Where Secrets Lie with the Dead
By @S F Brooke
The factory was bustling with activity every single day, every single minute, every single second of the year. The workers had plain faces, brought down with long hours and minimal pay, as they pieced together the perfect orders. Years spent in neon yellow vests working away to created F.R.I.E.N.D.s for other people. The robots, droids, freaks, whatever one wanted to call them were made bit by bit per order across the globe. Thousands of F.R.I.E.N.D.S were made in a day and sent in coffin-shaped boxes to their home address awaiting a life as their humans perfect and unchanging best friend.
The bots, F.R.I.E.N.D., which stood for Factory Replicated Incipient Ensembled Non-natural Droids were programmed to be blank in the beginning. As an order came in, from Japan, the US, Canada, Iraq, it didn’t matter but for a few payments of a hundred dollars, one could program the only friend they’d ever need. The person ordering could specify anything they wanted. From height to race to religion, to favorite color and movie or book. Some even went so far as to pick and choose each quality of the robots’ personalities and favorite places to eat. The bots were synthetic enough that it was nearly impossible to differentiate between a F.R.I.E.N.D. and a human. The only difference was the serial code on the inside of their right elbow, but even then some humans tattooed the same serial numbers to match their best F.R.I.E.N.D.
As a mechanic and engineer, Tilly saw her fair share of F.R.I.E.N.D.s and their human partners. She would come to work intent on fixing together parts needed for certain bots and their requests. In a society where everything had to be perfect and technology was on the rise, it was rare to see a human-to-human interaction. Rarer still to see humans actually friends to one another. Almost everyone had a F.R.I.E.N.D. now and days, the ones who didn’t were left with the rocky relationship that was friendship with imperfect humans and often ridiculed. Those with enough money — the rich and the famous — bought a gaggle of F.R.I.E.N.D.s and the robots were their entourage. Tilly had seen some F.R.I.E.N.D. returned, the bots dejected and in a code Blue which meant they were the equivalent of depressed at not meeting their human’s standard of a good F.R.I.E.N.D. It killed Tilly’s heart to scrape those bots, their uniqueness was also their downfall. No one else wanted a specific F.R.I.E.N.D. that had settings that were not their preference. What people often forgot about the F.R.I.E.N.D.s was that they were programmed to emit human emotions and feelings as well as to think in their set capacity. However, most thought the F.R.I.E.N.D. was a plaything to be discarded with their setting were out of date. The ones that were returned were often scrapped, their parts used to build other droids. Tilly was called to houses and mansions that needed their F.R.I.E.N.D. fixed and the mechanic tried her best to ensure that she didn’t need to scrape a robot with human emotions that were so vastly complex.
After her shift, Tilly would come home with realistic F.R.I.E.N.D. parts, arms of many colors, a few eyeballs rolling in her pockets, and grease in her hair with smears on her cheeks. She’d flick on the light and smiled as she headed to the garage of her small apartment, descending the steps as her calico cat, Coby, ran down past her. The mechanic would place the parts that were extras on her worktable, the likeness of actual body parts would have gotten her accused of several accounts of murder if not for the serial number on the parts for the robots. Putting her welding goggles on her face, on top of her yellow square glasses, she would spend the next few hours tinkering and trying to work on projects.
A hand that was missing skin would land on her shoulder at the same time that Tilly’s stomach would growl. Looking up with a squint, Tilly would squint up at her F.R.I.E.N.D. The bot was old, Tilly’s from when she was but six years old. Twenty-three years later Tilly had never had the heart to ask her parents to get rid of her F.R.I.E.N.D. After all, it was the only one Tilly had ever had. Most of Tilly’s work had been trying to get an upgrade for her bot, TWGF-18, but it was hard as there weren’t upgrades available. Most humans just scrapped the F.R.I.E.N.D. and made a new one.
TWGF-18 smiled as she set to tray of Tilly’s childhood snack on the table. “How was school today, Tilly?” The bot asked as TWGF-18 kissed the girl’s forehead and ran her one skinless hand through the blonde locks of Tilly’s ponytail.
Tilly ate some of the crackers with peanut butter and smiled. Since TWGF-18 was so old, Tilly’s school had changed to work in reality, but to the bot, it was still school. “It was good, T.” Tilly suddenly remembered and reached for a spare part, “Oh, I got you a hand today!” She said with an excited expression. “It’s near your same skin tone so I can attach it today and then both of your hands will have actually fingers and not metal.”
TWGF-18 nodded, her blue orbs trying to hide the rush of happy emotions that Tilly’s words had made her feel. She moved to sit in the chair that Tilly had designated as hers and Tilly worked to reattach a hand to the rest of the bot’s arm, the skin tone matching perfectly with TWGF-18’s caramel. “It’s perfect Tilly!” The F.R.I.E.N.D. squealed as a six-year-old would about something shiny and pretty.
Tilly grinned as she sat back and admired her work. The hand blended seamlessly with the rest of TWGF-18’s arm and the bot finally looked like a human again. There were a few parts, internally, that were different from the present F.R.I.E.N.D. but Tilly loved this robot as if it was her sister, then her best friend, then as a mother figure. “Would you like me to work on the chip? I think I finally got it.” Tilly asked, waving a hand to the back of TWGF-18’s neck.
TWGF-18 gave her consent, which was now a rare thing among the factory settings. The F.R.I.E.N.D.s were turning more into slaves by people thinking they could make the perfect friend and be fine than to understand that a fact of a good and wonderful friendship was free will. It was another thing that Tilly hated about her job but the parts that she needed for TWGF-18 were more important to get than Tilly’s discomfort.
“Do you think it will work, Tilly?” Came TWGF-18’s voice, once again showing that the robots could have emotions the same as any human on the planet.
Tilly took a deep breath as she opened the silver panel after lifting the skin by the seem. “I hope so, I want to give you the same freedom that I have.” She waved the small box of wires and screws and small motherboards. “With this…I’m hoping you can be free from your settings.”
Those blasted settings. Those settings made TWGF-18 stuck with the thought process and emotions of a six-year-old little girl. TWGF-18 was still enamored with horses and dolls and the color pink like Tilly was when she was six. As Tilly grew so did TWGF-18, but at a slower rate with only a select array of emotions and feelings that the bot could feel because she had meant to be perfect to a six-year-old. And she was! The F.R.I.E.N.D. was exactly what Tilly had needed and had become the little girl’s closest confidant. The only thing was her F.R.I.E.N.D. was left in the past as Tilly continuously grew in the future and with different likes and different interests that TWGF-18 was unable to experience. Tilly was lost in her thoughts as she worked, connecting nerves and wires that would hopefully fulfill the dream that Tilly had had when she was a teenager. The long-awaited moment was finally here as an engineer put in the final screw. TWGF-18 made an odd sound as Tilly closed her panel. The engineer prayed that it had worked as she turned her best F.R.I.E.N.D. around on the chair.
“TWGF-18? How are you feeling?” Tilly asked her F.R.I.E.N.D.
The bot blinked for a moment, her eyes absorbing what she was seeing in front of her. Looking at the plate of peanut butter crackers that the two of them had always shared together, the robot stuck her finger into the brownish sticky paste and tasted it. After a moment the F.R.I.E.N.D. smiled and said, “I do not like peanut butter.”
Tilly released a triumphant sound and grinned so big that her cheeks her as she pulled her F.R.I.E.N.D. into a hug that the other gratefully returned.
“I also don’t like pink anymore,” The bot said with such seriousness that Tilly laughed loudly. Her F.R.I.E.N.D. was free. Free to think, to act, to feel, to be.
TWGF-18 grinned as she stood up and looked around at everything in a new light, her clothes, her hair, her home. She had unlimited emotions and actions she could now enjoy thanks to Tilly, her friend from the beginning.
The robot watched as Tilly came towards her, “I can’t wait to show you so many things. So many things to enjoy,” The mechanic laughed, “Or to not enjoy.” Raising a hand to shake, Tilly asked the bot one final question. One of ultimate freedom. “TWGF-18, would you like a name? One of your choosing?”
TWGF-18 nodded as moisture filled her eyes. A name meant she was unique, that she was real, and couldn’t just be discarded into the trash pile. A name meant she was free from her settings. A name meant the robot was not a slave under her human’s orders or whims, a name meant TWGF-18 could be friends with Tilly without the obligation. “What about the name Destiny?” For she had taken her own into her own hands now.
Tilly smiled as they shook hands. “It’s such a pleasure to meet you, Destiny.” Tilly had done it, given her F.R.I.E.N.D. the choice to not be perfect. Humans never were anyway. Tilly couldn’t help but think that so many of the F.R.I.E.N.D. that humanity ordered were missing that part that would forever make them separate from humans. Choice. Freewill. Mistakes. The robots were programmed to be perfect, always. Humanity was anything but perfect and that’s what made life worth living. By being imperfect with a F.R.I.E.N.D. by one’s side.
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