KAL-UR was about five feet tall and it didn’t have a head. It didn’t need one, for it was a utility robot. It didn’t need to think or analyze or make decisions – it was only supposed to follow the instructions that it received from Mr. Core.
Since 2080, Mr. Core had been managing CRYORIUM, the international cryonics center. That was the time when the finger-bank, a cryogenic facility to store fingers was first built. That was also the time when fingers were harvested in thousands, and every robot found itself working round the clock. Each finger had to be detached from the body, packed in ice, and injected with heparin to prevent coagulation of the blood. Then all the water in the cells was replaced with a cryo-protectant and then the finger was cooled on dry ice until it reached the temperature of -130 degrees centigrade. Finally, it was stored in a jar of liquid nitrogen at a temperature of about –190 degrees centigrade, and then the jar was labeled with the finger-number and the name of its owner.
It was backbreaking work. Had KAL-UR been a human, he would have either resigned from the job or asked for a raise. Fortunately for Mr. Core, he was a robot and as long as it followed its charging routine, everything worked just fine.
Upon receiving his instructions from Mr. Core, KAL-UR whirred to CRYO-25, where the required finger was stored. It placed the pad of his hand on the freezer and the door swung open. KAL-UR picked up the jar, uncapped it, and removed the finger from it. It was cold but KAL-UR never felt heat or cold, or anything else for that matter. The robot then turned and whirred through the corridor to reach the door at the far end, which led into Mr. Core’s office.
The print recognition pad blinked as the robot lifted the finger and placed its tip over the scanner. The door opened at once.
KAL-UR entered and went straight to the computer at the desk. The robot knew the whole routine – it had performed it several times before. Even if it hadn’t, there wouldn’t be a mistake because robots didn’t make mistakes.
And yet something was different today.
KAL-UR felt something.
Inside Mr. Core’s office was a small cryo unit that was kept under his table – a cube that was a foot on all sides. Standing near the table, KAL-UR suddenly felt a tug that it had never felt before. This wasn’t a clear instruction from Mr. Core, the kind the robot was used to receiving. It was a kind of urge that hit it – and the impact was almost physical. Of course KAL-UR couldn’t have placed its finger on what had caused the impact even if it tried – mostly because it has ten metallic digits where its fingers should’ve been, but also because it couldn’t process feelings.
Yet, for some odd reason, it found itself bound to act on its urge.
The print recognition pad on the cryo-unit was blinking. KAL-UR placed the finger that it had extracted on Mr. Core’s command upon the pad. The lock whirred and the tray inside pushed itself out. In a nitrogen-filled glass container was a human head.
KAL-UR felt a very strong urge to open the container and free the head. The robot’s whole body responded to the head the way it had never responded before.
“Mr. Core?” KAL-UR’s lips moved, as KAL-UR’s biomechanical being automatically recognized the face in front of it.
KAL-UR’s voice triggered two events almost simultaneously. The muscles of the face in the glass box twitched and the computer screen booted itself up.
TAKE THE FINGER BACK, said Mr. Core in KAL-UR’s head.
The robot turned and walked out smartly, forgetting the face in the glass-cube.
The tray containing the head retracted into the cube, and the lock clicked in place.
Note: This story is experimental. It leaves much to imagination and allows the readers to their reach their own conclusions. The conclusion of the story is hinted at and not revealed, and in this, it’s different from my other stories.
Image Credit: Author’s Imagination in a Glass Bowl.