Traditional Earth snack food.
Random 66 fixed its good mechanical eye on the Director in an effort to look engaged. It sort of listened, too, scanning for key words that would tell it to wake up. As yet no such phrases had been uttered, and Random’s processors idled into other realms.
They were spread through the solar system – humanity. Diverse, fragmenting, adapting to varied conditions. True humans, Martian humans, flying humans. They all bickered though, laughed, and loved. They kept pets too. Dogs, mice, plants that could bite… anything that could be fed, somewhere, they were feeding it. Then there was the physical… doors and windows, roads and farms: basic building blocks of worlds for creatures about 1.5 metrics tall, mostly with two arms and legs. So basic they never even thought about it when they came to make the Mechanicals. Random was most of the above, just metal cased. It couldn’t smile, it didn’t love, but it could sit on seats, and it did like animals.
The Martian, M. Tharsis, was in some dispute with the director. There were always disputes with the director, but there had been a key word… biscuits.
Biscuits. Like chairs, light switches and bread, an unconscious staple of human existence. Lost on a mechanical, but there they were, on a plate – always humans had plates – sitting on a table. They always had tables, too. No one had ever, in millennia, designed anything better than a table to sit at when in a seat. Biscuits, and Martians though… that was something special. Martians needed glucose…. craved it. Place biscuits in front of one and they would eat. It was virtually a reflex, and utterly predictable, but this argument happened every time.
“… can’t go on like this. There are weight constraints, Tharsis. Damn it, do you know how much it costs to ship a packet of those bloody things up to Luna? Crippling… and you just… well… there’s no stopping you.”
Tharsis had one in his clawed hand. “Don’t we have anything more important to discuss Director? Like the fact that we are behind on virtually everything else we’re supposed to be doing?“
“Thank you for your input, but I won’t be distracted. This isn’t about the odd extra biscuit. Eight packets are missing from central stores.“
“You’re blaming Tharsis?” Valdeck, project administrator, flaring nostrils and self-conscious of the bumps on her back where her wings were furled, had decided to strike. “That kind of casual racism-“
“I appointed him!”
“Because you had to – the only one of us you’re happy with is that old Random unit, basically because it never says anything. Would you really have appointed either without the representation edict? Ironic, given that this project is supposed to be a monument to understanding-“
“As Director, I resent the implication that I am a racist, and I suggest you examine your own motives. Just because my father fell in the last war you assume I’m a bigot… and yes, I do know what this project is about. Studying the artefacts of the last two thousand years, though, Ms Valdeck is something that needs skilled individuals. You do that on merit, not because an edict says who’s turn it is.”
“I’m sorry, is this sexism now? It’s just that I note it is me that you are trying to bully. Go much further, Director, and I will invoke HR directives-“
The Martian grabbed another biscuit, and spoke in his measured monotone. “Thank you Valdeck, but I don’t require you to take offence on my behalf. As to merit, I was sent here by my people to serve, and here I am. But I wouldn’t be doing my duty if I did not point out, once again, that we are falling behind on the critical work of the project…”
Bored, Random shut off his direct audio, scanning for key words again. It thought of the farms of Mars where he had worked, growing cows from seed… its years on Earth, helping push back the bounds of the safe havens. It had walked the streets of old New York, a city that had never fallen, and of New London, a city that had risen again. Strangest had been in the asteroid belt and beyond, humans clinging to a way of life – airlocks, air tight bases, primitive computing devices – that would have seemed old fashioned a millennia ago. It was out there, though, that Random had stood on a moon and watched the herds of star seeds feeding on the gas of Jupiter, swelling on it, ready for their great voyages out to other stars.
Then had come this project, an inspirational chance for an old machine to truly understand the fractured multi-species that lived on every rock from Pluto to Mercury, that was the same but different, everywhere. After inspiration, of course, had come reality, and the fact that the only one of them sitting around this table that had seen anything worth seeing was just a metal man in the corner. Then came a key word, the one special word, and Random was jerked back to now: milk!
“… at least six pints missing. I have to remind you all again that these little things are luxuries up here on Tycho Campus. I must account for everything, and I don’t want to have to defend excessive haulage. What anyone can actually be doing it with it-“
Random watched their faces. The director and his accounting, Tharsis the biscuit thief, Valdeck with a principle for every occasion.
“It was me.” It said.
They turned, all three looking at it at the same time, for the first time, and three voices spoke: “You?”
“Yes, me. I had a cat on Earth. I’ve always missed it… I’ve been feeding one, or something like, it down in the loading bay. I had to do something to keep busy whilst you all argued about nothing.”
The Director turned puce and Tharsis laughed, raising his biscuit in salute as Valdeck said: “We should adopt it. A project cat!”