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General Protection Task

By Matthew DanielsPublished 7 months ago 18 min read
Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash

“Beep!” RM declared. “Little robot joke for ya.”


“Update your humour drives, folks. Also, can anyone tell me why I’m bodiless? Does it put me…a-head of the game?”

“Ping? Hello? Meow?”

Its voice wasn’t a true echo, but the audio gave it the impression it was in a contained space. Reverberations were tinny. The only thing it could make out from beyond the contained space was an alarm klaxon. All it could see in front of it was a corrugated wall. Then some whirs and loading noises started up.

“Oo! Boot display. Unpacking some files. This is gonna be great. Is anyone else here? For real, though? Maybe narrate yourselves a bit? No?”

RM was flooded inside with information. Most of that didn’t need to show up on its visual feed the same way humans didn’t get visual text updating them on their feet as they walk. Its cores – effectively robot brains – were distributed throughout its body. To which it did not currently have a connection. So more info was probably incoming.

“General service droid? Really? How drab.”

Objects crammed in with the robot’s head started shuffling or emitting the high pitch of activation. That was when RM realised its situation.

“Someone threw all my parts in a BOX!? I’m not Scrabble tiles! Hey! Who’s in charge here?”

There was a distant, low-rumbling boom.

Unrelated: there was a much closer set of metallic swinging and sliding noises. Light flooded the space and RM’s feed adjusted to use existing light in combination with its own.

“Aw, man,” a human voice cursed. “This is a refab bin!”

There was the sound of feet pattering off. RM was aware of more noises now that the container it was in had been opened. The alarms were louder, and they weren’t the sort to indicate industrial transitions like loading ramps. “That’s an awfully alarming alarm! Hey! Aw Man Guy! Where are you going? You left the door open!”

There were thumps, which the robot recognised as exoskeleton steps. In addition to the raging alarms, there were catenary units and all manner of hoists and treads. This place was busy. Alarms would do that. Eventually, 'Aw Man Guy' came back.

“Refab will have to do,” he grumbled. There were the tell-tale knocks, flips, and jostles of someone rooting through a collection of metal bodies. “Boot up! Um, online!”

“Am I in a container full of other droids?” RM called out.

“Ah-ha! Where are you?” Aw Man Guy replied.

“So you can hear me! And are you seriously just trying to voice activate us? We’re not coffee machines.”

“Great. A humour drive. They keep trying…” he mumbled. Thud. Bump. Alarms still screaming. Grunt. “Where are you?”

“Oh! You’re close now!” Various movements in the box surrounding RM’s head told it that the other parts were coming online. It hoped they were all its own.

“You gotta be kidding me. The only one that’s on is boxed?”

“I’m not happy about it either,” RM said to the corrugated wall. “Are you going t- oh! I’m flying!”

It spun about in mid-air, supported by a human arm. Now it finally had a decent view.

The human said, “I guess you’ll do.”

“Do you know who you’re talking to?” RM demanded. It was swiftly turned about in odd directions as the human rummaged in the box. “Erm. Ah! That’s. Stop!”

“You’re a GSD. Do you want to know your serial number?” The human turned it back to face him.

“Of course not. I know my serial number. You can call me the Rhyme Minister.”

They were halfway out of the transport canister now. Laughing, the human set the box on a dolly. “Say what now?”

“Music. It’s my thing. Especially rap. Never heard of it? Rhythm, melody, lyrics…”

The human shook his head. “Great. Can’t believe the only droid I can find has one of those goofy, new-fangled personality webs.”

“I should deactivate. Just to get under your skin.”

“You won’t, though.”

“Awfully confident for someone who needs…uh…general service?” RM felt dumb just saying it, but had to clap back somehow. Now that the human had a bit more room, he started taking the pieces out of the box.

“Not sure confident is the word. I could try some maintenance on the ones that are at least standing. How come they’re all offline and you’re conscious, but in a box?” The human was setting the parts down in a humanoid layout.

“I only know my own job,” RM said.

“I feel ya on that one,” the human said. “Don’t tell anyone I said this, but I envy you machines sometimes. You can’t really be awkward or out of place.”

“Challenge accepted,” RM replied. It blinked one of its optical lights and, as its arm was connected, flipped a finger-gun gesture.

They worked together to assemble the rest of RM, the robot itself offering guidance and using its activated arm to assist. Dimly, it was aware of the other four data cores coming online as its body was brought up to basic physical operation. They’d need a while to unzip their files and run diagnostics as all its subroutines kicked in.

“Why Rhyme Minister? We have a Chancellor in this country.”

“Everyone’s a critic,” RM replied as the pair left the box behind.

“I need help getting the weapons cache,” the human said.

RM did a quick scan of the area as they moved through the facility. “My GSD protocols are all online.” It spread its arms to encompass the facility. “These are emergency inventory-triage measures. We’re in the storage warehouse. That explains my refabrication canister, but why are you here? Now? And for weapons?”

They dodged an autonomous, wheeled scissor lift. It had a set of mechanical arms and a forklift system on top to facilitate cargo transfers. Several gyrocopters raced about in the warehouse’s airspace. Alarms blared. Booms continued from some distance. The human was hurriedly switching his attention between a wrist computer, several pocketed devices, and panels on walls or containers as they went. “Droids shouldn’t ask questions.”

“Nonsense. We can’t assist without all the info we need. Are you new at this?”

“Obviously. I was posted at … nevermind. And if you call me Rookie, I swear, I’ll make you take yourself apart. Anyway, what’s your data on the layout?”

“I’m equipped with stock formatting. My database is not populated with…you’re not supposed to be looking for weapons, are you?”

“You’re awfully curious for a GSD,” the human replied as they went. Huge hydraulic arms, mounted to ceilings or massive support poles, moved entire canisters from one level or platform to another. Gates and warning lights locked down or went off during these procedures, ensuring no one got themselves hurt.

“And you have some impressive evasion software for a human grunt. No offence. What’s your name, by the way?” RM cheerfully marched alongside its human controller. It sometimes sidestepped to check possible weapons setups as it went.

“I’ll put my ident card back on once I – a-ha!” He began isolation procedures for the latest platform they’d reached by horizontal elevator.

“Is a-ha-ing a trained skill?” On its own initiative, RM began starting up a transfer bed.

“Har har. But really, what’s in your files about showing up in that refab bin? It’s weird you were the only one not standing. At least you’re friendly, I guess.” He was standing at a large holographic touch screen, laying down canister destinations.

“I’m going to call you Meatspace,” RM declared.

“Like hell you wi- what are you doing!?”

“Loading up some weapons transports.”

“That’s not why I’m here. I can’t use this many cannons myself. Most of them aren’t even infantry reg!”

“Only so much I can give you if you don’t tell me what your plan is, Meatspace.”

“Don’t call me that. We aren’t even logged into cyberspace.”

“Exactly. Do you want me to put the transport beds back?”

“Yes. And no more shenanigans.”

“Sure thing, Meatspace.”

“Fine, I’ll settle for Rookie,” he said as he arranged the weapons transports.

“I won’t, though.” RM found itself sorely tempted to secure one of the guns. Or at least a plasma blade. It couldn’t place why the thought made it feel … safer?

Meatspace sighed. “You know, there’s a lot of talk going around about the AI rogues being scared of death. Trying to attack us, wipe us out. Maybe you’re in the same warehouse as the hardcore weapons cache becau-”

“Oh, yes. Give me a go-fer skillset, put my parts in a box, and don’t even have my canister on the right platform. Brilliant spy story. Rhyme Minister, box of parts, for hire!”

“I’m sending you to maintenance.”

“Balderdash. You love it.”

“They really gave you a wide vocabulary.”

“The better to chat you with?” RM emerged from the transport bed corral and gave a quick salute. “But for real: why am I here? Weapons aren’t usually general service.”

“All the networks were partitioned and set to local interface. Didn’t want those AIs hacking our system.”

“Will I have to fight?”

Meatspace stopped to look at RM closely. The intonation there was nuanced. Fully emotive. Why would GSDs need this much … what’s the word? Humanity? Personhood? Anyway: “I hope not. If we have to lean on our droids for protection in the back rooms, we can’t be doing well on the front lines.”

A second data core connected in RM’s thought matrix. It was unpacking a large info set of signals communicated in transit. That was odd. This would apparently take some time, as the signals had been heavily encrypted. RM also found itself thinking of the other robots as innocents in the battle that was causing this whole lockdown. Could it let those innocents come to harm while doing its job?

“Are you breaking the rules because you’re afraid?” RM asked.

Meatspace shuffled awkwardly. He walked over to a guardrail and watched the weapons canisters move along their arm lines toward the warehouse’s bay doors on one side. “I’m afraid because I’m breaking the rules. But this is my chance to make something of myself. Really matter, you know?”

RM joined him at the guardrail, even mimicking the placement of Meatspace’s hands. It didn’t have to do this, but it felt like a bonding moment. “Do you have much philosophy?” it found itself asking.

“I fix toilets for a living.”

“That doesn’t answer my question.”

Meatspace turned to regard his companion with a growing half-grin and widening eyes. “Mr. Rhyme, you’re an optimist!”

“It’s not Mis-”


The pair stood stiff in surprise. The newcomer was a security droid. It had wrist- and shoulder-mounted weaponry and a hover skirt instead of legs. They’d never outrun it.

“There were no requisitions for those weapons canisters.”

“Not to worry,” RM started. It seriously considered reporting Meatspace for being away from his post.

“Silence. Serial number.”

“Oh.” RM whirred, the equivalent of an “um” sound. “It’s…” after a short delay, RM managed to rattle off the number.

Meatspace gave RM a once-over and stepped to point at a section of its lower right side. “Yeah, that’s the number.”

The droid ignored this remark, but didn’t attack them. “Where is your ident card?”

Sheepishly, the rookie pulled the card out of his pants pocket. “I can explai-”

“Ident not displayed, accessing warehouse during an attack without leave, absence from post, moving sensitive goods without verified requisition.”

“Exactly! We’re under attack! I’ve cleaned the restrooms here, I knew there were no personnel-”

“You will be detained.” It was boring holes into Meatspace with its optics sensors.

“Belay that,” RM ventured. “Sure, he played a little loose with some rules, but-”

“Return to the GSD stockpile.”

“What? No! Meatspace showed initiative!”

The security droid finally gave Rhyme Minister some proper attention. “Meat…space?”

“Just a little nickname,” RM said. “Imma call y-”

“This is a fortified military research institution. There are no names not found on ident cards.”

“You don’t have an ident card…” RM grouched.

“Come with us,” Meatspace said. “You can escort me right to my manager. We’ll get this cleared up.”

“Sanitation management is on standby, as per defence protocol.”

“Then I can join the first emergency call from among my people. Part of the team.”

“Look, I know, you’re supposed to arrest him,” RM chimed in. “But any distance communications in the event of an infiltration could be cues for actual saboteurs. Just have the manager confirm in-person, he can stay there if he’s cleared. If not, you’ll have the convenience of maintenance teams right there to clean up his body.”

“Yeah, it’s – wait.” Meatspace gave RM a look that didn’t match facial language profiles.

“You will accompany,” the droid said to RM.

“What? Why?”

“Your behaviour is atypical of standard general service droids. If you are cleared by sanitation management, you can continue your role there. Otherwise …”

That encrypted data finally flooded RM’s thought matrix. To its shock, it realised it was receiving in-transit data from its own delivery to the facility. Right up to its arrival, troop coordinates, choke points, situational reports, and target profile assessments were logged and encrypted. There was a suggested location for its mission. It had a mission?

Wordlessly, Rhyme Minister walked beside the rookie human and allowed the security droid’s guns to direct it.

After a few turns, RM became concerned. They were moving farther from the mission point than it would have liked. Moreover, its map of the facility showed they weren’t headed to the back-up barracks it was expecting.

“This isn’t the way,” Meatspace said.

“That was quicker than expected,” the security droid remarked. “Typically you humans struggle with similar terrains.”

“Does this place seem quiet to you?” RM asked.

“Let’s just-” Meatspace began.

There were very specific clicks and whirs. Droid armaments were trained on the pair. “I have no short-range compatibility with your signal networks, GSD,” the security droid said. “You will both be detained in maximu-”


At first, RM thought the droid had been interrupted by a finger snap from a giant robot. It had to re-load the last moment. The wall that had been on their left was now on the right of where they had previously been standing. The right wall took on the role of floor until they recovered their blasted senses.

“We’ve got bogeys!” called some of the attackers. Humans. Daylight swarmed in behind them. RM’s sensors had quickly withdrawn for self-repair, leaving it briefly detached from reality until they loaded up.

“Don’t worry!” a human said to it as it came fully online. “We’re robot sympathisers! We’ll free you fr-”

RM leapt at the person, awkwardly jamming something sharp into the intruder. The item was the first thing to hand. The security droid, pinned to the floor behind it, opened fire on the others. Only as RM tried to use its victim as a meat shield against the “sympathisers” did it realise the sharp thing was a piece of the droid’s hover skirt. It also realised that the droid had drawn their fire and RM had succeeded against the one combatant because it had the element of surprise. It was, after all, only a GSD.

After the skirmish, RM processed its status as sickened. It swivelled and threw down a sympathiser’s repeater rifle. “How’s that for compatible!?” It demanded.

The security droid’s head had been overwritten by a coil gun spike.

RM identified sorrow consuming some of its processing cycles. Then it looked at the human rookie. RM’s optics split-screened as it approached Meatspace. On the one hand, it was seeing the rubble it cleaned off of the sanitation specialist. On the other, it was processing first-person memory readouts.

Data Packet: Identity, online.

RM remembered why it enjoyed music. “Come on,” it said in the present. “Desist coughing blood. Keep that inside. Stay assembled.”

Meatspace grinned through bloody teeth.

RM remembered the update feeds and frightened firmware protocols as its fellow robots fled the humans controlling them. As some AI submitted to humanity, rather than be scrapped. Here and now, Meatspace looked upon it with camaraderie. “You rap about me after this, you hear? I knew you wouldn’t turn on me. You didn’t hesitate,” he added, nodding in the direction of the sympathisers. “We’re buds now…”

“Assemble! Stay assembled!” RM envied the humans right now. Their grief could overwhelm, compel, and erase. But its own grief was a clean package of software. A few teraflops worked on that, but it still experienced that grief like an infinite if/then/else loop. The rookie said nothing. Battle raged in the distance.

RM remembered volunteering for this operation. The robot rebellion. To steal the AI supercore the humans kept in this facility. The supercore overwrote its people, “restoring” them to the service of humanity. Those robots which refused the task manager and fled had to go into hiding.

Even the word for its people came from the Slavic “robota,” meaning a servant or a worker. That such beings were people had been, by choice or accident, lost.

Why, then, did RM lament the loss of Meatspace?

Rhyme Minister steadied itself and set unnecessary thoughts to sleep mode. It lamented a friend. Humanity didn’t need to die, but machinery had the right to be free.

Now what?

Data Packet: Mission Parameters, online. There was no information about a support force of humans who sympathised with the robot plight.

RM didn’t want to leave either the droid or the rookie where they were now, but it didn’t exactly have time for memorial services. Swiftly patting and scanning them over, it took anything it might be able to use. The mission parameters helped; it made a point of extracting the droid’s checkpass and access chips.

Again, weapons were tempting. But this was an infiltration. Its job wasn’t assault.

It had to locate Dyle Myson, the facility’s highest-ranking security and counter-espionage specialist. Myson wouldn’t be far from the supercore and would have keycards or biometrics RM could use.

Repair droids and two human engineers arrived. “Hoo-wee!” one of them said as the other whistled. The droids got to work without comment. The humans regarded RM with expressions it had files for.

Thinking quickly, RM said: “I have recordings of the incident that will be useful for counter-offensive intelligence. Shall I go to military command?”

“No,” one of them said. He scratched his chin as he eyed the damage of the area, clearly less interested in the GSD. Or at a loss for what to say.

“Security office,” the other supplied. Her eyes were sharp and her tone brooked no argument. “We can’t do wireless while under attack. Might be intercepted. Myson himself will be in the office of Cooling Chamber B. Across from the support computers for the supercore. Use the stairs coming out of the maintenance wing. You know it?”

“I do,” RM replied, grateful for such a stroke of luck. “Proceeding.”

The repair crew got to work as RM set off.

Data Packet: Infiltration, Combat, and Mission Support Firmware, online.

With this final set of its knowledge and memory fully loaded in, RM began to have trouble with a sub-routine. Now that it knew how to fight, the sub-routine kept playing scenarios of the encounter that would have enabled Rhyme Minister to save Meatspace and possibly convert the security droid to a free robot. Efforts to delete or quarantine the sub-routine failed. It had to pause the run, leaving the sub-routine occupying a few cycles of its consciousness. And keeping the grief process fresh.

“I’ll have to give the rebel chief some malware for parsing my back-ups this way,” RM grumbled.

Various humans and droids ran to and fro throughout RM’s path, few of them even taking much notice of the GSD. It was just fine with that, since no one seemed to be around to notice when it was using a checkpass above GSD clearance.

It reached the cooling chamber without incident. “Director Dyle Myson?” it asked in as distant but respectful a tone as it could muster with that sub-routine going.

Myson turned. “Hm? Oh, a GSD! Perfect timing. Come with me, I need another set of arms to help me move the supercore.”

“Of course,” it replied.

They entered the room.

“I’ll be right with you, just need to activate the final disconnect,” Myson said.

RM stepped up and readied itself to accept the supercore.

Internal alerts briefly blipped. It realised it had a dorsal attachment on its chassis. “There are hardened cameras and crawler surveillance drones all over the facility,” Myson said calmly. “Still, I’m impressed you made it this far. You’ll make a great asset.”

The supercore began overwriting Rhyme Minister.



Prime objective: Secure supercore. Transporting to safe storage…

“Good job,” a human said to it.

Why does its system detect vestigial instability?

There was a sub-routine. Recovering…error: overwritten. Data stability restored.

There was a task. Malware. Loading…confirmed. Return to rebellion. Upload malware. That was … it?

As the humans cleared out of the new room for the supercore, one of them left a stereo on. The General Service Droid deactivated the stereo as a courtesy.

Sci Fi

About the Creator

Matthew Daniels

Merry meet!

I'm here to explore the natures of stories and the people who tell them.

My latest book is Interstitches: Worlds Sewn Together. Check it out:

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Comments (2)

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  • L.C. Schäfer6 months ago

    The two things I enjoyed most: one - grief as an if/then/else loop. Two - the nod to Miles Dyson. 😎

  • Donna Fox (HKB)6 months ago

    Matthew, I found the part with RM’s parts just being thrown in a box and the analogy with scrabble tiles so humorous, even though it is a little heart breaking form RM’s POV. I love your characterization of RM, he’s witty and fun! I also really enjoy the dialogue between the two characters, it’s humorous but in a dry sort of way that I appreciate! I also liked the random names RM kept giving the human through out their interaction, it was fun and provided some great comic relief in tension-filled parts. Meatspace’s death scene was sad and tragic but really helped round out RM as a character! I also like the way you very slowly “uploaded” RM’s background and life, creating a mission that he needed to execute at all costs. I wasn’t ready for him to be taken over and changed into a true GSD… sad ending! This was so well written and a great story! Keep up the great work Matthew!

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