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“As you may know, the Red Queen Corporation, when it bought the U.S. Postal Service, decreed all of you would be replaced by robots.” Maury Holliday, the postal supervisor, had given a similar sort of speech for a million mornings (it seemed) with dispassionate tones he hoped sounded professional and authoritative and stone-like in its superior power, but certainly his subordinates must have seen it as the pure, broken, sucked dry dispassion it actually was. All the postal faces he spoke to were so drawn down by gravity, so prone to dying at any moment, how could he put any passion into any of this variety of speechifying? “We’ve known for a long time you’d be integral in training the robots who’d replace you. However, news has come down the pipeline that, considering the expense of programming robots, the Red Queen Corporation has outsourced the development to mad scientists who work on the cheap with the agreement that their robots may also be used one day to take over the world. That being said, as you train your robot replacements, please, and this is vital: don’t let them take over the world.”
“Is it likely they’ll stage some bid for world domination from the post office?” said one of the workers whose name Maury couldn’t recall and didn’t really care to recall.
“It’s part of the contract that they can, if they choose to, conduct world-conquering business elsewhere as long as that does not interfere with mail delivery. However, I have to remind you that these are not regular scientists programming these robots. These are mad scientists. Ergo, therefore, keep an eye out, people, see something, say something, and so on. Insanity is not the topmost psychological state we’d wish for for postal efficiency, but it’s our job as representatives of the postal service to be stalwarts of sanity.”
Silence. As usual.
The Red Queen Corporation sent three robots:
- The Bloodmonger Porcu-Bot Mark 19 (or “Mark” for short) was a robot who ran on blood he sucked from victims with porcupine-like needles all over his body, scored like drill bits spinning, so his body seemed to be covered in tiny spirals (likewise, the mad scientist decorated his face, chest, and shoulders with blood-red spirals). The postal workers had to give him a daily break to hunt down and suck dry park squirrels to keep him from degenerating into lethargy (on both the physical and psychological level). They had to often stop him from stabbing the hands of stamp buyers (who screamed and ran and left their stamps behind), so often they had a broomstick behind the counter designed only for smacking Mark’s spikes and hands away.
- doG the Soulless, who looked a lot like a dressing dummy the size of a teenager, was supposedly traveling backward through time for the sake of historical assassinations, but he seemed to spend most of his time holding his mechanical belly and moaning, “I want a baby” with his pathetic and crazy head hanging to the side. He’d scare off stamp buyers for entirely different reasons than Mark’s blood sucking. A customer might say, “One book of stamps, please,” and doG would reply, “I want a baby,” and the customer would be stuck, uncertain how to proceed, looking backward to flee, wanting to stay to help the pathetic little bastard. The customer might then say, “I’m going elsewhere for my stamps now. Good luck with your life.”
- Ultra-Mecha-Frankenstein, a creature who seemed created by a child aiming to one-up every past version of Frankenstein and all other automata by combining every version into one gratuitous creature – the embodiment of gratuitousness. He had the clichéd massive green monster body at the base, but was covered in (apparently non-functional) gadgets and laser cannons and spiky silver armor that made walking through the too-small post office doors extra awkward. Plus there were the pockets, lots and lots of pockets. The pockets didn’t seem to hold anything or function in any way. It’s as if the child-like creator got the concept that robots needed pockets for some reason and decided the best robot must have a thousand useless pockets. Ultra-Mecha-Frankenstein, for his part, seemed desperate to be loved, as desperate as his creator was to make him seem badass. “I’m so glad to be here, you guys,” he said, touching postal workers on the shoulders way, way too much. “I think this is going to be some fun times. I don’t want to speak too soon, but I think we’re all going to be really good friends. Am I right?” The postal workers looked at him with their dying faces and didn’t bother to respond. He talked a lot about his dreams as if to emphasize he was as human as everybody else, not realizing no human ever likes to hear about other people’s dreams. “I had this dream I was a giant black dog with a Lincoln zombie hanging from my face,” a childish concept of what dreams are, like if the child never actually had one himself. “That’s weird, right? Or normal? Maybe?” The most unpleasant thing about Ultra-Mecha-Frankenstein was the way he gave his flesh bits over to the Mark the Bloodmonger in a tacit agreement to give him love in return for blood, a love he seemed incapable of giving. Ultra-Mecha-Frankenstein had to keep replacing his dry-sucked pieces of flesh. This would seem pathetic except he insisted on talking about it so much: “You guys ever have to replace your flesh pieces? That’s normal, right?”
There is no force on earth quite like postal workers who no longer give a crap, but in this case, the postal workers only had to stand back and do very little and laugh with a joy they’d rarely ever known as the Red Queen Corporation’s plan to automate away the humanity in postal service obliterated itself with such glory and majesty.
There was one postal worker who took no joy in this failure: Maury Holliday. He would be the sole human remaining in this post office had this plan succeeded. He looked on at all his workers laughing at these horrible robots in silence, but he couldn’t punish anybody. What good would that do? What could he possibly hold over their rock bottom existences to force them to stop laughing? But he couldn’t laugh along with them.
Take, for example, Mark the Bloodmonger: workers slapping his hand down from the counter soon became pointless when customers stopped coming all together, but the workers kept doing it, smacking him around with broken broomsticks and laughing.
Then one day when closing by himself, Maury saw Mark’s mad scientist creator (Dr. Hydraulic Pastor, a man seemingly made out of prosthetic limbs, his maybe-missing nose and mouth obscured by a gas mask) pull up in a ratty sedan (tricked out in stupid ways) to take Mark home. “Why are your hands always busted up?” he said. “What do you do all day?” Mark gave a servo-buzzing shrug (most of his arm mechanisms were loudly malfunctioning). “Get in the car! Don’t stand out here embarrassing me one minute longer!”
Then one day Mark was too slow getting in Dr. Pastor’s car, so his maker kicked him against the wall and drove off. Some of his blood vials broke, and he slumped onto the ground in a puddle of blood (kindly given to him earlier that day by Ultra-Mecha-Frankenstein).
Maury walked up and said, “Hey, pal, you need somewhere to stay tonight?” Mark looked up, the blood-red spiral decoration on his face like a baffled eye, the neck turning mechanisms loudly pulling against his malfunctioning shoulder sinews. “Come on, let’s go,” Maury said and pulled him to his feet, careful not to prick his finger on the needles or get the stupid leaking blood from the broken vials on his postal uniform.
They sat together at the kitchen table, and Maury ate in silence as Mark slumped lower into failure (Maury knew the slumping well). “I don’t know how to fix you, pal. You sit there as long as you like.” That was the last thing he said that night. He let Mark sit and buzz alone and went to bed.
Maury’s home was empty. He never lived with anyone else. His whole life was the post office. He hated the post office.
Soon, the Red Queen Corporation called it quits on this robot program. Humans may keep running the postal service apocalyptically, caring less and less, until the whole thing spiraled down to nothing, and their human bodies gave way to death.
Maury took in all three of the robots on the agreement that Ultra-Mecha-Frankenstein would never say anything, so he held his hand over his mouth and wiggled like a kid who needed potty. Meanwhile, doG, slumped always the same sort of slump as the servo-busted Mark the Bloodmonger, but holding his belly and moaning about his baby needs. This was at least a little more tolerable than Ultra-Mecha-Frankenstein.
Even in forced silence, it was nice to have these three bodies in his home. Maybe this was the better life he always needed to block out the bland awfulness of postal work, bodies of any kind, even barely living bodies.
But he was so old, and there was so little left of anything.