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Tales from Luna: Hank's Story

“Those damned robots will be the end of me some day,” Hank muttered.

The security bot had come around the corner at speed, and he had almost run into it, only just managing to dodge out of the way at the last moment. Had he not, he had no doubt that it would have walked right over him. The newest bots were able to spot an enemy almost a kilometre away, draw a bead on it, and drop it in less than 5 seconds, but whoever had programmed the 2-metre tall, heavily armoured blockheads clearly hadn’t considered navigating narrow corridors to be a priority.
Hank gave the retreating back of the robot the full benefit of his middle digit, then hurried on. He only had about 15 minutes to get to the canteen and wolf down what passed for lunch before he’d need to head out again. OreTek’s management had calculated that the average meal break only took 20 minutes and declared that anybody taking longer than that would be penalised.
Hank wanted to get there early to avoid spending ages in the queue. Not only was it time wasted, but outside of its nutritional value, the food wasn’t really worth waiting for any more.

Franklin had never been what you might have called a “good” cook, but at least he had made an effort. His protein steaks were initially so rubbery that you could get a pretty good bounce out of them if you threw them at the floor hard enough, and his first attempt at cookies had resulted in far more cracked teeth than cavities. Nevertheless, he’d try different spice mixes (his chilli muffins had been a surprise) and he’d tried to make the food more interesting.
Hank had a soft spot for Franklin, although the gruff miner would probably never admit it, and so he had been particularly upset when Franklin had been transferred to a secretarial job in the facility’s administration block. He’d spotted the former chef a few times since then, and while Franklin would smile when greeted, his eyes no longer had the same eager spark.
It was thus with some degree of anger that Hank thrust his tray across the counter to the robot that had been Franklin’s replacement. The faceless worker robot used a dispenser hose to pour brown protein goo into a recess in Hank’s tray, followed by a larger pile of carbohydrate mush.
“Next,” it said, without emotion or inflection, as it pushed the tray back across the counter.

Two other miners were having a heated discussion at the first table Hank moved to sit at. While they kept their voices low, both were clearly very animated by the points they were making.
“Look, I appreciate that the new robots are useful,” one miner said as Hank approached, “but don’t you see what they’re doing? Replacing injured miners with robots allows them to learn our techniques. Copy-paste that data into a bunch of other robots, and suddenly we’re all replaceable. Add to that that they probably listen to the audio logs, and having robots on your shift makes it a lot harder to organise collective action.”
Hank had just been about to sit down, but upon hearing the last two words, he quickly picked up his tray and went to find another table.
Union organisation! Damned fools. If management caught wind of any form of unionising, the entire shift could find itself relegated to prospecting duty for weeks before being split up over several other shifts. Unions caused needless bureaucracy and got in the way of profits, management said, and they came down hard on the mere suggestion of it. Hank glared at the two provocateurs from his new seat and ate his lunch in sullen silence.

Somebody must have snitched on them, because the very next day, Hank’s shift found themselves shuttled out to a distant plateau where they were unloaded along with an old prospecting drill, a mobile communication array, and rations enough to last the ten of them just under a week.
Their instructions were to check their allocated grid reference for surface seams and to report any finds immediately, at which point a second shift would be brought in with Rayminers and transports to start a preliminary excavation.
Hank squinted through the dust kicked up by the departing shuttle. The surrounding terrain was mostly flat. Here and there, large boulders lay, probably where they’d landed after being hurled about by meteorite impacts centuries ago.
This was not a good prospecting site, he could tell. Drilling down through the dust to reach the underlying bedrock would take ages, even with the newest drilling equipment, and this drill looked like it had been in use since the first colony. It would take a long time before they found anything worth reporting back to base. Thankfully, management said that a security patrol had swept the area a day or two ago, which meant the risk of alien encounters was minimal.

Two weeks later, a routine patrol encountered an inoperative prospecting site in sector ZQ08. Scanning the area, the security bots reported nine casualties, a jammed prospecting drill, and a communication array barely functioning on the power of its dust-covered solar panels. The blood-stained handset hung on its cable. From its speaker, a cheerful synthetic voice repeated:

“Your call is important to us, please wait on the line to be connected to a human operator…”

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