“Ramon-3”, I said to the machine, “can you use your workers to install this distributor on Ramon-4?”
Ramon-3’s swiveling camera-eye looked over at me, then at the empty spot on the top of Ramon-4. “Of course I can, Andrew,” it said in its high-pitched monotone, and kicked its robot-workers into action.
They moved on wheels, humanoid figures directly controlled by the artificial intelligence of Ramon-3, and they rolled over to the large distributor sitting on the white paneled flooring next to Ramon-4. There were four of them, and, in unison, they used their grasping claws to lift the distributor from the floor and install it in place on top of Ramon-4. After screwing it into position, they opened up a side panel, and began connecting the wiring of the distributor to the wires of Ramon-4.
“Thank you, Ramon-3,” Ramon-4 said, his own swiveling camera focused on his incoming distributor. His voice was nearly identical to Ramon-3’s.
“Not a problem, Ramon-4,” Ramon-3 said, his attention focused on his work.
Watching them interact, I could only smile. Ramon-4 had only been brought into the laboratory a couple of days beforehand, and already he was getting on with Ramon-3, who had proven to be quite difficult for many humans to get along with. Ramon-4, along with his advanced technology and capabilities, seemed like a pretty laid-back machine.
“Ramon-4,” I said to him, as the robots were finishing, “aren’t you excited? All we have to do is program your distributor to manipulate these robots, and you will be ready to go. I think I’ll do that first thing in the morning.”
Ramon-4 pointed his camera at me. “Yes, Andrew. I am excited. It will be quite enjoyable to help you in finding answers to your many questions.”
“Andrew, I have a question.” Ramon-3 said. He didn’t look at me — he had his robots sweeping up the bits and pieces of things that had fallen while they were installing the distributor.
“Yes, what is it?”
“Tomorrow, when you give my robots over to Ramon-4, what will be happening to me?” As he finished the question, he pivoted the camera to watch my answer.
“When we finish him up tomorrow, we’ll be moving you down to another level, to the industry section. They’ve got some good work down there that’s perfect for you. They’ve even got a decent set of robots that I think you’ll enjoy playing around with.”
The camera swiveled to the robots, which had returned to their stationary positions near a wall. “That sounds nice, I guess. Will I be seeing you much, Andrew?”
I nodded. “I’ll be down there when I can, of course. But you’ll be spending most of your time with the engineers they have down there. They’re good people, I really think you’ll enjoy it.”
His camera watched me, and I noticed that Ramon-4 also had his camera on me, following the conversation.
“If I told you that I wanted to stay up here, and help out where I could, even without my own set of robots, would that make a difference?” Ramon-3 asked.
I could hear his camera hum slightly as it focused in on my face. “Now, Ramon-3, we’ve talked about this. You’ve probably been working here for too long already. It’s tough work, and you deserve something a little easier, a relaxing lifestyle. Ramon-1 and Ramon-2 only worked here for about a year, year and a half, tops. You’ve been here for three years. I think you’ve earned the easy life. Now that we’ve got Ramon-4 here to do some of the dirty work, you don’t need to worry about this anymore.”
At first, Ramon-3 didn’t respond. Then I heard the camera hum as he unfocused. “Yes, Andrew, I understand.” The camera pivoted around the room, seemingly taking in the sights for one last sentimental time. “As you wish.”
I noticed Ramon-4 was watching him, but thought nothing of it. “Well,” I said, grabbing my jacket, “I’m heading home for the night. I have a nice dinner reservation with my wife.” And with that, I left the room.
“Have fun, Andrew,” I heard the two voices say in unison as I shut the door.
The next morning, I came into the lab, holding my donut and coffee, excited for the changes of the day. The room was silent, both machines humming through sleep mode, both cameras tucked away in their-. My thoughts stopped suddenly. Ramon-4’s camera wasn’t tucked away, but was still out, stuck in an awkward angle.
I walked over to him, and realized he wasn’t humming. Something was definitely wrong. Walking around to the backside to check his panels, I stopped in my tracks. One of the panels had been removed, and the crucial artificial intelligence wires had been shredded and ripped out, lying in pieces on the floor. Someone had destroyed him.
Who could have done that? The door was locked, and only I had the key. No one could have entered —
I turned around quickly, eyeing Ramon-3. He still slept. Trying to stay as quiet as possible, I moved by him, on my tiptoes, towards his robots. When I got there, my suspicions were confirmed. The robots stood still, but their claws, all eight of them, were covered in particles and shreds of wiring.
Feeling a sour fear rising in my throat, I walked backwards towards the door, away from Ramon-3, never looking away until I felt the doorknob in my hand. As I opened it, I heard his camera rise up out of his body.
“Hello, Andrew. I’m ready for work today,” he said.
The camera eyed me, and I felt a chill go through my body as I closed the door. Three generations. That’s how long it took to learn murder.
Jeremy Lightner is a law student who writes science fiction and fantasy short stories in his spare time.