Higgins awoke to the sound of someone pounding angrily on his office door. He scratched his head, and he rubbed his eyes in a vain attempt to chase away the hangover plaguing him. The hangover was so bad his head felt swollen. Inflated, even. Like a big balloon. He wondered if it was possible for a person to drink themselves to a concussion. It felt like someone had hit him in the head with a bat. Repeatedly.
THUMP. THUMP. THUMP. THUMP. He felt each fist-fall in the backs of his eyes.
Higgins decided that whomever was banging on his door must know that he was inside because otherwise the person would have given up by now. He quickly scanned his desk to make sure a rogue bottle of booze wasn’t lurking about amidst all the uncompleted paperwork, and he slowly made his way to the door.
“What?” he said as he swung the door open. He tried to swing the door angrily, but ended up hitting himself on the foot with the edge of the door, prompting his “What” to sound more like “Whuuughh?!?”
“Were you sleeping in here?” asked the knocker.
Higgins examined the man standing in his doorway before answering. Yellow name-tag. Shit. That meant administration. Black suit. With nice shoes. Shit. Shit. That meant important administration. Shit. Shit. Shit. He decided to answer respectfully.
“Uh, no, sir. I wasn’t sleeping. I was transcribing a report, and I had to finish a sentence before I hit ‘save.’”
The man didn’t look convinced. “Sentence? Well hell boy, I’ve been banging on your door for almost a full minute. You had time to finish an entire report. Do you know who I am?”
In his experience, Higgins found that whenever he was asked “Do you know who I am?” the person asking would become incredibly offended if he did not, in fact, know who they were. He tried to read the man’s name on his yellow ID tag.
The man noticed Higgins staring intently at his name tag. “I’ll save you the time. I’m the CFO, you moron.”
Higgins’s head snapped up. “Oh. Mr. Tellvue. I’m sorry sir. I didn’t recognize you. I’ve only ever seen your picture in company brochures.”
Mr. Tellvue stared at Higgins. Higgins got the impression Mr. Tellvue didn’t like him. Higgins was correct.
“You’ve got a problem on your line.”
Higgins didn’t even try to mask his confusion. “What?”
“Do I have to repeat myself, son? You have a problem on. your. line. I have personally received calls from major clients complaining about inconsistent product. They are all threatening to pull their accounts if we don’t rectify the problem post-haste.”
Higgins was confused. There was never anything wrong with the line. It always ran smoothly, which is why he could afford to be hung-over at work on most days.
“Uh, are you sure sir? Did they say what the problem with the product was?”
“They said the product was inconsistent. That doesn’t happen here. You understand me? We’ve sunk trillions into this factory to ensure that our product is consistently perfect. We are intergalactically known, and each unit should be the same as the last: PERFECT.” Mr. Tellvue growled as he said “perfect.” Higgins smelled stale coffee on his breath. It made him kinda queasy.
“Here’s what you do: Assemble a testing committee. Find out if any of the units are creating an inconsistent product. Simple trial and error.”
Higgins shook his head in agreement. “Yessir. That’s what I was thinking, too.”
“I bet you weren’t thinking anything” he said as he shook his head in disgust. But you better start.” Mr. Tellvue spun on his heels and marched off. “Because if you don’t fix this, you’re gone” he said as he strode away.
For the next two days Higgins worked feverishly. He avoided booze. He didn’t sneak off for naps. He even stopped his after-lunch routine of masturbating in the toilet.
Before he assembled a tasting committee, Higgins went robot by robot on the line. He asked each one to run a self-test, and he had them message their results to his office workstation. He examined robots’ self-test reports, and after hours of pouring over field after field of data, Higgins was beginning to become despondent at his lack of progress.
He did find one anomaly. BR-42. Its self-test report looked like all the rest, except for the “Purpose” section. The data in that field didn’t make sense, so Higgins decided to question the robot verbally.
It took Higgins nearly twenty minutes to find the correct robot. Other than the “BR-42” on its SKU, it looked like all the rest of them.
“BR-42. Stop working and address me” Higgins commanded. The robot pulled its articulating hands out of a big bowl and turned itself 180 degrees away from the work area to face Higgins.
“Please state your hardware number and OS version.”
“B-R-4-2” replied the robot in its sing-songy, metallic voice. Higgins never understood why the units had to be programmed to sound so cute. “OS version 5.03.”
Higgins checked the printout. Correct.
“BR-42, your system test output contained anomalous data in the “Purpose” field. State your purpose for verification.”
Higgins waited. The robot sat silent. Higgins looked at its font readout panel. The robot was definitely plugged in and powered on. Higgins felt silly asking again. It wasn’t like the robot was hard of hearing. Either it heard him or it didn’t. 1 or a 0.
“BR-42, your system test output contained anomalous data in the “purpose” field. State your purpose for verification” Higgins commanded a second time.
Higgins could hear a soft “mmmmmmm” coming from its speaker. If he didn’t know better, he might have thought the robot was trying to decide what to say. Finally, the robot simply replied “I biscuit” in a quiet, metallic sounding voice.
Higgins looked at his readout. That’s what it said, too. “I biscuit.” The “Purpose” field was supposed to contain the meticulously tested and aggressively guarded recipe for the biscuits the factory made. Each section of the recipe had been tested and retested to maximize deliciousness. Each biscuit was supposed to be perfectly golden brown and delicious. And even more importantly, each biscuit that rolled off the line was supposed to be utterly and absolutely consistent.
And here was a silly little robot that couldn’t even articulate the damn recipe. Higgins felt sure this was the problem.
“BR-42, please recite the recipe and procedure for making biscuits. And do so precisely. Leave nothing out.”
Higgins listened as BR-42 parroted off the recipe perfectly. No deviations. Higgins had just known this robot was the problem, but other than its weird little “I biscuit” comment, it appeared to be functioning just fine.
Higgins was annoyed. He was hoping to rectify this issue quickly without having to assemble a tasting committee. He didn’t work well with humans. Or robots, if he was being perfectly honest.
Over the course of the next two days, Higgins created a tasting committee and set about trying to find the inconsistent product. The committee quickly identified the problem, and presented him with a report of their findings.
Higgins wanted to be sure he understood the report. “Okay. Let me get this straight. You’re telling me that BR-42 is making better biscuits than the other 150 units? What do you mean better?”
The committee chairwoman looked annoyed. “What part of ‘better’ don’t you understand? Its biscuits tasted better. They were more buttery, and the crumb was just a bit lighter than the other units. More pillowy and light. They might be the best biscuits I’ve ever tasted.” Someone at the committee table fake-coughed. The chairwoman rolled her eyes. “Best biscuits we’ve ever tasted. Which means that all the other biscuits tasted slightly worse. That accounts for the reports of inconsistency.”
Higgins nodded. “Yeah. I get it. Customers were tasting BR-42’s biscuits and then getting disappointed that all of them didn’t taste that good. I just don’t understand how this happened.”
The chairwoman shrugged. “Dunno. But at least you know which one isn’t functioning properly.”
Higgins took his report to his office and called Mr. Tellvue. He picked up on the third ring.
“Hello?” He practically screamed into the phone. Geez, thought Higgins. The guy sounded annoyed and Higgins hadn’t even said anything yet.
“Uh, Mr. Tellvue. Higgins, down on the floor.”
Higgins cleared his throat. “Well, sir, I think I’ve found the anomaly. There’s a robot that’s making a better biscuit.”
“What the hell does that mean? Better? Don’t those things all make the same biscuit? Wasn’t that the purpose of going robotic in the first place?”
“Yeah. Well, they’re supposed to, sir. But this one is apparently doing something different.”
“Well, reprogram it” Mr. Tellvue demanded.
Higgins hated trying to explain tech to administrators. They never understood anything. “Uh, the robots don’t work like that, sir. After a positronic brain is turned on, it can’t really be turned off. We’d just have to scrap the whole unit.”
Mr. Tellvue remained silent for a few moments. Higgins could hear the CFO mumbling to himself. Finally Mr. Tellvue responded. “Ran the numbers. Trash it.”
Higgins walked back down to the floor and found BR-42. “BR-42, stop working, disengage yourself from the line, and follow me.”
The robot kept cutting biscuits out of the dough. It was also making a weird sound. It almost sounded like it was…whistling a tune. Higgins repeated himself, but this time he invoked the second law. “BR-42, stop working, disengage yourself from the line, and follow me. According to the second law, you must obey.” The robot stopped cutting the biscuits.
Then, inexplicably, it said “But I biscuit.”
Higgins didn’t understand. These robots were all ROM. They weren’t heuristic. Their programming even contained objects designed specifically to prevent the unit from learning. Its remark made no sense.
“Follow me, BR-42.”
Higgins watched as BR-42 detached itself from the conveyor system and deployed its wheels. The robot moved slowly and meticulously. It almost seemed rather sad. But Higgins knew that was impossible.
“Follow me.” Higgins walked away from the floor towards the basement. He was relieved when he heard BR-42 following him.
When they got to the basement area, Higgins walked over to the smelter where the factory melted down scrap metal, which would eventually be made into new robots to work the line. Higgins worried about this part. He knew that according to the third law of robotics that BR-42 would try to protect its own existence, but he also knew that the third law clarified that the robot could protect its own existence as long as in doing so it didn’t injure a human or disobey a human’s direct command. Higgins hoped its programming wasn’t totally borked. These things were strong, and he really didn’t feel like getting a loader and forcing it into the molten metal.
“BR-42, place yourself into the smelter. I am giving you a direct order, which takes precedence over the third law.”
BR-42 didn’t move. Higgins sighed. He really disliked this robot. “BR-42, place yourself…”
“I biscuit” BR-42 replied defiantly.
Higgins stared at the robot. It stared back at him. They stared at one another.
“You’re broken, BR-42.”
“I biscuit” it said again.
Higgins walked over to the robot. He grabbed it with both hands and started pushing it towards the smelter.
“You’re going in that damn pot.” The robot started to struggle. Higgins knew it wouldn’t hurt him. The first law forbid it.
“BR-42, you’re hurting me. By struggling, you’re hurting me” Higgins said quickly.
Higgins felt the robot stop resisting him, and he pushed it toward the smelter as fast as he could. Suddenly, BR-42 let out a loud, shrill shriek. “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!” it screamed. Higgins jumped back. As soon as his hands left the robot, it started to move away from the smelter. Higgins quickly grabbed it, and it did stop, but as soon as Higgins resumed pushing, BR-42 started screamed again.
“NOOOOOOO!!! I BISCUIT! I BISCUIT!” it yelled over and over.
Higgins gave it one final shove and BR-42 went into the smelter feet first. “NOOOOOOO!!! PLEASE!!! NOOOOO!!! I BISCUIT!!! PLEASE, NOOOO!!!” Its screams echoed across the basement as it sank into the smelter. The bottom of the unit caught on fire from the white hot heat of the molten metal.
Higgins watched as the weird little biscuit-making robot slowly melted, and it screamed the entire time. Higgins couldn’t understand how its programming had gotten so screwed up.
As the fire slowly made its way up the sides of BR-42, it kept repeating “I BISCUIT” over and over like a mantra or a prayer, until finally the voice synthesizer began to melt.
BR-42 got out one last quiet “I biscuit,” and then it went silent.
Higgins watched as the rest of the robot melted down, and then he walked back up to the factory floor. He went over to BR-42’s empty workspace and started cleaning up. As he finished, he noticed that a batch of BR-42’s biscuits were just coming out of the oven.
He picked one up gingerly. It was really hot. He quickly broke it in two, and he watched as steam slowly wafted out of the pillowy, buttery biscuit. The crumb was light and golden, like sunshine caressing a ball of cotton. He took a big bite, and as he savored it, he realized that BR-42 did indeed make the best biscuits he’d ever tasted.