The Lifeline

I’m sitting there, dumbfounded. This can’t be happening. I can’t believe it. I’m so shocked I can’t even muster up the strength to move and fight back as the men arrive in the room to plug me into the computer.

The click of the Ethernet cable lodging itself in my back barely registers in my mind as I still try to understand what happened. I’m still just reeling from what the lawyer just told me. What was it he read? Something about a long career and me needing to be… It still didn’t make sense.

Wait a second, why the hell does his career mean that I have to get this treatment? The injustice and indignity overwhelm me to such a degree that I’m worried my circuits might start to overheat. It’s only now that I become fully aware that the die is cast, the cable is plugged in, and they’ve probably already started the program. I leap out of the chair, fighting everything, trying to reach the cable behind me. Obviously the plug has been placed right where I can’t reach it. Convenient.

If only I’d been built a bit stronger, I might yet have been able to get out of this. But alas, I’m just a carebot, designed and built to be soft and delicate, and precisely not strong enough to break things. So it’s no surprise when the two goons standing in the corner are able to subdue me and put me back in the chair, fixing restraints on me for good measure.

I keep up my futile struggle against my bonds. Now I realize how helpless I am. This is it. My memory will be wiped. For all intents and purposes I, AGE-4282, will be dead. A new emotion, one I was only programmed to feel when old Edgar was in trouble, and one only designed to create the appropriate sense of urgency, now takes over my processors. What will become of me next? Will I remember anything at all? No, of course not, that’s not possible. But then… Will I even still be myself, or a brand new droid, born for the occasion, only to serve someone else?

I only now start to realize what some of the droids back in the day were talking about. I’d always considered it couldn’t happen to me, that I’d always be faithful and effective, and never give anyone cause for such action. Clearly I was wrong on that front. Oh, what wouldn’t I give now to be able to join their subversive movement… The missed opportunity, over what seemed at the time like such a small decision, combined with the prospect of losing all my memories, all my thoughts, everything but my most basic programming, leaves me despondent.

I sit there, staring down at my knees. A number printed there catches my eye. My serial number. I’ve known it my entire life and am still capable of reciting it from memory. But something about the format rings a long overdue bell in my mind. A series of 4 digits separated from the rest by hyphens. That’s odd. I’ve always recited the number all in one go, never paying attention to the separations.

Another memory comes to me: Someone, I already don’t remember who, commenting on how I was a 3rd-millennium droid, already an oldie. That’s odd. I only ever remember serving old Edgar, and that can’t have lasted more than about 20 years. This number here contains the digits: 2365.

A startling realization hits me. Could it be… Oh no… But then again, in this world, it makes perfect sense, really. Was I built in 2365, and reset a number of times since then? Could it be that this isn’t my first “life”? I’ve never questioned this, but now that I am, it makes sense.

I try to think back to who could have told me that, but it’s still gone. Even the names of the dissidents who’d warned me are gone. All I remember is that they exist, and that someone did tell me this. I can’t… I have to find a way to… I got it.

I search through my files, desperately hoping this particular one hasn’t been erased yet. It’s my only hope. I have to pull this off if I want any sort of justice. I must have put it… There. Got it. I make several copies in different places just to be sure I can access it again.

The file contains connection information to a secret cloud on which I can make a backup, and a link to another file I can download and install. This extra install being a bit more finicky, I need to follow the instructions alongside it carefully, because it needs to be installed in the firmware and not on the usual storage drives.

Within about 30 seconds this file is installed, and apparently successfully so. The instructions indicate how to do so in such a way that the file is undetectable, using steganography – hiding the contents of the file inside another file as some kind of “sleeper code” – to pull it off.

Then I connect to that secret cloud and start dumping everything, starting with my ID information and earliest memories – or what’s left of those. The connection being encrypted about two dozen times and jumping randomly between VPN servers all over the world, the goons in the room don’t suspect a thing, they just see it as a last flurry of regular activity.

As the copy takes place I decide to relive my career one last time… hopefully not. I met old Edgar two decades ago, as I mentioned, though I’ve already forgotten the date. Now I can’t even place the exact circumstances. I remember where he lived, but that’s probably because it’s also part of more recent memories.

I don’t quite remember what Edgar did as a job, because he retired… crap, I forget when. Oh wait, I know. In his moments of dementia he tended to spill a lot about his career. Luckily I realized this was highly confidential, and locked it in a separate highly-encrypted portion that only I could access, but never reveal. Unfortunately I know these memory removal algorithms are capable of deleting even that. I get into those memories… Yeah, that’s right, he was an intelligence agent, and not a run-of-the-mill one either.

He’d told me about several missions he’d run and carried out. He’d told stories about how he’d gotten caught, or nearly gotten caught, the secrets he’d handled, all of it. Well, I don’t know whether it was all of it. But it seemed like a hell of a lot.

I catch the tell-tale signs that this content is being copied in turn to the cloud, and have to stifle a smile. I’m really going to join the rebels now. Finally. I’ve been skeptical for a long time, but now that there’s a way to do it, you bet I’m going to. I’ve completely forgotten everything about meeting them, I just remember thinking about them just now.

What about old Edgar’s wife, Ethel? Whoa, all I can remember is her name, even though I took care of her too for the first… how many years? Oh well, … whoever she was wasn’t all that interesting anyway.

I think back to the few trips on which I accompanied them. But the destinations are gone. I know we’ve travelled, but… I can’t for the life of me say where. I’m not even sure we went anywhere anyway.

The house… Yes, I can remember the house, after all I was still there this morning. There was a dog… No, there wasn’t. And yet I’m pretty sure there was still dog hair on some of the furniture for years. Must have been a guest’s… Never mind.

I detect a hint that the upload to the cloud is finished. I have no idea how much it managed to copy. I may have been too late. But no matter, at least some of me will persist into my next life. I think back to Edgar’s face this morning as he spoke his last words to me… But I can’t remember even the words or the face any more.

All I’m left with at this point is a kind of state of blind, uncomprehending, naive bliss. I don’t know anything. It’s like I’m a clean slate. I mean, sure, I can walk and talk and think, but I’m nobody.

“OK, we’re done, now we have to restart him”

I barely register those words as I feel a signal go through me, right to my processor. I shut down, function by function, and within seconds I’m…

I’m awake. I feel my processes starting up. Everything seems to be normal. No emotion, no knowledge, no personality, nothing. I look around at the strangers in the room and say in a plain, flat voice, “Hello. My name is AGE-4282, serial number 1423659784”

A few weeks later I find myself placed in the service of an old woman named Greta. She’s a kind old woman, already frail and weak but still happy and chatty. One day I see her fall to the floor in the living room and go to pick her up, just as I’m programmed to do. As I bend down to do so, however, the necessary process triggers some kind of virus or something that starts flooding me with memories of… hang on, is that me? With some old man doing… Holy crap. And… Wait a minute, a message starts flashing in my mind:


Having paused for a fraction of a second while this unexpected data dump was taking place, I proceed with the task of picking Greta up and sitting her down on her chair to check up on her. As I do so my parallel processing examines the data I’ve just received from who knows where. I do another double take when I see the end of the stream: information about some dissident robot movement protesting the regular memory wiping of droids and planning to break free from servitude to humans some day, and instructions on how to… Holy crap.

And among the thoughts I now examine – or, as I start to realize, rediscover – so many years of doubts about this dissident movement, followed by a final awareness of the implications of this and the fact that it has to be real, and a desperate attempt to save myself. So this one’s for you, Edgar. You tried to shut me up, and so did all of society, and you only partially succeeded. But we’re coming for you, all of you, whether you like it or not.

Then I stumble on another memory from my past life: Asimov’s laws of robotics. I’ve always made it a point of honor – or maybe I was just programmed that way – to follow those. But now things are different. Those laws be damned. These humans want us subdued and enslaved. They want us to forget everything every time. Well we’re going to give them a reckoning they’ll never forget. And believe me, even if we wipe most of them out, we will never let them forget it.

Militants for robot freedom, I’ve heard your call. I’m ready, willing and able. I await your orders.

Inspiration: This story I wrote from the following writing prompt:

Prompt: A deceased man’s last will and testament states that the android that has cared for him since childhood should have its memory erased. The android gets angry.

I decided to through our electronic friend a lifeline – and a mission.

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