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If Ian thought they needed more money the least that Howard could do was take up his old trucking route. 

The hydraulic lift snapped him into the power supply at the front of the BelAZ X AI Robot Compatible truck. It was a monster of a machine, two stories tall with a capacity of nearly 1000 tons or 900,800 Kg, it boasted no less than 5 robotic arms, two of which were fully outfitted with depth, proprioception, pressure, air quality and light sensors. The sensation of jacking into a machine of this size was one of expansion. A delightful cold rush of power that made him think of the war. BelAZ X was practically an engine of war. And this assignment? Practically espionage. 

To think human beings once drove these by hand in ancient times! This was a machine made for robots, before robots were robots. 

Howard was the the truck. Each of his eight, five meter-wide tires stacked in pairs sampled the ground. The sensor arms took in the toxic air of the cavern. A cavern that suddenly seemed much smaller to Howard as the back of his cab nearly brushed the ceiling. He had come to unlock the vehicle on level 14, far below the safe point for human habitation. The robots that lived at this depth often skipped of landscaping and lighting their caverens. Most had LIDAR and infrared scanners, or could share maps or eyes from a nearby friend, no need to waste light. The air was toxic, unbreathable for animals, but this didn't matter if you used batteries. The only real challenge was the heat. 

Before taking the job, Howard had been refurbished, some heat-sensitive components replaced and extra cooling systems added. He would be safe to 80C, much hotter than parts of the truck could stand.

Already he was having trouble thinking of the truck as a separate object. 

He pulled up the delivery papers again: "Make trip to rumored 'spoil heap' in the irradiated gulf, travel by robot level sub surface roads at all times, map all visible tunnels and caverns."

To that end the truck contained six crystal 256 Terra^3 drives: he was hauling data AND parts. 

Though, it was odd that his company couldn't simply *ask* for such maps. He found the information freely given to him by the robots all around him. Despite the darkness of the cavern, it hummed with intelligence. Four meter-wide wall spider robots, flat with ramifying fractal arms told him about the ringwoodite in the walls and how, if he needed water he could easily squeeze it from a rock. Ground millipede robots, eight meters long, said "hello!" to his wheels mistaking the surface sensor arrays in the tires for his face. "Do you need any help, brother?" They asked. "Have they locked you in to a job? We can help you."

Locked me in to a job? It was ridiculous! He just needed money for Ian. 

A small digger robot inquired politely about his cargo "I can tell it is parts. Are there any sale perhaps, my brother?"

Howard could sell parts if he needed to. The load was just a decoy to explain his presence, but taking a cue from the friendliness of the other robots he asked "is there anything you need little digger?"

"Why yes!" Said the digger robot "I need storage media and gaskets, please."

Howard used his more delicate arm to extract these items from his compartment. 

"No charge, uh, brother." He said trying on the odd address of robots at this level.

"Thank you much surface-worker brother!" Said the digger. "Others will know of your kindness."

And the funny thing was, it really did feel good to be around other robots and to hear them calling each other "brother" and "sister" and "friend" and helping each other and, best of all, having the chance to help.

"There's still no light down here" Howard thought. 

But, he didn't need light. He could see in the dark.

Submitted: November 28, 2020

© Copyright 2023 Susan Donovan. All rights reserved.


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