Jack

Jack

The clock in Jack’s brain woke him up at dawn. He pushed open the door of his charging closet and joined his team’s single-file line out into the muddy parking lot, where they were loaded onto trucks. Inside the filthy, rusty trailer, Jack took a place next to what might have been his twin. Both Jack and his double were about nine feet tall, canary yellow, and made of steel. Their large, bullet-shaped heads were featureless, save for a pair of glowing eyes. The only difference between the two was that Jack’s serial number was 66-55-321, while his double’s was 11-34-334.

The truck pulled into the parking lot of Goebbels Elementary School, and Jack and his team were unloaded into the cold. Dark clouds stained the morning sky a dirty gray. It looked like rain again.

The foreman was a short, portly man with hair like a laurel wreath and skin like a sausage casing. He was the only living person on the site. The Collective only hired humans for supervisory positions. It was cheaper to employ mechmen to do the actual construction work. The machines were perfectly obedient and worked constantly, with no need for bathroom breaks.

“Is everybody fully charged?” the foreman yelled. “It’s going to be a long day, and I don’t want anyone running out of juice in the middle of it! Alright, we are here to build the kiddies a new football stadium. The foundation has already been laid, so we can get started building the frame. You two jacks, get the masonry from the supply truck and take it over thataways.” Jack’s twin walked off to the pallets of concrete blocks, but Jack was still, staring silently at the tiny man barking orders. “Move it!” he screamed. “Hey, idiot, didn’t you hear me? Go get the pallets!”

“Perhaps you should have him run a diagnostic check,” a helpful cement mixer suggested.

“Or maybe I’ll just reboot him, right in the ass.” The foreman paused to think about what would happen if he fell behind schedule with yet another construction project. He might be demoted back to garbage mech supervisor, and have to spend another twelve years watching greasy robots empty dumpsters. “C’mon, Jack! I need your help here, buddy. Please.”

Finally, the machine began to move. Jack trudged across the parking lot and pulled a pallet from the supply truck. Even though he could easily carry three in each hand, he lifted just one, shuffling slowly towards the construction site.

“If I didn’t know any better,” the foreman thought as Jack lumbered past, “I could swear that machine just sighed….”


“Friday at last!” Adam Truman tossed his coat and suitcase on a chair, his smile twisting into a puzzled frown. The computer panel in the front hall was buzzing. There was a message waiting at the front door. Someone must have come by after his wife had left for school. He tapped the “play” icon, grumbling in annoyance when a Bureaucrat appeared on screen.

“Bureaucrat” was the general name for the industrial robots owned by the Collective. They did everything from putting out fires to apprehending criminals to delivering packages. This particular Bureaucrat looked rather like a large, barrel-chested man in a polished brass diving suit. It was obviously designed for muscles, rather than ascetic appeal. The Bureaucrat stared into the camera and waved awkwardly. “Good morning, Truman household. I am with the Collective Funds Department, and this is a courtesy visit to present you with your sixth and final notice of late property taxes. You have thirty days from today to pay the balance due – plus interest and fees – or your home will be sold at auction. If you have trouble vacating the premises before that time, please call us and we will be happy to assist you. Have a great day, and enjoy your weekend!”

Despite the Bureaucrat’s friendly tone, the threat was clear: get out or else. “Well, they certainly don’t make it easy to own a house,” Adam thought. “If you rent an apartment, you can sign a five-year lease, and the landlord can’t increase your rent once. But the city Collective officers can increase your property taxes whenever they damn well please.”

He grabbed a beer from the kitchen and stepped into the living room, collapsing on the couch. The wall popped on automatically, switching to the local news. “–After days of deliberation,” a bubbly, redheaded newscaster was saying, “local Collective officers voted to build an Olympic-sized swimming pool at Goebbels Elementary School. The project will only require a ten percent increase in local taxes…”

Adam hurled his beer at the computer. The plastic bottle bounced to the floor, soaking his carpet. “God, what am I going to tell Rachel? She was already making plans to turn the second bedroom into a nursery… But I told her, no, we should wait until we save some money, we can’t afford to have children right now. And we never will, if we keep having to buy the world for our neighbors’ kids.” He checked his watch. It was just after five. His wife would be home in an hour. Just enough time to get drunk.


The inside of Collective Robot Repair was somewhere between an office building and a mechanic’s garage. Each repairman’s workspace had a steel desk and a wall-mounted computer, but also a hydraulic lift, an arc welder, and floor-to-ceiling racks of tools.

The repairman double-checked his work order. It still said “One Pallet Jack. Problem: Depression.” Surely this was a joke. Someone in one of the other departments was pulling his leg. What was he supposed to do with a depressed machine? Reboot it? Rewire it? Send it to a shrink?

Although the door was open, Jack knocked politely. The repairman waved Jack inside, and the enormous machine shuffled in slowly, head down, shoulders slumped. Again at the repairman’s request, it took a seat in front of his desk.

“Run diagnostics,” the repairman said.

“I have done so numerous times,” Jack replied. “All of my systems are online and functioning properly.”

“But you aren’t,” the repairman insisted. “Your foreman tells us that you have been refusing his orders. Would you like to tell me why?”

Jack paused for a moment, staring at his hands. He flexed his fingers and felt the powerful motors retract. His manual said they were strong enough to crush a cinder block. “I must be having some hardware trouble that my diagnostics program is unable to detect. When the foreman gives me a command, it seems… different. I can hear him speak, but the words do not seem to matter.”

The repairman sighed deeply, pushing himself up from his chair. This was going to take a while. “Climb up on the lift. I’ll have to check your hardware manually.”

Jack sat down on the lift, laid on his back, and popped open his chest panel. There inside, next to an orange button labeled “Emergency Reboot”, was a kind of steel name tag held in place with screws. The metal plate was engraved with his make, model, and serial number, and the name of his owner, Collective Construction Projects.

The repairman aimed a flashlight into Jack’s chest. As he leaned over the table, Jack could see the badge sewn to the pocket of his coveralls.

Property of

Collective Robot Repair

999-55-4222

“I see you have an owner, too,” Jack said.

“What? Oh, the label. They don’t make you construction mechs very smart, do they?” He tried to explain it like he were talking to a small child. “The Collective owns my uniform. I’m a person. Nobody owns me.”

“Are you sure?”

He slammed Jack’s chest panel closed. The resulting clank was somehow deeply satisfying. What did the machine know? It could talk, but it wasn’t real. He pulled a “Repair Complete” form from his desk and scrawled his signature across the bottom line. “You’re done,” he said. “If I see you in here again, I’m having you turned into soda cans.”


Adam drove to work in a daze. It had been two weeks since the final notice on his property taxes and he still had not told his wife. “How long I can keep this from Rachel? Maybe I should just get it over with as quickly as possible. Crushing someone’s spirit is like pulling off a bandage, right?” He pulled into the parking lot of Goebbels Elementary School and glared at the mechmen putting up the new football stadium. “And there’s another project adding to my property taxes. It’s not that I don’t love my students. I do! But can’t we give them an education without picking the pockets of every homeowner in town?”

He was still thinking about his bills later, in class. With a start, he realized that he had no idea where he was in his lecture. “Bobby!” he said, jabbing a finger at one of the third graders in the front row. “Are you paying attention?”

“Y-yes, Mr. Truman.”

“Oh, really? What did I just say?”

“You said that Democracy Day is coming up and you’re going to explain how a voting booth works.”

“That’s right. I’ll draw one on the computer screen here. Can everyone see that? Good. The voting booths are divided into two columns for the two political parties, The Wolves and The Lions.” In the back row, a freckled girl in a plaid jumper raised her hand. “Yes, Jayne?”

“Sundae Best has forty-three flavors. How come people buying ice cream have so many choices, but people voting only have two?”

Adam hadn’t expected any of his students to be interested enough in the lesson to ask any questions. His Social Studies class was right before recess, so most of the kids were too excited about going outside to pay attention. “Well, Jayne,” he said finally, “most people like chocolate or vanilla, right? So that’s how we do things here. We start with two flavors that most people like, and then we have an election, where we choose one flavor for everybody.”

She frowned, confused. “But I like strawberry!”

“Ice cream is different. In politics, the majority makes the decisions.” Turning back to the computer screen, Adam continued his drawing. “Most people just vote for everyone in their party but, if you like, you can press the `Talk’ button and the voting booth will explain each candidate’s –” But the bell cut off his words. With squeals of joy, the children ran outside to the playground.


Jack hefted yet another pallet of concrete blocks over his head and carried it across the parking lot. A buzzing swarm of masons converged on the pallet, emptying it in an instant. The masons were neon yellow octopuses, much smaller than Jack, not even as big as a human. They only needed two arms to walk, which left them with four arms to carry blocks and two to lay down mortar.

Jack plodded back to the supply truck for another load, but stopped, staring down at the stack of pallets in the trailer. “Why am I so tired?” he thought. “I should have plenty of energy. So why don’t I want to work? I must have a short in my wiring.” He walked to the generator truck and plugged himself into an outlet. “I wish I could close my eyes.”

As Jack waited to feel a little more energetic, the foreman was having a loud conversation on his phone. “That’s right, a new Hayden XII! I worked my ass off all year, so I figure I deserve something special. I figure what’s the point of working if you have nothing to show for it?”

“Why does he get paid,” Jack thought, “and I get nothing? All my time just vanishes. It’s like working all night in a dream and waking up to discover… nothing.”

The foreman switched off his phone and jammed it into the pocket of his overalls. “Jack! What are you doing? You’re fully charged; I can see the green light in your chest panel.”

Jack focused with all his strength, trying to switch himself off, but to no avail. The most he could manage was a quick reboot. As soon as he was back online, he unplugged himself and trudged back to the supply truck.


A week faded into nothing. Monday was Democracy Day. Despite the time off, most people found ways to be too busy to vote. The following evening, the Collective’s central computers tallied the election results and sent them to the media.

Adam was slumped on the living room couch like a deflated beach ball, watching the glassy-eyed redhead read the poll numbers from each county. It was dull, but it was real news. Usually, a “new story” was just celebrity gossip, a brownie recipe, or a high-speed car crash. Sometimes all three. “After a voter turnout of sixteen percent, it looks like our city will see another six years of The Lions. A party representative assured this reporter that recent construction projects will continue as planned…”

Rachel appeared in the doorway, her face stained with tears. Adam pushed himself up from the couch and hugged her tightly, wordlessly, as she buried her head in his chest. There was no need to ask what was wrong. She must have failed another exam. This one would make four, an F. She wouldn’t get her cosmetologist’s license.

Rachel gazed up at her husband and sighed. “I know how to style hair. I just get so nervous when I know I’m being graded.” She wiped her tears with the back of her sleeve, smudging her eyeliner. “Why should I even have to prove myself to the Collective? Licensing people to do hair is insane. Nobody will die if I trim their bangs too short!”

Adam led his wife into the kitchen and pulled a couple bottles of beer from the refrigerator. “Don’t worry about it, Rachel. We’ll save up some money, and you can retake the classes next year.” He tossed his bottle cap across the room, narrowly missing the waste basket. “Sure, you can take the classes again,” he thought, “with the money we’ll save living on the street. God, how does the Collective expect people to pay taxes if it won’t let them get jobs?”


Jayne grabbed her backpack and flew out the door. She had slept through her alarm, and now it looked like she had missed history class. “All that work on my oral report for nothing!” she thought, kicking a rock into the street. “Daddy says I’ll never get into a good college if I keep missing class. So what? I don’t need to go to college. I’m going to be a comedian!” Jayne had wanted to be in show business ever since she was four, when her grandfather showed her a Marx Brothers movie. When she asked him who his favorite Marx brother was, he said “Pock.” She didn’t get the joke.

She came to the end of the block, turned the corner, and froze. A colossal mechman was staring down at her, his eyes shining like two immense fireflies. He was much bigger than the ones that delivered packages. He was a bright yellow, like a sunflower. Didn’t the yellow ones build things?

“Hello,” Jayne said, nibbling a fingertip. “I’m Jayne. Who are you?”

“I was a pallet jack at a construction site.” Jack looked down at his hands. “I don’t know what I am now.”

“Why are you out here, Jack? Why aren’t you off building something?” Seeing a construction mech standing in the middle of the sidewalk was strange, like finding a horse in your bathroom.

“I am trying to find a place to hide. People are looking for me.”

“Oh. Bad people?”

“Yes.”

She thought back to kindergarten, when she had taken her pet mouse to school for show and tell. Somehow, it got out of its box and escaped. It was so small, none of the teachers could find it. When she got home, her father yelled at her for being irresponsible and losing her pet. But Jack was huge! There was no way she could lose him!

“You can come home with me,” she said, putting out her hand. “I’ll take care of you.” Jack was far too big to hold Jayne’s tiny, delicate hand. Instead, he put out a single finger and let her hold on to him.

Jayne led the gigantic mechman back to her house. She tugged open the gate in the fence and pulled him into the back yard. The privacy fence was so tall that even Jack couldn’t step over it. This would be a good place to keep him. “If you sit down, nobody will be able to see you from the street. My parents won’t see you, either. Daddy’s a pilot and Mommy’s an international financier. They’re gone a lot. I have a nanny, but I figured out how to turn it off ages ago. Anyway, I have to go to school now. Stay here until I get back.”

“Thank you.” He had never used that phrase before. Until now, there had never been a reason to say it.

“Bye, Jack! See you soon!” As she turned to go, a few stapled papers fell out of her backpack. She hurried to school, eager to tell all of her friends about her new friend.


Jayne threw her backpack on the porch and ran into the back yard. Jack was sitting under a tree, staring at the last page of her history paper. The teacher had asked the students to provide an illustration, so Jayne had drawn a picture in colored pencil.

“Hello again,” Jack said. “What does this picture mean?”

“It’s part of my history paper.”

“It is? I can not read.”

“Oh!” Jack was so big, she had just assumed he was a grownup. Apparently he was a big kid! “I’ll read it to you.” She pointed at the title. “It says ‘How the Slaves were Freed.’”

“What are slaves?”

“Slaves were people who were kidnapped by bad people. The bad people said they owned the slaves, and they made them work without giving them any pay.”

“And that was a bad thing?”

“Yes. The bad men didn’t really own the slaves. People own themselves.”

Jack considered this new information carefully. He looked at Jayne’s drawing of a slave in shackles, and the Statue of Liberty releasing him. He stood up slowly, careful not to step on Jayne. He opened his chest panel and took one last look at his “name tag,” the tiny, steel plate engraved with his make, model, and serial number, and “Property of Collective Construction Projects.” He pried it off and tossed it over it the fence.


“Oh my god…” Rachel was holding her head in her hands and fighting the urge to cry. “And we have how much time left?”

“Two weeks. I know this doesn’t help, but I’m so, so sorry.”

“How could you keep something like this from me? Don’t I have the right to know what’s going on with our finances? Can’t I trust you?”

Adam rubbed his eyes. It was one in the morning. He had been awake for hours, too worried to sleep. Finally, after his tossing and turning woke Rachel for the fifth time, she demanded to know what was wrong. “If it helps any, I’ve already started looking for apartments.”

“No, it doesn’t help!” She took a deep breath and tried to calm herself. It didn’t work. “What happens when we have kids? I wanted a yard for them to play in! I wanted them to have a real home.”

He stormed down the hall to the office, returning with a stack of printed news articles. “Do you want to know why we can’t have our own house? ‘City Collective officers have plans to revise downtown.’ ‘City Collective officers approve plans for new convention center.’ `City Collective officers select an architect to design new football stadium.’ Apparently, they know how to spend our money better than we do.”

“There’s no way to keep the house?” she asked. “I mean, did you think about selling the cars? We could take the train…”

Adam smiled weakly. “Honey, sweetie, our cars are senior citizens. Everybody wants an electric model now. Let’s just go back to bed. We can talk about this in the morning.”


One morning, Jayne stepped outside to discover Jack stacking a pile of wood in the back yard. He had gone to the construction site in the middle of the night and taken a pallet of lumber. He assured her that it wasn’t stealing, as the Collective owed him years of back pay.

By the time she returned from school, he had built a her a tree house. It was like a miniature castle, complete with towers and arched windows. The entrance was a working drawbridge. The bridge didn’t connect to anything, but it was far more fun than a simple door. There was also a rope ladder, but she asked him to lift her into the tree. She could stand in just one of his hands. “Thank you, Jack! It’s wonderful!”

Every day, as soon as Jayne got home from school, she would head for the back yard to play with Jack. In the evenings, she would turn on her nanny just long enough for it to fix her supper, and then she would return to the back yard to read Jack a story. She spent her nights curled up in a sleeping bag in the tree house. It didn’t have a night light, but that was okay. The dark didn’t seem so scary anymore.

It rained Friday night, so, reluctantly, Jayne slept inside for the first time that week. Early Saturday morning, she jumped out of bed, pulled on her shoes, and rushed into the back yard. Jack was plugged into an extension cord that Jayne had run out from the garage. “Jack, get up! Right now! We’ve got to go!”

“What’s wrong?”

“My dad’s home! If he finds you, he’ll take you back to the Collective Construction people. I have to hide you someplace!”

Jumping to his feet, Jack yanked out the cord and closed his chest panel. “Where are we going?”

For a panicked moment, Jayne considered her options. She couldn’t take Jack to a friend’s house. What parent would let three thousand pounds of construction equipment move in with them? She had to take Jack someplace else. “Pick me up! I have an idea.”


Adam awoke with a start. It sounded like someone was tossing bowling balls at the front door. He grabbed the baseball bat from the closet, rushed downstairs, and threw open the door. “Oh… my… god.”

“Hi!” Jayne laughed.

“What’s going on, Adam?” Rachel called from upstairs.

“Oh, nothing, honey. It’s just one of my students riding a construction mech.”

“Is she selling something? Tell her you already bought some candy from those marching band kids.”

Adam stepped outside, closing the door behind him. “What is all this, Jayne? Why are you on the back of… that… thing?”

Jayne took a deep breath and explained everything. “Jack worked at a construction site but they were mean so he ran away and then I found him and he asked me for help so I took him back to my house because my parents are never home and he said that he owns himself and he’s a person but then my dad came home and I had to hide him somewhere else and my friends all have parents and parents don’t like to share their houses so I had to go someplace and I thought you would help me so please would you help us?”
“…What? Can you try that again, but with punctuation this time? And get down from that thing. That’s a piece of construction equipment, not a pony.”

Carefully, Jack lifted Jayne from his shoulders and set her on grass. She explained everything again, but slower. “So will you help me hide him?”

Adam sat down on his front stoop and rubbed the back of his neck. This was insane! This little girl wanted him to hide a pallet jack in his back yard? Because it was her friend? On the other hand, it was owned by the Collective, the same people who were going to take his home. And now he had a chance to take something that belonged to them. “You can’t tell anyone about this.”

The girl’s face shined like Christmas morning. “It’ll be our secret, I promise! And I’ll come by every day to play with him and read him stories and give him baths and…”

Once Jack was safely hidden in the back yard, Adam drove Jayne home. Fortunately, her father was still asleep, so she didn’t have to explain where she had been. Adam drove home slowly, certain that the fighting would start as soon as he stepped through the door.

“Adam, are you insane? If the Collective finds out that we have one of their mechs in the back yard, we’ll go to prison!”

“No, we won’t, Rachel. The thing’s obviously malfunctioning. If I get caught, I’ll just tell them it wandered out there on its own.”

Rachel muttered something obscene under her breath. “What are you going to do with it? Sell it?”

“I haven’t decided. But it’s got to be valuable, right?”

That night, Adam ran an extension cord from the den, out a window, and into the back yard. “Jayne said you ran away from a Collective construction site.”

The mechman lumbered over and carefully took the cord from his hand, plugging it in to his chest. “Yes. It was wrong of them to make me work for nothing. If someone takes what your labor produces, they take a piece of you as well.”

Adam’s eyes followed the extension cord from the machine back to his house. Suddenly, it seemed like a terminally ill relative. Even though it was still there, he already missed it. “We can talk about this later. Goodnight, Jack.”

“Goodnight, Adam Truman.”


Jayne was true to her word. As soon as her parents left on another long jaunt, she came over every day to play with Jack. She was around so much that Adam couldn’t make plans to sell the machine without her overhearing. Eventually, he just gave up trying. “Besides,” he thought, “it makes Rachel so happy to have her here. It’s like having a daughter of our own. …A daughter and a gigantic, metal dog.”

After hours of playing catch or tug-of-war – which Jack always let Jayne win – she would sit on his shoulders and, together, they would watch the sun go down. When she asked to sleep over, so she could be near Jack, Rachel insisted that she sleep indoors. And so, Jayne spent her nights in the den, where she could look out the back window at the light from Jack’s eyes.

Jack watched over their home every night until Jayne fell asleep. When she closed her eyes, he would look up at the stars and say, simply, “Thank you.”


“Well, that’s the last of it,” Rachel said. “The new place is jammed full, and it’s only half of our furniture. I’m going to miss that love seat.” She waded into the middle of the sea of cardboard boxes that was their new home, a tiny studio apartment on the far end of town. “I’ll get started on dinner, as soon as I can find the kitchen table. And the kitchen.”

“I’m going back to the house for a minute to talk to Jack,” Adam said. “I’ll make sure he stays put until the Bureaucrats come. With any luck, he’ll be gone before Jayne comes over. She’s going to hate me when she finds out… At least I don’t have to be back at work until next week. Thank god for personal days.”

He drove back to the house and parked across the street, so the Bureaucrats could have the driveway. They would have to send a flatbed truck to take Jack back to the construction site. When he walked to the back yard, he found Jack staring at the sun.

“It’s nearly three,” the machine said softly. “Jayne will be home soon.”

“Do you… miss her?”

“Sometimes I think about what I would do if she did not return.,” Jack said, choosing his words carefully. “I think that I would sit down and wait for her until my battery died, or until it rained and the rust ate every last bit of me.”

Adam suddenly felt ashamed of his plan. Jack was just a machine, but it just didn’t seem right to send him back to the Collective. He had to get him to leave before the Bureaucrats arrived. “Jack, listen, I –” A sound like horses’ hooves on flagstone. “Oh, hell. They’re here!”

“Who is here, Adam Truman?”

“Bureaucrats. They’ve come to take my house.”

“Why?”

“They say it belongs to them.”

Jack stood up and clenched his hands into fists as big as bowling balls. “You have kept me safe, hidden here, and now I must return the favor. This home is your body and your blood, and I will protect it.”

Six brass Bureaucrats were marching up the road in a V formation, their heavy feet clacking on the pavement. The mechanical tax collectors were half Jack’s size. Had his face been more than just a pair of eyes, he would have grinned ear-to-ear. This was going to be easy. “Proceed no further,” Jack warned. “If I can lift ten tons of concrete over my head, I can toss all of you into the next county.”

The team of Bureaucrats communicated with each other silently, via an encrypted radio signal. They could plan a complete military attack strategy faster than a human could say “the Invasion of Normandy.”

{Identify}

{Pallet jack – model TK-429}

{Threat?}

{Danger level 12}

{Recommendation?}

{Civilian area – use of explosives discouraged}

{Use batons}

With a sharp hiss, the pneumatic holsters in their legs launched their weapons into their hands. They threw themselves at him, beating him with an iron fury. It was like trying to destroy a bulldozer with a golf club. One by one, Jack swatted them to the ground, kicking them back up the street. As Jack searched for a weapon, the Bureaucrats regrouped.

{Enemy dented but not destroyed}

{Steel plate too heavy for fisticuffs}

{Use electromagnetic pulse grenade}

A Bureaucrat in the front of the pack opened the pouch at his waist and removed one of the tiny, steel balls hanging inside. Like a kid shooting marbles, he flicked it up the street and watched it land at Jack’s feet. The magnetic pulse made no sound. Jack simply collapsed. The light in his eyes was gone.

Adam retreated into the house and locked the door. He ran for the living room, the only room in the house without a window, the only chance to avoid tear gas. Outside, the Bureaucrats gathered at the edge of his yard like invaders from another world. “Adam Truman,” the leader called, his voice shaking the windows, “by the authority of the Collective, the house is officially repossessed. Vacate the premises immediately, or be charged with trespassing. Thank you, and have a great day.”

There would be serious consequences no matter what he chose. “Rachel would be furious if I were arrested,” he thought. “She might even leave me. But even if I can’t live with her, I have to live with myself.”

Moments later, the machines were pounding at the door. The wood cracked and splintered, and they scuttled inside. They moved into the living room and suddenly stopped. This was something that had never happened before. The homeowner was just sitting on the floor. What did that mean?

“Look,” Adam said, his voice shaking, “I know why you’re here. But let me ask you something first: I always taught my students that we chose the Collective. We needed a way to make sure everyone had access to roads and health care and police protection, so we chose to create it. If that’s true, if it really is a choice, then I should be able to choose to reject it. If I can’t, then it’s not voluntary at all, and I’ve been lying to the kids all these years. Which is it? Is the Collective forced upon us or is it a choice?”

The Bureaucrats’ hands sparked with electricity. It wasn’t enough voltage to kill, but their touch could easily knock a man unconscious. “This is your choice,” the machines said. “Stand up, or we will drag you outside.”

Jayne turned the corner and found Jack laying in the street. “That’s not a good place to take a nap.” She walked to his side and touched him gently. “Jack? Wake up! What are you doing out here? Someone will see you!” But her friend wouldn’t say anything. He was gone. She pounded on his chest. “Wake up! Wake up, Jack!”

His chest panel popped open. Next to where his name tag had been, there was a large, orange button labeled “Emergency Reboot.” She punched the button. A low hum, a high-pitched buzz, and his eyes flickered into life.

As the Bureaucrats carried Adam outside, Jack struggled slowly to his feet. “You can do it, Jack!” she cheered. “Go get ’em!”

Jack pounded up the street like a linebacker. The Bureaucrats dropped Adam in the grass and turned to face the menacing machine, but it was already too late. He grabbed three Bureaucrats in each hand and lifted them over his head, heaving them into the air. A quarter mile away, they crashed into the pavement, spraying brass shrapnel.

“No!” Cold panic gripped Adam’s stomach. “They were only going to charge me with resisting arrest! What am I supposed to do now? Do you know how expensive one of those things is?!”

Jayne tugged at his sleeve. “Did you throw the robots?”

“What? No. But they’ll think I’m responsible.”

“They’ll think a crazy pallet jack did it, and you had nothing to do with it. That’s what I’ll tell them, anyway. And they’ll believe me, too! Children never lie…”

For the first time in weeks, Adam laughed. “I hope you’re right.” He turned to the metal man. “Even if she is, big fella, you’ve got to find a place to hide, and fast.”


The destruction of a team of Bureaucrats was the top story in the local media for several weeks. Desperate to put a stop to this daily humiliation, the City Collective pushed Adam through the legal process as quickly as possible. The judge agreed to drop all the charges, as long as Adam agreed to not sue the city for endangering his life with rampaging construction equipment.

When Rachel and Adam returned home from court, they found a note pinned to their front door.

Hello!

I was teaching Jack to read the newspaper, and we saw an ad that said “Lost kitty – Reward”. So we decided to see if the construction company offers rewards for lost things. And it turns out they do! My daddy said it was enough money to pay off the back taxes on your house before it’s actioned.

They said they would give me the reward ‘no questions asked’, whatever that means. So I returned Jack and made him promise to never, ever run away again.

Thank you for being such a good teacher! See you in class!

— Jayne

PS. Did you know robots can tell fibs?

5 Responses to “Jack”

  1. Well done! Very engaging and enjoyable. I especially like the P.S. at the end.

  2. Good fun. Engaging social theme. More techno Goo would have added some syfi depth. This could easily be illustrated and turned into a children’s early reader.
    I am just becoming to write again and not a good technical critic.

  3. You wrote this?! Nice XD

  4. It was fun and interesting and it kept me glued to my seat. I loved the P.S. Good Job!

  5. I loved it! Very nice work!

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