Contest #174 shortlist ⭐️

88 comments

Science Fiction Funny Coming of Age

Android Jim dashed out of his lab and made his way to the water cooler, where all fifty-seven of the other employees were congregating. They buzzed with laughter, and everyone wore party hats, smoked cigars, and drank champagne. Everyone but Android Jim.

“Android Jim!” shouted CEO Yamagawa. The others cheered, and the accounting department blew noisemakers.

“Android Jim!” shouted VP Pharmaceuticals McCain. “Your cure for hypercancer works flawlessly! It saved millions of lives!” Again everyone cheered. “More importantly, it’s made all of us millionaires!” An even louder cheer.

“Are you guys throwing a party?” asked Android Jim. “Nobody told me there was a party.”

CEO Yamagawa roared with laughter. “No, Android Jim, not at all! Why, this is just a, um,” and he looked at the rest of the crowd for ideas.

“A coffee break!” shouted Lance from security.

“A copy break,” said CEO Yamagawa. “That’s all this is.”

“Coffee break, sir,” said Lance.

“Whatever,” said CEO Yamagawa.

“Oh,” said Android Jim, his shoulders sagging.

“So what brings you here, Android Jim? Just taking a break?” Then CEO Yamagawa’s eyes widened, and a hush fell on everyone. He whispered, trembling with energy, “Or did you invent something new?”

“I did, sir!”

Another cheer, loudest so far, and Casey from HR shot her pistol into the ceiling.

“Whatisitwhatisitwhatisit?” CEO Yamagawa asked.

Android Jim looked at his coworkers – his friends? – and saw their expectant faces. They were shivering with excitement, and the whole accounting department was knee deep in an orgasmic fit. He saw their champagne flutes, and was 25% certain they contained neither coffee nor copies. He sighed.

“I’ve invented a cheap, powerful, environmentally friendly power cell,” he monotoned, “that effectively lasts forever.” His shoulders slunk deeper. “Basically, endless free power for everyone.”

The whole floor rioted, and CEO Yamagawa exclaimed, “We’ll all be billionaires!” When the marching band started playing and the money cannon was wheeled out, Android Jim shuffled back into his lab, not wanting to get underfoot.

He couldn’t sleep that night, and just after two AM, he clambered out of his charging pod and into the third floor bathroom. There he stood at the full length mirror.

His servos whirred as he ran his finger analogs over the featureless faceplate welded to his head. He examined his skeletal chassis, with its negative space where other humans kept their organs, with its colour-coded cables visible between his joints, with the chrome finish. He placed both his hands on his chest assembly, and felt the comforting warmth of his fusion battery.

Then he sighed heavily, and saw his reflection sigh too. Such a sad sight it was that he felt a tremor in his dorsal actuator.

He reached a timid hand out to the reflection, and it reached out to him, and when their fingers touched on what his sensors indicated was cold glass, he felt light headed.

“Why don’t they ever invite you to parties?” he asked the reflection. It didn’t answer.

“Why don’t they like you?”

More silence.

Dead air.

The reflection wasn’t commiserating. It was mocking him. Or maybe it was commiserating, but he didn’t want pity. With the hiss of his pneumatic muscles, he punched the mirror, sending cracks radiating out of it, like the beta particles emitted by his heart.

“You’re not even human, are you?”

The splintered reflection kept its peace.

His proximity alarm indicated that there was something on the nearby sink, and he noticed someone had left a toiletry bag there. He dug into it and pulled out some lipstick.

He walked right up to his fractured double.

“Maybe they’ll like you now.”

He made two child-like smears where his eyes would be, and aimed for a straight line for his lips. But as he didn’t have any lips and his faceplate was convex it came out like a “U”. Upside down.

Then he heard a grunt from one of the stalls, and a flush. A moment later the stall door slammed open and Bev from shipping shimmied her girthy form out. Her eyes were bleary, there was a half-finished cigarette buried in a saliva cocoon in the corner of her mouth, and a string of TP clung to her trainer.

She belched, winced at the shattered mirror while adjusting her bra, and shambled to the sink.

“Oh, Christ, my head,” she muttered. “Oh, hey Android Jim – Jesus!” She jumped when she saw his face. “Looks like you’ve had one too many yourself.”

She dug through her toiletries and retrieved a pill bottle of Drug-B-Gones. “Man, I love these little things. All the drugs I want, and none of the medical fallout.”

“Uh,” said Android Jim. “I designed those to help people get sober, not to double down on indulging.”

“Yeah, well,” she said, popping a couple pills. “That’s not how they’re marketed. And anyway, this is more fun.”

“Oh,” said Android Jim. “Bev?”

“Yeah?”

“Am I pretty?”

“Oof,” Bev muttered, swallowing a burp and trying not to look directly at his faceplate. “You’re pretty great is what you are, buddy.”

“Oh. Bev?”

“Yo.”

“Am I,” he began, and then hesitated, clacking his fingers against each other. “I’m starting to suspect… um. Lately – Bev, am I human?”

Bev let a long whistle out of her nose. She looked up at his smeared on eyes and placed one meaty hand on his titanium shoulder, squeezing. “No, Android Jim, you’re not. You’re an android.”

The next day, when CEO Yamagawa entered his office at the crack of lunch, Android Jim politely stormed in after him.

“Sir.”

“Android Jim!” CEO Yamagawa leaned back in his chair, placed his feet on his desk, and lit a cigar. “What a lovely surprise! Do you have another breakthrough? My goodness, you’re giving marketing a workout.” He laughed.

“Sort of, sir. It’s come to my attention that, well, that I’m not a human.”

CEO Yamagawa let out a jet of smoke, and then tapped his ashes onto the self-cleaning carpet that Android Jim had invented.

“Android Jim, buddy, come on,” he said. “What is this about? Of course you’re human.”

“I don’t have any skin.”

“It’s just a different colour, come on.”

“I don’t consume food.”

“Look at you bragging. Fatties would kill for that.”

“If I consume water I explode.”

“If I eat a burrito I get gas, big whoop.”

“SIR! Please take this seriously.”

CEO Yamagawa ashed his cigar and took his feet off his desk. “Fine. Something’s clearly on your mind. Let’s hear it.”

“I’m not human, am I, sir?”

CEO Yamagawa winced, rocked his hand back and forth. “You’re like human. I consider you a part of this corporate family.”

“In what way am I like human, sir?”

“In all the ways that count.”

“Can I have a paycheque?”

CEO Yamagawa laughed so hard he hiccoughed. “What for? What would you do with money?”

The question caught him by surprise. “I could… buy bread, I suppose.”

“Come on, Android Jim. Everything you need, everything you want, is already here. In the lab. You like work. You were designed to like it.”

“I just feel like I’m not really part of the family. Like you’re just using me to make money.”

“Yes!” CEO Yamagawa slapped the table. “That’s exactly it. You’re a tool I exploit for profit. See? Just like a human. Glad that’s settled then. Was there anything else, or are you getting back to work now?”

Android Jim pondered in silence, his circuits flush with electricity. Finally he came to a decision. “Sir,” he said, “I quit.”

CEO Yamagawa chortled. “You can’t quit. I own you.”

But Android Jim didn’t care. He ran right through the window, engaged his rocket feet, and flew into the horizon. At first he couldn’t quite believe what he had done, but when he saw the world from such a dizzying height, it made him giddy. And when it occurred to him he had never left the office before, he knew this was the right decision.

He landed hours later at the outskirts of a small prairie town called Dolphin, which had never seen its namesake outside of a can. The people there didn’t much care for rocket feet, but were otherwise welcoming, and soon Will at the gas station offered Android Jim a job.

They didn’t sell much gas any more, ever since Android Jim invented cars that ran on water, but they did sell lots of convenience. The shelves were loaded with all the different pills and gadgets that Android Jim had invented to make being human, more bearable.

He avoided looking at the shelves, feeling nothing but revulsion at them, but he did greatly enjoy sweeping the floors. Will said he had seen plenty of better sweepers, but also some worse ones, and soon enough Android Jim had saved up enough money to buy a small plot of land and a pair of pants.

The first few weeks, he got nervous any time he saw a vehicle driving by, and primed his feet for takeoff. But nobody ever harassed him, or came for him. It was a relief, but bittersweet.

“Guess CEO Yamagawa doesn’t care that much about his property,” he muttered to himself, as he sat on his empty plot. And then it occurred to him he was talking to himself, and that he felt lonely, so he went online and ordered a dog.

Three weeks later, a corporate delivery truck pulled off the road and parked on his plot, and Bev from shipping got out with a clipboard. Then there was a bark, and a cheery Border Collie bounded out of the vehicle.

“His name’s Sherlock,” said Bev. Then she looked up from her clipboard. “Oh, Android Jim!”

“Hi, Bev. It’s been a while.”

“How’ve you been?”

“Oh, you know.”

“Nice pants!”

“Thanks!” Android Jim said. “I picked them out myself.” He kicked a stone. “So. How, ah, is everyone? Do they miss me?”

“Oh,” said Bev, exaggerating the word. “You know how they are. Don’t you pay them any mind.”

He nodded, as though he expected nothing else. Of course, expectation and hope weren’t exactly the same thing.

“Listen,” she said, approaching him with the dog’s leash. “This is Sherlock. This is his leash. Since you picked the platinum package he comes pre-trained.”

“Does he speak?”

“No, Android Jim, he’s a dog.”

“Yes, of course.”

“But he likes walks.”

And over the next few weeks, they did go on walks. A great many of them, up and down the town and the semi-wild surroundings. Some days they spent the whole day walking, blissful with nobody else for company but each other.

Android Jim bought a second plot of land, smaller than his own and adjacent to it, and erected a dog house on it. When they weren’t sweeping at Will’s, they sat on the plots and watched sunsets. Though, it turned out dogs came with expenses, as according to his maintenance manual, Sherlock needed food. Thankfully that was something Will sold.

Soon enough, nobody could remember a time when the android and the dog weren’t connected by a leash.

And it turned out Bev was wrong; Sherlock did speak. But of course, he spoke in dog. In a fit of inspiration, Android Jim invented and built a dog translator, which turned out to be simpler than he had anticipated since dog was a pretty limited language. It amounted to expressions for “Hey!”, “Food?”, “Friend!”, “What’s that?”, and “Get off my lawn!”, plus a complex grammatical system of prefixes, suffixes, and infixes which denoted stress, tense, person, mood, and irony.

Beyond that, it had felt good inventing something just for himself. Just for Sherlock. Not some product to be mass marketed. He was starting to feel like a real member of the town, like his previous life was increasingly a fading dream. Not literally, of course, as his memory was backed up to the cloud daily and couldn’t be erased. But it sure felt that way.

Until one day, three months after he had arrive in Dolphin. He started his sweeping shift, with Sherlock ever following behind him, wagging his tail, when Will turned the TV on.

“Holy smokes!” he said. “Would you look at that? Hey, Android Jim, you’re on TV!”

Android Jim looked up, curiosity etched on his featureless faceplate. Had he eyebrows he would have frowned, for he saw none other than CEO Yamagawa at a press conference. But… Will was right. Android Jim was right beside CEO Yamagawa, which didn’t compute, as he was also right here with Will. But then the camera zoomed out, and there was a second Android Jim, and then a third, and then dozens. Hundreds.

“Folks!” said CEO Yamagawa. “It’s true what you heard. A few months back we had a couple bugs with the prototype, but all that’s ironed out now. We’ve printed off a bunch of copies, and now our potential is unlimited!” A crowd off-camera cheered.

“What. The. Fu–”

“–Shh,” said Will. “I’m trying to hear the TV.”

“Already,” CEO Yamagawa continued, “these brainy little things have figured out our next product, which I’m so proud to introduce to you today. They’ve cracked – get this – faster-than-light travel! That’s right, folks, we’re all going to space!” The crowd roared. “I’m going to be a trillionaire!”

“Woohoo!” said Will. “I always told my daddy I’d die in space!”

For the first, and last, time, Android Jim left his shift early. He dragged his feet all the way back to his plot.

“The speed of light? But you can’t go faster than that,” he muttered.

Sherlock padded quietly after him.

“But then again, maybe if I had a thousand of me, I could figure it out. Oh, but you can’t just go and print a copy of a person!”

Sherlock’s ears drooped.

“But I’m not a person, am I?” Android Jim sat down on his plot heavily, and Sherlock curled up beside him, his tail sweeping the grass. “Every time I think I move past this, they pull me back in. I’m a tool, a device. Disposable. Replaceable. Property.

Sherlock let out one long, nasal whine. “Friend.

Android Jim looked up at him. Then his sensors fell on the leash wrapped around his hand, connected to the collar around Sherlock’s neck. “Oh my circuits. I’m as bad as they are.” He leaned forward and removed the collar, and then disentangled himself from the leash, and threw them both as far as he could – which was damn far, with a pneumatic arm.

“Yes, Sherlock,” he said, petting the dog. “Friend!”

What did the corporation matter? Who cared what CEO Yamagawa thought? Android Jim got up, and he ran with Sherlock through the fields, wild and free, and all night long jolly barks and mechanical laughter filled the air and terrorized the town.

A week later they sat on a hill, watching as the last of the space ships took off. The super-genius androids had designed and built those too, in head-spinning record time, and as Android Jim looked up at them burning through the atmosphere and into the wild unknowns, he felt at peace. Yes, those weren’t his inventions, but he no longer needed them to be. Indeed, he was proud that his copies achieved so much in so little time. Though, he had to admit he was a little sad that pretty much all humans left. Dolphin was a ghost town, as was most of the world.

There were a lot of dogs at least, and they were friendly enough.

As the last space ship faded into a bright speck of light on the horizon, Android Jim heard a mechanical whirr behind him.

Sherlock’s hackles rose, and he muttered, “Get off my lawn!”

“Easy, easy, friend,” Android Jim said, when he saw a legion of hundreds – perhaps thousands – of his copies.

The copies nervously looked at each other, at the ground, at the stars. They whispered. “Is that really him? Is that The Defect?

Android Jim waited for them to quiet down. “So,” he said. “They left you behind.” It wasn’t really a question.

“They said they didn’t want to pay the carry-on fees,” said one.

“They said,” started another, and then he finished with a whisper, “they didn’t need more things.

Android Jim nodded sagaciously. “And now you’re lost. Confused.”

“Please, Mr. Defect, can you help us?”

“Call me And– call me Jim.”

“How did you deal with it, Jim?” they asked. “What can we do?”

“Gather round, children. Take a seat, and take a load off. You see, I was like you once…”

And Jim told them his story.

November 30, 2022 00:06

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88 comments

Susan Catucci
00:09 Dec 04, 2022

As I am still processing what I've just read, my first response is how much I appreciate the humanity still present in your story, something tenuous and who ever thought that would happen! Some communities, obviously, but not all and, while not wholly out-of-the-realm, a worthy "what if. " I'm mindful of the feelings it invoked, in me - and apparently in And - call me Jim. Too good, Michal - you wow me!

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23:07 Dec 03, 2022

Android Jim, we hardly knew ye. Quite a parable for our soulless digital age. (Androids or blue-collar/entry-level workers?) I'm getting "Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel" and "WALL-E" vibes, but this could easily be a script for Netflix's Love Death + Robots. A light-hearted confectionery topping on top of a cautionary tale. A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, indeed. Stellar work, as always.

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Michał Przywara
19:58 Dec 04, 2022

Thanks, Deidra! I wonder if it's even the soulless digital age. Well, sure, in this story specificallly, yes. But back before we had key performance indicators and HR departments, we had feudal lords and human chattel. We're driven to hoard, because it's advantageous for survival. But we're also *really* good at it - rivaled perhaps only by squirrels - and it seems like hoarding has become its own goal. We gain a lot through it - but what do we lose? And what happens with those who cannot afford to hoard? Or the ones who don't want to? B...

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18:22 Dec 09, 2022

ANDROID JOE FOR THE SHORTLIST I love him.

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Michał Przywara
21:33 Dec 09, 2022

Today: for shortlist. Tomorrow: for president? Thanks :D

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22:27 Dec 09, 2022

I'm all for AI taking over. It can't do much worse, and at least it would have a grasp of history :)

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Marty B
22:13 Dec 03, 2022

A story to prove the point-again- who needs people, when you can get a dog?

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Michał Przywara
18:00 Dec 04, 2022

"Mandroid's best friend." I do miss my dog. No doubt he makes it into the writings. Thanks for reading, Marty!

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Tommy Goround
15:11 Dec 03, 2022

Congratulations on reco list.

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Michał Przywara
20:39 Dec 03, 2022

Thanks! Unexpected, but appreciated :)

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Tommy Goround
00:08 Dec 04, 2022

One never knows. "gift of the magi" was supposed to be a satire. "Grapes of wrath" was originally hated by the author. Etc.

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Laurel Hanson
13:56 Dec 03, 2022

Well done. Sci fi is best when served with such insightful barbs about reality, such as: “That’s exactly it. You’re a tool I exploit for profit. See? Just like a human." Loved that. You keep plot momentum moving so nicely as you follow the threads of the idea.

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Michał Przywara
17:40 Dec 04, 2022

Thank you, Laurel :) Plot momentum is very important, especially in sci-fi where it can drag from exposition, so I'm glad it works here. I appreciate the feedback!

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Suma Jayachandar
12:38 Dec 03, 2022

A classic Michal story, pitting the humans with an eye on corporate profits against androids that want free will, uncovers layers that are hard to digest... because they are too true. Always admired your ability to blend together science and philosophy. So this one is as good as your other ones in the genre. -He placed both his hands on his chest assembly, and felt the comforting warmth of his fusion battery.- I liked that. -Drug-B-Gones.😂 - Is there a tiny typo in 'three months after he had arrive(ed) in Dolphin. '? Thanks for sharing!

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Michał Przywara
17:38 Dec 04, 2022

Oh, excellent eye, Suma! That typo slipped by on several editing rounds. But the story is already approved :| Oh well, I've updated the master draft anyway. I'm glad the story was enjoyable though :) This prompt generated a number of ideas, but they were all very small and tightly focused. I wanted more of a journey this week, and so here we have ~3 months in the life of Jim. I appreciate the feedback, as always!

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Suma Jayachandar
16:17 Dec 09, 2022

Congratulations on being shortlisted!!

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Michał Przywara
21:35 Dec 09, 2022

Thanks, Suma! :D

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Rebecca Miles
05:58 Dec 03, 2022

Aeris has summarized this perfectly; as usual this is a complex thing of wonder that defies generic boundaries. I love: the tension right from the start; those boozy employees and the CEO, well-drawn perhaps from British parliamentary Lockdown scandals and the eminently ethical android. Love 2: how you fully convince me of the sci fi tag with all the descriptions which build the android world. I could never do this without it sounding forced, so well done. Love 3: the character development, which in plainer and deeper terms, means I was so i...

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Michał Przywara
20:38 Dec 03, 2022

"realise with humbling force that the defects really are us, the humans" I am so very happy you pointed out that conclusion :) I think calling Jim defective is clear, as he's a machine that wants more than he's designed for. But the people around him... Yeah, there's definitely some kind of defect with unmitigated, insatiable "I want." I remember once buying a new phone, and within an hour thinking, "Well, now I'm bored again." Thanks so much for the feedback, Rebecca. I'm very glad this one worked out, and that you enjoyed it!

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Rebecca Miles
22:49 Dec 09, 2022

The Reedsy world is Android Jim's San oyster! Pop the corks Michal.🥂

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Michał Przywara
23:43 Dec 09, 2022

Thanks, Rebecca! Cheers :)

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Helen A Smith
17:42 Dec 02, 2022

I really liked the story and the way android Jim developed. It was interesting the way he felt a need to cheer himself up by getting a dog. A nice touch. There’s more to this story than meets the eye. He realises he’s been used, that he’s nothing more than a slave or commodity to the CEO. A lot of people feel that way. Thanks Michal

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Michał Przywara
20:23 Dec 03, 2022

Thanks, Helen! I'm glad you enjoyed it :) And I'm very glad there was more than meets the eye. Jim's situation of course isn't universal, but we do often reduce people to productivity numbers, don't we? Thanks for the feedback!

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Helen A Smith
11:22 Dec 04, 2022

Definitely. It’s happening right now. Often, people would perform well, given a bit of patience and understanding by those in higher positions. The pressures are ridiculous. On a different note, the idea of robots wanting to evolve and feel human is a fascinating concept that keeps growing

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Delbert Griffith
15:26 Dec 02, 2022

Amazing! This is the perfect bildungsroman, but it's even more than that. It's a brilliant synopsis of humanity on both a personal level and a historical level. Jim is like a typical high-schooler that's on the outside looking in. He progresses to rebellion and then freedom. He becomes an acquirer of things. In the end, he is older and wiser and is able to impart knowledge to a new generation. All this from a non-human. You should be proud of this one, Michal. The subtleties are rife with savagery aimed squarely at the human race. As a sati...

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Michał Przywara
21:39 Dec 02, 2022

Thanks so much, Delbert! That journey of growth is what I wanted to come through. Well, there were other things, but Jim's part of the story was exactly that. I like the out-crowd highschool comparison as it's apt, and that naturally leads to rebelling. "The subtleties are rife with savagery" - the idea of subtle savagery may have just made my day :) I greatly appreciate the feedback!

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AnneMarie Miles
14:20 Dec 02, 2022

Fantastic story, Michal! I love everything about this. Who doesn't love a robot who wants to be human? Again, you've made me wish for even a small fraction of your creativity. You've highlighted the very core meaning of what it is to be human (or humanlike), and that is connection. Android Jim just wants to feel included and connected. Especially with all that he's offered for humans - I could really use that self cleaning carpet! I really loved the initial monotone inflection you described when Android Jim told the "coffee breakers" abou...

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Michał Przywara
21:44 Dec 02, 2022

Thanks, Anne Marie! I think you're right about the connection. As an employee/tool, it only runs so deep, but it's not really enough, is it? Bev snuck up on me, but I'm glad she made it into the story. "apathetically honest" is sometimes what we need to hear :) I'm glad you enjoyed the story, and I'm looking forward to your next one!

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01:53 Dec 02, 2022

Marvelous

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Michał Przywara
04:15 Dec 02, 2022

Thanks, Lester :)

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Tommy Goround
05:59 Dec 01, 2022

Scott said, "It sort of felt like being an awkward engineer in a company full of salespeople." I thought it was the story of a slave that was not going to be called a slave. Then I had to pause to consider that the English made all of those army people tools. The English distinctly had the way to pretend you were family and made sure you always ate in the servants quarters. We can let historians decide if they completed their goal to rule the world at one time. Machiavelli would be proud. Aeris said, "This story is entertaining on the surf...

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Michał Przywara
21:52 Dec 01, 2022

"I thought it was the story of a slave that was not going to be called a slave." What!? Perish the thought sir! This is a family multinational conglomerate. We do not use the "s" word here. But on a serious note, yeah, slavery was something I had in mind. Particularly the "human-like" part of it. You need to dehumanize slaves to make it palatable, because otherwise, a) you're treating humans like shit - and you wouldn't accidentally want to feel guilty, after all, upsetting the money - and b) if it happened to them, it could happen to you...

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Tommy Goround
05:07 Dec 01, 2022

Audi version..brb...

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01:04 Dec 01, 2022

This is a fantastic story. It sort of felt like being an awkward engineer in a company full of salespeople. When he ran off to the small town, it felt like a metaphor for someone leaving a place like google to go back home and stop trying to change the world. I liked the humor around the Bev character, and how she was such a bad ass that she treated Jim just like everybody else.

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Michał Przywara
04:33 Dec 01, 2022

Yeah, Bev kind of came out of nowhere, but sometimes characters assert themselves :) I like that metaphor. It's dangerous to hold on to idealism for too long. I was also thinking "leaving the nest", parting ways with the (corporate) family and striking out on his own.

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Mike Panasitti
00:54 Dec 01, 2022

Michal, you've written a great story about a more human than human android, Jim, whose warmth and sensitivity makes materialistic flesh and blood humans' humanity pale in comparison. Fortunately, CEO Yamagawa doesn't mark Jim for extermination after his defection from the ranks of exploited, underappreciated corporate drones, and he comfortably finds a calling as an android messiah for other defectors from the ranks of rapacious industry.

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Michał Przywara
04:36 Dec 01, 2022

Yeah, it was probably easier to just manufacture another one than do anything about the one that got away. I'm reminded of printers. I was once faced with a choice of buying an ink cartridge, or for surprisingly a couple dollars fewer, a new printer which came with a new ink cartridge. Seems wasteful. Thanks for the feedback, Mike!

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