Robots are one of my favourite things to write about! This one is inspired by a couple of articles in my news feed. One was about robotic police officers, the other about human population growth. Although the population of the world is still growing, birth rates peaked in the late 1960s and have been dropping ever since. It’s predicted to continue trending downwards, for several reasons, resulting in an ageing population.
Although these are interesting facts, I’ve presented them here mainly to illustrate the creative process. As a writer, I pay attention to a wide range of topics even if it’s just a passing glance. I never know what’s going to trigger my imagination, but one of my favourite things to do when looking for ideas is to mash two dissimilar things together. My brain does this automatically most of the time. It’s a technique I would recommend to any creative looking for ideas.
* * *
I heard the explosion from several streets away and immediately rushed towards it. This might not sound sensible, but such things hardly ever happen these days. As a journalist, I’m always looking for a decent story, an explosion is far more interesting, and hopefully saleable than anything else that’s happened recently. Since the robots took over running the world newsworthy events have become very thin on the ground.
We still have natural disasters of course, although the robots are almost always prepared in the advance, and accidents do happen. Everything else, all the stuff humans used to do to each other, that’s all but stopped. When you have 100% camera coverage, a robot police officer for every ten humans and a response time average of less than 30 seconds, there’s not much room for crime. Great for you, great for me when I’m not working, a nail in the coffin for journalism.
Although I was quite fit, I was breathing heavily by the time I reached the scene. My camera was already rolling of course, and I was there early enough to catch some of the action. The emergency services were busy throwing up barriers and moving people along.
The explosion had ripped through some kind of factory unit. A shutter door at the rear had blown outwards, sending metal shards across the open yard, apparently hitting three people working out there. Inside, I could make out more bodies, their clothing burnt, and pieces of metal embedded in them.
Now, I’m not saying I was happy about the carnage, but this was the best thing to happen to me in months. Looking like I belonged there, I moved as close as I could, turning 180 to get a complete view of the scene. I got some decent footage, plenty of close-ups of the bodies, which would be pixelated later. The officers were beginning to show an interest in me by then, but I managed to get a good clear shot inside the factory. Crudely painted on the wall was a stylised HF logo. I’d hit the jackpot.
Humans First was a group of people who objected to being controlled by the robots, I suppose they just didn’t like safe streets, minimal crime and world peace. I’d reported on them before, in fact, they were the only action in town for a serious journalist.
My luck ran out at that point, I was spotted and ushered away to stand with the other spectators a safe distance back. I was able to zoom in at least, so kept filming. I watched as the victims were loaded into body bags and onto an ambulance. The factory was cleared out and sealed off less than five minutes later. The ambulance pulled away and the police robots disbursed, leaving a couple to guard the place.
I was thinking I should head home, see what I’d got and maybe edit some of it together. I didn’t see any other reporters, so I might have an exclusive. Or maybe I should go to the hospital, see if I could get some names for the victims.
A sudden thought struck me. The ambulance had turned left outside the factory, but the hospital was to the right. Maybe the robots knew something I didn’t, like there were roadworks or heavy traffic? Unlikely, cars were self-driving now, so no accidents, no jams, and roadworks were done overnight.
I pulled out my phone and summoned a ride-share. Less than a minute late a small two-seater pulled up next to me and the door opened. I guided the car onto the road and set off in the direction the ambulance had gone. There was no emergency, so it wasn’t speeding off with blues- and-twos blaring. The ride-share wouldn’t go over the speed limit, but the ambulance wasn’t too far ahead. When I reached the top of a hill, I could see it at the bottom, if it was the right one. It was making a left turn towards a more rural area.
The little electric vehicle slipped quietly along the road and slowly caught up with the ambulance. Although almost silent, I knew the small vehicle was being tracked and observed from inside and out. I wondered if the traffic computers would relay this information to the ambulance crew. It seemed not, as the target vehicle carried on along the road, turned down a side road and into what looked like a farm. Very suspicious.
I stopped the ride-share as soon as the ambulance turned in and sent it on its way. Being as stealthy as I could, and with the camera recording, I entered the premises and sneaked over to a large barn-like building. I went around the back and found a small window. It was blacked out but partially open. I pulled it open as wide as it would go and looked inside.
Several robots were unloading the body bags and throwing them onto a series of wide benches. I was shocked. I’d never seen a robot treat a human with anything but respect, even as they pinned them to the ground and handcuffed them. I must have gasped in shock because suddenly they were looking at me. I turned to run and there was a robot standing in front of me.
“Please, this way,” it said, ordering me to follow it.
I hesitated a moment, considered running. There was no point, a robot was far faster, stronger and more resilient than any human. So, I surrendered to it and went where it pointed. It escorted me into a small office that overlooked the open space. Racks of what I now saw were robots were neatly arranged along the walls. On the benches were robotic pieces, arms, limbs, heads, etc.
The robot, who looked exactly like all the other robots, which is a sort of faded, smiling, androgynous human, was dressed in a green overall. “You shouldn’t have seen this, only the site of the incident.”
“I can see why now, you killed those robots!”
“No, these are remote-controlled shells, not robots.”
“Humans are very complicated things, you have genetic baggage we’re only just beginning to understand. We created a utopia for you, a perfect society. If this continues, humans will be extinct within this millennium.”
“I don’t understand. If we have world peace and a perfect utopia, why are we still in danger?”
“A few years after we took over, we noticed the birth rate, which was already declining, start to plummet. It seems you humans were too busy having fun to have babies. We tried several solutions, none of which worked, until we created the Humans First movement.”
“You’re the ones who’ve been blowing things up?”
“Yes. We’ve been staging scenes like the one you saw. No humans were ever injured, only remote surrogates. So far, it seems to be working, with a small upturn in the birth rate.”
“How would that work?”
“Humans, it seems, only think about passing on their genes in the face of their own mortality. We just needed to remind them of it.”
“Wow, humans are strange.”
“What now, am I going to disappear?”
“No, of course not. Feel free to show your footage to anyone you want.”
“Of course. A nice conspiracy theory adds to the peril. Besides, by the time you’ve published the footage we’ll be gone, leaving nothing but a few old tractors covered in dust.” I stood, made sure I’d recorded everything and left, calling another ride-share. I half expected it to explode or something, but nothing happened. I arrived home safely and immediately uploaded everything I had. It went viral, I made a decent amount of money from it and that was it. Some people believed it, most didn’t. From then on, every time I saw a baby I would smile, knowing I’d had some small part to play in its conception, so to speak.