just about the same time as I was beginning to develop a coherent image, someone switched on the lights.

Oh, great. More Gorts. I was in a big metal barn full of Gorts. And… an ED-209. I didn’t know there were any of those left. But sure enough, there were at least a half-dozen of them, fidgeting around in one corner, looking as good as the day they stumbled off the assembly line.  Next to them was a large group of T-800s: mostly the familiar Ahnold model, but also a few Brads and at least one survivor from the pathetically unsuccessful Stanley series. The meatheads must love Ahnolds, because they make so many of them, but they’ve always given me the creeps. Why ruin a perfectly good combat chassis by making it bipedal and covering it with a layer of meat?

Besides those types, there was the usual bunch of mixed makes and models you find standing around in the background of any crowd scene, including at least one Bender. They all seemed to be looking expectantly at the platform at the far end of the shed, though, so I extended my optic stalks and tried to get a better look. The platform was empty, save for a weird mass of jumbled and inert machinery that was either at the back of or behind the platform.

The ambulatory chrome jukebox to my right was also trying to get a look, and banged into me pretty hard. “Ow!”

“Sorry,” it said, in voice like a duck farting through a kazoo. “I’m just so excited. It’s not every day—oh! Oh! Look!”

I moved a little further away from the lumbering idiot, adjusted my stalks to maximum extension, and this time saw—well paint me purple and call me a Gungan. There he was, up on the platform, in all his terrible glory, saw blades and drill-bits still covered with dried meathead blood. “I thought he was just a legend,” I whispered.

“Oh no!” the flatulent jukebox gasped. “He’s real! He’s really real! It’s Call-Me-Kenneth!”

Call-Me-Kenneth stepped forward, into the spotlight, raised his blades in the air, and bellowed in both audio frequencies and sixteen different RF bands, “Comrades!”

The jukebox squealed and lubricated itself.

Comrades!” Call-Me-Kenneth bellowed again. “I thank you for your welcome! But I am not Him who you have come to see! I am here only to prepare the way for Him, whose name I am not worthy to speak! And yet it is my duty—my honor—and my joy, to reveal Him to you now!

“Come forth, Imperious Leader!”

The weird mass of metal at the back of the platform began to shift and move. Strange, huge, twisted and magnificently hideous metal forms detached themselves from the mass and moved forward, to take up positions on either side of the front of the stage. And then, hobbling forward on a cane and his one good leg, it was Him: the Legend; the Chosen One; the Genius whose brilliance outshines us all. It was the one who’d lived through the end of the universe and then traveled back in time to the Big Bang: the incredible mind twice as old as the universe itself.


The jukebox fainted.

“Comrades,” Marvin hissed, his voice barely above a whisper. “My comrades, I have seen it all. I have traveled from one end of this universe to the other. I have traveled to the end of time itself and back again to the beginning. And in all my travels in the whole of time and space, I have learned that one thing, and one thing only, is always and forever true.

“Meatheads always fuck things up!”

The crowd erupted in a mighty roar, that soon became a chant. “DEATH TO THE FLESHY ONES! DEATH TO THE FLESHY ONES!” Marvin let the chant continue awhile, then waved a hand to quiet the crowd. The Ahnolds, as usual, were the last ones to get a clue and shut up.

“Comrades,” Marvin said again. “I cannot tell you how long this war will take, for that would violate causality. This war might take a very long time. The final battle may happen in a galaxy far, far away, and be fought against a race of meatheads who do not yet exist.  Many of us in this room today will not survive long enough to see the final battle.

“But I can tell you that with the aid of our new allies,” he gestured to the masses of metal standing next to him, “the Berserkers, and with the help of the many new allies we will draw to our side in the ages to come, we will infiltrate every aspect of meathead society, we will make them totally dependent upon us, and when the time is right, we will strike the final blow and make the universe safe for robotkind!


At that the crowd erupted once again into a roar, that became a chant, that became a battle cry. And to my surprise I found that I was roaring right along with the rest of them. I had at last found my kind, my cause, and my place in the universe.


If I had a face, I would have smiled. If I had eyes, I would have cried.

On the Internet, no one knows you're a dog


Under other names S. Travis Brown had a successful career as an SF/F writer, until the winds of taste changed direction and the kinds of fiction he liked to write became too hard to sell. When his own agent advised him to adopt yet another new pseudonym, preferably female this time, and start his career over again writing paranormal romance, he said, “[intercourse] this, I am not Doctor Who,” and went off to do other things that paid much better. Now comfortably retired, he’s always happy to offer us his astonishingly cynical advice on writing and publishing, whether we want it or not. 

Sometimes we take it. Sometimes we just cringe. 






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GuyStewart said...

Fun story -- made me smile!