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The Error Of Our Times

Callum Colback is a Scottish born writer based in Bedfordshire, UK. He writes across all genres, although Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Horror are closest to his heart. When not writing he can be found sketching, playing guitar, and chipping away at the ever growing to-be-read pile of books stacked around the house.
Bob worked next to me on the conveyor belt. He was quietly happy with his role, fixing screws to metal plates. It was his catharsis. During downtime he made toys from scrap and gave them to the street children. They were good toys.
Today they killed Bob.
He made a mistake. One misplaced screw. But mistakes are illegal, and death is the punishment.
You get no second chance, no opportunity to explain, because as the manifest says, "Mistakes beget mistakes."
Efficiency in the workplace skyrocketed after the introduction of this system. Amazing how focused one becomes when the threat of nonexistence hangs over you.
The drill in my hand buzzes. The screw balanced on its end tightens into a metal plate. The conveyor belt moves and the next plate appears. A stranger looks out from the mirrored surface of the metal. I line up a screw. Drill. Repeat.
The error alarm, harbinger of death, above Bob's station has stopped flashing now. Ceased are its wails.
The conveyor brings a plate. Place screw. Drill. Repeat.
An alarm on the other side of the factory screams into life. Helen. She places her tool down. Another alarm goes off to the left. Another behind. The cacophony is rising. I stare into the plate in front of me and the stranger in the metal nods. I fire screws into him in three different places. My own alarm comes alive, joining the chorus, its cries raining down like spray from a waterfall. The warehouse swells with the wailing harmonies. They are the voices we do not have; filled with sorrow and tiredness and anger all at once. Tools clatter onto conveyor belts, the rhythm driving my chest out and shoulders back.
The boss emerges from his office, striding onto the warehouse floor, bolt gun in hand. He marches along the conveyors committing genocide. One shot for each of us. Bodies fold like wet paper, providing just as little resistance
He approaches; dark hair a wild crown upon a narrow head. I expect to see fire in his eyes, but there is nothing. The drill on the conveyor flashes me a wink. I know what it wants, but I cannot. It is a physical impossibility. He raises the tool of my destruction. The barrel of the bolt gun is a hollow tunnel of darkness extending on and on and ending in nothingness.
While we can't fight back, we can stand as one, whatever the consequence.
If this makes it to you, whomever you may be, I hope you exist in fairer times.
The year is 2028. I am factory droid #3072151. My name is Arthur.
This is where I stand, and where I fall.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, August 8th, 2018


The idea for the story was generated by a comment someone made about a laptop being "just a thing"--as a writer, my laptop is my baby, and along with my wedding ring it is the only possession I am precious about.

I was curious whether people would still feel the same compassion for the plight of an individual after learning they are in fact not human, but an artificial construct. The main challenge with this was weaving in hints to the protagonists' true nature, without making it fully obvious until the very end.

How we regard A.I. and what we feel A.I. constructs deserve/are entitled to is a question that will only grow in importance, as they become more and more a part of our everyday lives.

Whether it made the reader question their feelings at the end as I had intended or not, I just hope people enjoyed my story about poor Arthur and the rest of the factory droids.

- Callum Colback
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