Broken Parts

by Bill Bowler

part 1 of 2


MR-17, a maintenance and repair unit in the Service Department of Metropolitan Robots, was running diagnostics on a damaged A-86 female escort android brought in for service that morning. The A-86 was powered off and lay stretched out on a worktable. A lab technician holding a clipboard stood nearby as MR-17 reported the results of his scan,

“The shoulder ball joint is out of socket. The socket is cracked, and the elbow hinge has been bent backwards and broken. The complete upper arm assembly requires replacement.”

The technician wrote on the clipboard and turned to the owner, George Baxter. “What happened?”

“It tripped on the sidewalk.”

The technician scribbled another note on the work order.

MR-17 continued its report, “There are also four deep scratches in the facial plasto-derm coating, running from the corner of the left eye to the jaw line.”

The technician looked up at George.

“Yeah,” said George. “I noticed those scratches, too. I wonder how they got there.”

The technician punched a couple of numbers into a calculator.

“6,280 credits for the whole job, parts and labor included.”

“It’s under warranty,” said George, and he produced the sales receipt. “When can I pick it up?”

The technician led George out the swinging doors to see a cashier while MR-17 commenced the repair work. He disconnected the A-86 arm assembly, placed it gently aside, and proceeded to weld the crack in the shoulder ball socket. When that was accomplished, he turned to the arm assembly for closer examination. The hand and lower arm mechanism were in working order but the upper arm main pin was bent and the connecting hinge was compromised. MR-17 replaced the broken parts, reassembled the arm, and then popped the ball into the socket. The arm repairs were complete.

The last step in the procedure was essentially cosmetic: patching the four scratches which had torn through the plasto-derm across the lower left frontal quadrant of the facial covering. MR-17 carefully sealed and patched the ripped material and, when he had finished, the torn cheek looked almost new. There was just a faint seam, hardly noticeable, where the color of the patch did not quite match the original layer.

MR-17 powered on the A-86. Her eyes lit up.

“Where am I?”

“You’re in the Service Dept. of Metropolitan Robots. You were damaged in a fall and brought in for repair. Can you move your right arm?”

A-86 wiggled her fingers, bent her arm at the elbow, and rotated her shoulder, “Seems OK.”

“Good as new,” said MR-17, and he logged A-86 as job complete.

When George came back at 5:00 to pick up his android, the technician took him aside for a moment,

“You’ve got an expensive and beautifully crafted piece of machinery. Top of the line. But it’s not going to last if you don’t start taking better care of it.”

“Spare me the lecture,” George huffed.

“You’ve got to handle it more carefully.”

George glared at the technician; he was starting to fume.

A next door neighbor was sitting outside on his porch, reading the paper, when George pulled into the driveway and parked his car. The neighbor looked up as George got out of the car, opened the rear door, and pulled someone roughly out, apparently a woman. Curious, the neighbor watched as they walked around to the side door and saw it was just Baxter and his robot.

George unlocked the door, opened it, and shoved the robot in. The neighbor heard the sound of Baxter’s angry voice, then something smashed, then loud clatter like things falling. The neighbor stood up, not sure what to do, but George reappeared in the doorway, unhurt, and slammed the door shut. The neighbor sat back down and picked up the paper again.

The next day, the neighbor’s wife was out planting flowers in the beds when Baxter’s robot came out the side door carrying a garbage bag to the can. The robot was walking oddly, dragging one foot. Its eyes were glazed and patches of hair were missing. Baxter came out the door behind it.

“Good morning, Mr. Baxter,” said the neighbor’s wife.

“Good morning.”

“Lovely day today, isn’t it?”

George looked around, as if noticing for the first time, and nodded.

A-86 put the bag in the curbside trashcan and limped back into the house. Its right hip made a clicking noise each time it took a step.

“Your robot doesn’t seem to be working quite right,” remarked the neighbor’s wife.

“That heap of junk!” said George. “It’s always on the fritz. I’ve only had it six weeks and it never worked right since I bought it. Always something going wrong. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. And you wouldn’t believe how much these things cost! They charge an arm and a leg. It’s outrageous!”

The neighbor’s wife nodded sympathetically. George went back into the house and the neighbor resumed her planting. As she patted the soil around a daffodil bulb, she was startled to hear a loud bang and a cracking sound from inside Baxter’s house. She paused in her work to listen, and heard a dull thud.

“What on Earth?” she wondered, but things were quiet after that.

It was near closing the next day when George brought his A-86 back to Metropolitan Robots. The android’s walking function was severely impaired and a nasty grinding noise was heard from its right hip each time it took a step as it limped into the Service Dept.

The technician looked in disbelief at the damaged unit which had walked out of the Service Dept. in perfect condition two days earlier.

“What happened this time?”

“It fell down some stairs,” said George.

The technician didn’t buy it. He made a mental note to inform his supervisor.

The MR-17 maintenance robot lifted the A-86, rolled to the worktable, and placed the android gently down. MR-17 plugged a connector into the A-86 auxiliary input and ran a diagnostic program. The technician read the scan results and imagery on a screen at the end of the worktable.

The right hip assembly was cracked. On the right side of the torso, a circular area of plasto-derm was flattened and discolored as if from a blow from a blunt object. Underneath were two broken transverse supports in the midsection housing and internal leakage from torn lubricant tube connections. MR-17 also imaged a bald spot on the upper rear cranial housing where the syntho-hair had been torn out, damaging the internal spooling mechanism.

The technician studied MR-17’s report. His eyes narrowed and he turned to George with a grim expression.

George spoke first, “It hit a file cabinet at the foot of the stairs and landed on the concrete floor,” said George. “It was an accident.”

“Owning an android is a responsibility, sir. An A-86 requires the most careful handling and care. They are not built to withstand this kind of treatment.”

“What are you talking about?” said George, raising his voice. “You know what? I’m not satisfied with the shoddy work you’re doing on my robot. I had it serviced two days ago and it’s screwed up again.” He was shouting now, “For the prices you charge, I shouldn’t have to come back here for the next ten years!”

From his desk in the office, the Service Dept. Manager overheard the heated exchange between his technician and the customer. He came in, studied the report, and turned to George, “This equipment has been damaged through improper care and handling.”

“Maybe you sold me a defective unit?” said George, suddenly suspicious. “I shouldn’t be having all these problems with it.”

The technician took offense, “This android was manufactured to the highest standards. I inspected this unit myself, prior to packaging.”

“OK, OK,” said George. “Maybe they’re just not made to last...,” his voice trailed off.

“You’re looking at 9,500 credits for a new hip assembly, new transverse housing supports, new spooling mechanism, replacement syntho-hair and plasto-derm patching,” said the technician.

“It’s still under warranty,” said George.

“The warranty is void,” said the Service Manager. “This A-86 has not been properly handled. It has obviously been subjected to conditions for which it was never designed or intended and which are far beyond the limits specified in the operating manual.

“We can rebuild or replace the right hip assembly. It’s 8,500 credits for new parts and labor. Around 500 less if we just reinforce the cracked strut, but it won’t run like new. The syntho-hair is your call. It’s non-functional. If you want to postpone repair of the spooling unit and replacement hair and save a few credits, it’s up to you but it will look like hell.”

“Just reinforce the strut for now,” said George, getting angry now, “and do it right this time!”

The three men went out the door to see a cashier and MR-17 went to work. He opened up the housing, disattached the broken transverse supports, and installed new ones. He replaced the torn and leaking lubricant tubing, closed the housing, and expertly stitched the deep gashes in the plasto-derm.

There were no instructions to repair the broken spooling mechanism but, possibly due to a glitch in the maintenance software code, MR-17 opened the cranial housing and replaced the broken parts. MR-17’s failure to log the spool repair must also have been related to the buggy code.

The maintenance unit turned the A-86 back on. A-86 ran a self-test, achieved system equilibrium, and stood up, unsteadily, at first.

“Can you tell me how you fell?” asked MR-17.


Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2006 by Bill Bowler

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