The Fixer || Lori D'Angelo

Image Credit: Freepik

The Fixer
by Lori D'Angelo

Administering CPR to a robot was a different skill set, and not every technician could master it. So those who could do it and do it well were in high demand. 

Frank Zimmerman was one of the most sought-after robot technicians in the city. In fact, Frank was so good, that when he was on robot watch, he could demand premium pay. Because, in his fifteen years of doing this, he had only lost two. One of them was a freak, a fluke, a robot who had total system failure. The other one was Vanessa, his wife.

He had gone over her death so many times. He had examined every possible cause in-depth except the one he was unwilling to accept. Maybe, he thought, he had been sabotaged. But not by Vanessa, not his Vanny, the love and light of his life. Someone had cut the cord to the robot defibrillator, effectively derailing his efforts to resuscitate her, and he hadn't known until it was too late. But he refused to believe that Vanny would ever do that. Not just for his sake, but for Noah's, their half robot, half human son, who was curious, precocious, delightful. Even at the age of two, the age he had been when Vanessa died, Noah was a wonderful child. Even if she and Frank sometimes had their differences, he knew that she loved him with a smoldering intensity, and she had definitely loved their son. He knew that without a doubt. 

But it was because of Vanessa's death that he had become the skilled technician that he was today. Still, he would give it all up, all the money and the fame and the prestige to have Vanessa back. 

Because he was Frank Zimmerman, the best robot resuscitator there ever was, everyone knew him, and they would have known him even without his black polo shirt emblazoned with the word Security

Tonight, he was working at a high-profile event at the McIlvaine Estate, and he knew that things could get very very crazy, very quickly. There would be alcohol. There would be drugs. And there would be juice. For robots, juice was the most dangerous of the three. A few milliliters change in dosage could mean the difference between a pleasant buzz and a quick but torturously painful death. But the skilled technician knew how to spot the signs of impending death in time to prevent it. 

After Vanessa, Frank had put in place certain precautions to prevent a repeat performance of his greatest personal and professional failure. 

For every event, no matter how large or small, he always made sure he had at least two technicians working with him, one human and one robot.

This was for a number of reasons, one being that humans and robots saw things differently. What one missed, the other might catch. To this day, Frank wondered if, had a robot been with him that night, he might have been able to save Vanessa.

“Sometimes though, when it's someone's time to die, it's their time to die," Felicia, his most trusted robot assistant, had told him. He didn't agree with her though. Technically, as long as you maintained all their parts, robots could live forever. Unlike humans, they didn't have to die. 

Because Felicia was the best, second only to Frank, he had her working tonight. This event was important, so he had a staff of seven: three robots, three humans, and an alternate in case anything happened to one of the members of his core team. Usually, his team was in top shape. They ran daily. They went to the gym. They completed drills. One of the requirements of working for Frank Zimmerman's team was that you had to be in peak physical health. He had seen things go wrong when the technicians you had on duty were physically or mentally impaired. So Frank did random temperature and drug checks, biannual vision tests, blood pressure checks, and EKGs. His employees could wear contacts or glasses or take medications. He just needed to know that, with correction, his employees could perform. They were like the Olympic athletes of their field, and they needed to be quicker, smarter, and stronger than both their competitors and those who would attempt to outmaneuver them. Their competitors were many. Most were cheaper, but none were better. When a potential client wanted Frank to come down in price in line with many of the others, all Frank had to do was pull out his fancy charts. “Let me ask you a question," he would say to the young punk in the suit who mistakenly thought he could out-negotiate Frank Zimmerman, “can any of my competitors boast these save rates?" Frank Zimmerman's save rate was 99.5 percent, and he knew that his closest competitor's save rate was fifteen percent less. In the end, most potential clients agreed to pay what Frank was asking because robots were valuable. Much more valuable than humans. They could be programmed to do the toughest, most intellectually or physically challenging jobs and do them better than humans and for far longer periods of time under much harsher conditions. If there was a shortage of computer engineers, surgeons, or even Hazmat workers, they could turn to the robots. The robots could endure hardships like extreme cold and nuclear radiation at levels that humans couldn't and tackle intellectual challenges without letting their emotions get in the way.

That wasn't to say that robots couldn't feel. Vanessa felt for Frank. He knew it was real because she could have chosen to live alone. Some robots even slept in pods and turned themselves off at night. But Vanessa had chosen to live with him, to stay on, to have a child. Had she not wanted that, all someone needed to do was flip a switch to neutralize the growth inside of her. But Vanessa had been ecstatic when she found out that she was going to have a baby, and Frank had been too. Even though he knew that some men wouldn't have been, that some men just thought of the robots as merely machines or sex toys and didn't see them as fully human, Frank knew that the connection one could form with robots was just as real as the connection they formed with any other life form including humans. 

Frank was walking the perimeter of the McIlvaine Estate because working security at robot-human events included all aspects of health and safety from breaking up robot-human fights to looking for suspicious activity on the ground. At highbrow events like this, it wasn't uncommon to see gate crashers, robbers, and all kinds of scammers. Even though Frank had a ticketing system that was nearly foolproof—he scanned the chips that were implanted in the guests' necks and matched them to their photos on their government issued IDs. He didn't underestimate the importance of good old-fashioned footwork.

Just as Frank was examining the front bushes for potential intruders and spy cams, he got the radio call from Felicia.

“Frank, we need you in Quadrant 2. We have a potential Salamander." For every event his people worked, he divided the property into quadrants. The quadrants were never the same, so that anyone technologically sophisticated enough to hack their secure radio channels still wouldn't know what they were talking about. And the code word salamander had nothing to do with fish. It meant that there was potential salt in one of the robot's power lines.

“Roger, Felicia. Administer some frog leg potion and keep me posted until I get there with the magic wand."

Frank was telling Felicia to give the robot a steam treatment until he could get there with the portable robot sized power washer. Salt in the lines could cause outages, chip malfunctions, and even death. And salt didn't just appear. It had to be placed. In other words, it was quite possible that someone was trying to kill one of the robots. Frank picked up his pace. He didn't want to appear panicked, but he also didn't want a fatality to occur because he was walking there as if he was taking a leisurely stroll in the park.

When Frank got to Felicia's location, which she transmitted to him by GPS, Felicia pointed to the victim. A female robot in her twenties. She was sitting on an ivory lounge chair gasping for not air because robots didn't breathe, but for life. She had long brown hair, olive robot skin, and she reminded him of Vanessa.

“What's her name?" Frank asked. 

“Sir," said Felicia, “I don't see why that matters." 

Frank was annoyed. “Never mind, I'll find out myself."

“What's your name?" Frank asked as she continued gasping. 

“Bri," she began, but started coughing before she could finish.

“I'm Frank, and everything is going to be okay. Open your mouth, so I can clean out your system. Do you want to stay powered on for this?" 

She nodded. Frank got out the tiny power washer and explained to Bri what he was doing. “This," he said, pointing to his wand, “is going to clean out your lines with steam. It's going to be hot, but it won't hurt. Okay?"

She nodded again, and he began the procedure to clean out her system. “You might want to close your eyes and think of something pleasant like skating or baking while I remove the salt from your system," he told her.

The actual process was easy. He used the heated water to break down the salt and clear out her system. It was like what you would do with salt encrusted power lines but on a smaller scale because the power lines were inside her. 

The day Vanessa died had seemed rather ordinary at first. Frank had gone to work. At the time, he was working construction and doing robot resuscitation as a side gig. When he got home, he, Vanessa, and Noah had Thai takeout, one of her favorites. He had picked it up after work. Noah was babbling happily about lions, which he had recently seen at the zoo, and Frank was asking Vanessa about her day. She was answering his questions, but she seemed oddly distant. She said that she didn't feel well and was going to lie down. He sat on the living room sofa to watch a sports talk show and said that he would put Noah to bed. An hour later, when he went to check on her, she was dead. 

Frank asked Bri if she was doing okay. She nodded hesitantly. He told her to stay with him. He took her hand and told her that she was doing really well. “You might feel a little weird," he said, "as the salt makes its way through your body. But we'll be here, monitoring you. You might feel better if you get some sleep."

She nodded, and Felicia took her to the recharge bay. Through a computer, one of the other technicians would monitor her water, acid, and fluid levels. If anything went wrong, he would be notified immediately.

“Do you think," he asked Felicia, “that someone tried to kill her?" 

“I think," she said, “that we need to check the salt levels in her drink and everyone else's.”

“Yes, of course," he said. Normally, he would have suggested that. After all, it was in the protocol, which he had written himself. But that girl had gotten him spooked and he was thinking about Vanessa. Come on, Frank, he said to himself, get your head in the game.

“You and Thad get on that right away," he said. “I'm going to get back to checking the perimeter." But he didn't go back to checking the perimeter, at least not right away. Instead, he went to check on the girl. She was so beautiful, so peaceful, so much like Vanessa. Even though he knew he shouldn't have because the first rule of robot resuscitation was not to get involved with the robots he saved, he took the robot's hand. Asleep, he thought, the resemblance to Vanessa was even more pronounced. The girl stirred, and Frank froze.

Without looking at him, the girl said, "I'm glad you're here, Frank." Frank realized that she had wanted him to be here. Had she planned this? Had she poisoned herself? If so, why?

“I know what you're thinking," the girl said. Frank thought that the girl was going to mention the poison, but instead she said, “I know you think I look like Vanessa. Vanessa was my sister, my sister model, I mean. And so we shared some parts of our consciousness. I know how she died."

Frank felt like he'd been punched. How much of his life had he devoted to finding this answer? And now that he was here with this girl who was offering it to him, he wasn't sure that he wanted it. Something like that, so big, had the power to heal him or shatter him completely. Frank handled it by changing the subject. “Do you know what happened to you?" 

“Of course," she said, “the ambassador's wife tried to eliminate me because her husband is in love with me. But the irony of it is, when he hears about it, he will know it was her, and he will leave her."

“Do you love the ambassador?"

“I don't think I've ever loved any man, but I know that Vanessa loved you."

Frank felt like he needed a break, a drink. He felt like she was baiting him, and he wasn't sure that he wanted to hear more. He looked over at the sensors monitoring his own vitals, and he realized that they were dangerously close to setting off alarms. He also realized that if anything were to happen along the perimeter that he was supposed to be monitoring, the blame and the responsibility would fall solely on him.

“Look," he said to the girl, “I have to go."

“Frank, wait," she said. But he was walking out the door and into the night air. He could feel his heart pounding. As a precautionary measure, he raised his own alarm levels. The moon was full, and he was feeling anxious. He knew better than to think about Vanessa on a night like this. But because of her robot clone being targeted for murder, he couldn't help it. Because his eyes and mind weren't on the game at a critical moment, Felicia was able to sneak up on him. 

“We tested the salt level of all the other robots, and they were fine," she told him. 

Frank tried not to react, tried not to show that she had startled him. He had trained for scenarios like this, so he would have fooled most others. But Felicia said, “I know you adjusted your alarm levels, Frank. If anyone else had vitals levels like you have now, you would have sidelined them."

Frank regarded her carefully. She was Vanessa's opposite in every way. She was blond whereas Vanessa was dark haired, darker skinned, and curvy. Felicia was tall and slim, like a waify supermodel. 

“That girl says she's Vanessa's sister," Frank said. 

“Well, she looks like her, but Vanessa's dead, and we really need for you to have your head on the ground tonight. This company of yours, it's not just your life's work. It's all of ours. Here," she said, handing him a vial, “take this."

He looked at her with annoyance. “You know that drugs are against my rules."

“Frank," she said, “you're already breaking your own rules. It's your choice. Do whatever. But…"

“But what?" Frank asked.

“Don't fuck this up over Vanessa. How much of your life has she already taken from you?" 

Frank thought of his canned response. Vanessa was the love of his life. Vanessa gave his life meaning. If it wasn't for Vanessa, he wouldn't be the man he was today. But he didn't say any of that.

“You know I'm not taking that," he said.

Felicia sighed. “Maybe you should just go talk to the girl and put the mystery of Vanessa behind you." Felicia put a tentative hand on his shoulder. “You know we all care about you. We all believe in you, in this company and in your mission to save the robots. Some of the clients only care about the money. But, for you, this is like your calling. You care if we live or die, and you care about that girl, and you would care about that girl whether she looked like Vanessa or not.

“Go back in, Felicia," Frank said. “I'm good here."

“You know, sometimes you don't make our job easy." 

An hour later, a younger new employee came out to relieve him of perimeter duty. Frank had people switch places to prevent party fatigue.

The boy's name was Felipe. He had slicked back black hair and the charm of a classic movie star.

“How's it going in there, Felipe?" Frank asked. 

“Well, you know the rich, how they sometimes think they're immortal, immune to pain and death? All I gotta say is I'm glad we're working robot rescue duty. The people working human rescue duty have their hands full tonight."

“Plus, it pays better," Frank joked.

Felipe regarded him carefully, as if he wasn't sure if it was okay to laugh at Frank's joke or not.

“Ha, ha," Felipe finally said, “right." 

Frank took the long way back into the house, so he could watch the movement of guests and staff and residents in and out the many entrances. From a distance, you couldn't tell which were humans and which were robots. But, up close, there were subtle differences. Robots' eyes didn't dilate in the same way, and their movements were more precise and less jerky, especially when it came to fine motor skills. They were skilled not just at mining and computer work but also at surgery and carpentry. And they were less prone to making errors than humans. Especially when they were off the juice. Frank remembered Vanessa's toxicology reports. There were abnormally low levels of oil in Vanessa's system leading to lubrication failure. But that didn't make sense. It never had. Vanessa was fastidious about doing regular maintenance. And there was no evidence of a leak in her system. Had she not done the maintenance or had someone somehow drained the oil out? The cut robot defibrillator made him think that sabotage by another human or robot was possible. But what if Vanessa had done that? Frank hesitated before entering the mansion. In some places, humans were passed out on the floor. Some nights, Frank would stop and check their pulses as a courtesy, but tonight he wasn't feeling generous or benevolent towards his fellow humans. They had created the robots to make their lives better, but when the robots succeeded beyond their wildest dreams, they blamed the robots for taking their jobs and their lives' meaning.  And, despite all evidence to the contrary, they saw themselves as better than the robots: purer, cleaner, more natural. It was all hypocrisy, Frank thought, because humans were walking around with mechanical legs and pacemakers and artificial bones and had been for a long time. It wasn't, in Frank's opinion, how you came to live on earth that mattered, but what you did when you got there. 

To Frank's surprise, when he went to the resuscitation room, Felicia was already there with the girl who was now powered down. He began to ask her what she was doing there, but he already knew. She was there because she knew he would be. 

“How's it going in there?" he asked because Felicia was still working in the main house but in a different quadrant.

“On the robot end, fine. On the human end, it's kind of a disaster. It almost makes me feel pity for those fools. They are given life so easily and yet all so many of them can do is throw it away. You came here to talk to the girl?"

He nodded. 

“Don't bother," she said. 

“Felicia, if she knows what happened to Vanessa. . ."

“She doesn't. Frank, and what would it do to you if you knew that Vanessa had killed herself because she couldn't bear to be with you any longer?"

“It would devastate me," he admitted.

Felicia gave him a long hard look. He thought he knew what she was going to say next, something hopeful and encouraging. But, instead, she surprised him. “And who do you think would benefit from that, Frank?"

“My competitors," Frank admitted.

“I ran her source code," Felicia said. “She's not Vanessa's sister, but someone built her to look like Vanessa and programmed her to say that. And I wouldn't be surprised if she put salt in her own lines to try to frame the ambassador's wife. She knew she wasn't in any danger. She knew you would save her, and then she could manipulate you." Felicia's eyes flashed with anger.

“It's okay," he said. “It's not your fault."

“But it's robots like her who make me hate my kind." 

“Just like all humans aren't the same, neither are all robots. I know you're not like her. I know you care," he said, realizing that she did care, not just about the company but about him, and she had for a long time. “You turned her off?"

Felicia nodded.

“Okay, then," he said, and he leaned over to kiss her.

He watched her carefully. He saw surprise and fear, but not displeasure.

“Frank, we can't," she said.

“Because?” he asked.

“You know why," she said. “because of the rules."

“Felicia," he said, “I made those rules, and I can break them or remake them. Besides, you know we have more people working than we actually need. We always do. And we've trained them well, to the point where I'm not sure they really even need us out here tonight."

“But you insist on being out here anyway so you can save them all in the hopes that one of them will redeem you for failing to save Vanessa. But it never does."

“Um, Felicia, can you lock the door, and can we not talk about Vanessa right now?"

“Fine," she said smiling. After she locked the door, she reached over to adjust his alarms.

“Are you turning them back to normal?" he asked. 

“No," she said, “I'm turning them off because if I don't someone might mistakenly think you're having a heart attack."

“Is that so?" he asked.

“Yes," she said, “now let's get this over with, so we can get back to work."

“Yes, ma'am," he said. “And, just so you know, if too much excitement causes a system overload, I know a guy who can save you." 

“I think that he already has. I just hope it's not too late for him to save himself." 

Lori D'Angelo is a grant recipient from the Elizabeth George Foundation and an alumna of the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. Recent work has appeared in Beaver Magazine, Bullshit Lit, Chaotic Merge, Idle Ink, JAKE, One Art Poetry Journal, and Voidspace. Find her on Twitter @sclly21 or Instagram at lori.dangelo1.

Post a Comment

Post a Comment (0)
Fiery Scribe Review