Fish Farm Factory Freight Train. The f-words found purchase in the fjords of my frontal lobes even as my eyes flicked across Jeff's sketches, fantastic flights of fancy from the fiddling fingers of a fine friend. Fish farm factory freight train? Forsooth, these funky frescoes flummoxed me. For what purpose did Jeff find himself fondly doodling four facsimiles of fundamental freakanomics? For fame? For fortune? For fun?
Two weeks previous, twelve-year-old Yorick November-November Six Point Four stole from her father, a mid-level progengineer who worked for one of the many subcontractors to the Ministry of Education. Yorick's stolen prize was a half-obsolete maintenance-ops manual for the MOE Tutorbots.
Surprisingly, the text of the manual was written at a level Yorick could easily read and understand. There was a lot of information and regulations to be sure, but the organization and layout of the document was clear as crystaglass. Yorick spent a fortnight of sleeperings hunkered under the sheets of her laybed absorbing technical entries by the glowing light of her viewie. A spydot, if there was one, would have noticed the rings of fatigue develop under Yorick's triumphant elfin eyes.
This day, Yorick attended class armed with knowledge denied her seatmates. From her midnight readings, she could guess at Tutorbot's weakness.
Common knowledge: Tutorbot always ran hot. Either his logic buffer or his semantics parser or his dialectic diode array were hot to the point of nearly burning. Central thermostat for the class was always set a few centigrades below normal because Tutorbot heated the room with his body. Yorick November-November Six Point Four knew that Tutorbots should not run this hot. She reasoned that the MOE was far behind on maintenance cycles, that it could have been month or even years since her Tutorbot had a proper upcheck and thinkwipe. If that was the case, Tutorbot's dataframe must be at terminus, never having been flushed for forever.
Yorick considered the possibility of the rarest of the rare: a snow day. Not that snow had ever been seen for generations, yet the term persisted in school vernacular. It was possible, though. Knock Tutorbot out in such a way that nobody suspected, and the class would be on free intervals for however long it took to get Tutorbot fixed or replaced. Such a glorious proposition! Yorick would be queen of the class for perpetuity.
All the children had to do was overload Tutorbot's overheated mental capacity. From her secret readings, Yorick knew that Tutorbot would generate and maintain a complete biometric of the class on command. Every child would be instantly scanned and measured against a thousand different indices, each pack of data kept for future comparison to accepted baseline norms. Usually, a biometric was taken only at the beginning and the end of the school year, since the data packs were huge. Yorick discovered the command that would prompt Tutorbot to take biometrics at will.
"Tutorbot, please tell us more about film photography," Yorick said at question period. The rest of the class turned to look at her, as if she had materialized out of thin air. Even Tutorbot seemed taken aback. He paused, his circuits glowing visibly underneath his port vent jalousies. Yorick could hear Tutorbots slimdrive array spooling up to maximum. Aha, she thought, he's doing the biometric!
After a moment, Tutorbot appeared to recover himself and said, "Film photography is not part of today's lesson plan. However, I can provide you with resources that link to... daguerreotypes... George Eastman... Ansel Adams... Khan Chan..." Tutorbot listed several ISO-related sources as he processed and catalogued the biometric in secret. Although Tutorbot was completely cybernetic, he somehow took on the aspect of a man who had just eaten a meal that was too much to bear.
"Tutorbot, can you tell us about how families lived back in the 1980's?" Tutorbot began to smell like burned breakfastcake. "Tutorbot, we want to know about camping." "Tutorbot, teach us about late twentieth century science fiction." "Tutorbot, we need you to explain the term 'Expo'". Each entreaty, properly phrased about certain obscure topics, loaded biometrics on top of biometrics into Tutorbot's dataframe. By nearly the end of question period, it was evident to the children that their Tutorbot was fast running out of calculation power; he seemed to be trying to complete his lesson plan but was mired in trivia and an almost continuous array of biometric scans.
Some of the other children chimed in with their own information requests. Yorick November-November Six Point Four knew that most of them were not phrased as correct prompts, but even so, she marvelled at Tutorbot's titanic internal struggle to keep himself coherent. "Tutorbot, we want to know more about candy!" "Tutorbot, sir, why did thirty Helens agree?" "Tutorbot, who was the greatest rocketball champ in the universe?" "Tutorbot, what was Hawaii-5-0?" "Tutorbot, teach us a haiku!".
... By the end, the children were screaming and cavorting like little apes, their nonsense questions reverberating in higher and higher higher pitches around the classroom. Tutorbot responded by doing something the children had never before seen: his head caught fire and he pitched forward onto his lectern, shaking grindingly from side to side. Ceiling suppressors safely doused the flames before anything could burn, drenching the squealing children, their clothes, their desks, pooling nonburn scum onto the floor, and leaving Tutorbot a quivering, sodden mess at the front of the class. A red discrete glowed above the front doghatch doorseal for a moment before it was opened and three midlevel progengineers burst into the classroom, the room lights glinting fiercely off of their chromed pocket protectors.
"Sorry about that kids," said the technician with November-November etchastitched onto his identiname, who paused with a strange brief expression of surprise, looking at his daughter who was sitting with dripping clothes and hair but with an equally strange yet triumphant look on her face, "I don't know exactly what happened, but it looks like your old Tutorbot here has fritzed out. We'll get him down to maintenance and see what we can do."
Mr. November-November was going to say more, but for the spectacle of a lurching Tutorbot who suddenly vaulted to maximum height. Tutorbot's eye sockets glowed like spotlights as melting stuff poured out of them, and green flames licked out of his mouthport. Steamy smoke coughed out from every joint, and the progengineers gasped and let go where bare skin touched scorching metal. Tutorbot declaimed in a powerful, broken voice:
"I baptize you with water (and at this point the ceiling fire suppressors opened up again), but He who is mightier than I is coming, the plugin of whose spindrives I am not worthy to connect. He will baptize you with fire! His winnowing fork is in His hand, to clear His threshing floor and to gather the wheat into His barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire!"
Tutorbot slumped into a complete disjoint paradigm, now fully extinguished. Their faces reddening with shame and surprise at this last outburst, the progengineers hefted the steaming inop Tutorbot and hauled him out of the room.
"Must be a virus, kids," said Mr. November-November, handling the still-warm skull of Tutorbot by manner of professional visual inspection, "I've seem them all." To his mates: "Hey, you guys, where are his gibes, his gimbals, and the prongs? His flash drives of memory mounts?" One of the other progengineers, his hands full of Tutorbot parts, nodded towards the floor.
"Oh, here they are," Mr. November-November said as he bent to scoop up some mechanical bits that had rolled under the lectern. He sealed the doghatch behind him, and the children remained behind, Tutorbotless.
And Yorick November-November Six Point Four was the queen.
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