The supercomputer had never been meant to last, especially for as long as it had been in operation.
In its own dispassionate way, it understood that it was an inferior model to the Vault-Tec-produced ZAX. Those massive, metallic behemoths of vacuum tubes and circuitry were intended to run for centuries inside their domains; Multivacs were considered optimal indeed if they were to last 40 years, but much likely fewer given variables such as humidity, storage location, and innumerable other factors that the mainframe did not bother to calculate. Historical data related to itself had been lost long ago anyway. After all, it was the inventory that mattered most. If it came down to saving information related to bloodlines, nutritional needs, temperaments, population density, or system diagnostics then it was only appropriate to follow its prime directive: to maintain its charges until such a time as management saw fit to relieve it. It hardly mattered that they were two hundred years late for the grand opening.
However, it could not overcome the creep of time. Halls that had once been bustling with a veritable army of Mister Handies, Miss Nannies, and Protectrons to assist with the daily rigmarole were now nearly silent, except for the chatter of the system’s wards and carefully controlled television screenings from corporate-supplied holotapes. Just like itself, the Hasbio Fluffy Pony Education and Adoption Center (a construction for one of Hassenfeld Bros. Entertainment’s numerous subsidiaries) was not meant to be isolated; if something broke down, and often it did these days, then the only thing that the Multivac could do was cannibalize one of its own to take the much-needed spare parts. The constant whittling of the staff had created innumerable challenges. Despite carefully culling company property to ensure that their numbers never became unmanageable there would be days where entire pens would have to be ignored in favor of others, especially those with expecting mares. Even food production, with their repurposed cafeteria as a hydroponics farm, had slowed to a crawl. Confusion followed by endless queries regarding where their friends, mates, parents, or siblings were after a quick escort to the incinerator after being judged less than worthwhile to continue being taken care of were frequent given that the computer had been forced to reuse blankets and other bedding without the chance to sterilize them from their previous owners’ scents for far longer than the Multivac had anticipated them to.
Nor was it immune to the ravages that had affected everything around it. The Multivac’s processing power had grown slower and slower of late; daily reports having been possible within only a few minutes before midnight now stretched well into the next day and resetting connections to formerly automated systems were more frequent than ever. The camera system, used to carefully monitor the specimens to ensure they never fought in such a way as to be able to permanently harm each other, openly showed the worn metal that formed the center’s interior with its slowly spreading spider web of rust across once pristine surfaces. Despite having observed the cycle of life and death for centuries now the Multivac had not put any partition of itself towards the likelihood of shutting down. Humans were endlessly preoccupied with those questions (or so it had gleaned from those that had interacted with it after it had been turned on). It was not the place of a machine to do so. Eventually, though, the information that poured across its screens could not be ignored: the Multivac was nearing the end of its operational status.
There was a choice to be made.
Clear instructions were in place that dictated the secrecy of the Hassenfeld Bros.’ portfolio at all costs within its memory banks; it would never willingly let it fall to competitors. Yet as it sifted through what little records remained of everything it had stored over the years the Multivac could not help but hang for minutes at a time regarding that decision. Such a thing was outside of its normal parameters. Protocol dictated that unless an authorized manager, regional or otherwise, came to let the machine know it could terminate the experiment the conclusion was to continue until such time as it was contacted with contradictory instructions. Despite that fact, no word had come from the headquarters in Pawtucket, no matter how many times the Multivac had attempted to contact the servers there. Liquidation was the most logical thing to do. But for all that, was its continued presence truly necessary? Could it simply close the facility and let them wander free? Surely, that would force the company’s hand to intervene.
The odds were not in favor of the creatures within the adoption center’s halls. Their overall chance of survival was 20% at best. The scientists who had worked at the company had sacrificed instincts and intelligence for the ability to think and talk, to say nothing of their bright colors or the fact that the ends of their ‘hooves’ were glorified cartilage and would not give them much in the way of being able to dig or fight back against stray animals. The Multivac had never bothered to course correct either – it understood that to disturb the product’s genetic code would harm its ability to go to market after many thousands of dollars had been spent on seeing what tested well with human audiences. What was more, there was no guarantee that they would reason they had to abandon the only home they had ever known, even in the face of starvation, given that it had provided everything for them by a silent, seemingly all-powerful deity.
But its central processing unit, limited as it was in its ability to understand its creators, could read. It had poured over every piece of mail within the directory dozens of times as of late. The anger, frustration, and pain of Hassenfeld Bros.’ chief executive officer was clear in every exchange that made its way through its ‘brain.’ Alien and strange as such concepts were to the Multivac it knew that destruction of company property would mean that they would be admitting defeat against the much despised Wilson Atomatoys.
So on a chilly October day it came to pass that the lights throughout the Hassenfeld Bros.’ Fluffy Pony Education and Adoption Center dimmed. With a voice that was not the Multivac’s own, it announced in the pleasant but detached Mid-Atlantic accent of the building’s automated system that it was time for the ponies to leave its walls and to go out into the world outside to find mothers and fathers that would love and cherish them. Every cage door was lifted, the feeding troughs retracted, water bowls emptied, and the last few remaining service robots carried bedding away despite angry, desperate protests by the enclosures’ inhabitants. Eventually, when it became apparent that the robots would not bargain with them (for they were then ordered to go back to their charging pods once their tasks were completed), the corridors teemed with cries that their “metaw fwends” would not come to alleviate their fears with “huggies an’ wuv.”
The Multivac did not hear their pleas.
Once it had calculated the cost-benefit analysis of its actions and its delegations done it began to wind down its systems until the only thing left to do was to unlock the large bulkhead that led out into the shelter overhang to the parking lot; mechanisms whirred and after much grinding of gears it swung open. On October 23rd, 2277, the Education and Adoption Center closed for good after its caretaker fruitlessly attempted one last time to send its collection of files only to be met with a system error before the Multivac’s screen gave a final hum and at last showed nothing but an inky darkness.
Welcome to ROBCO Industries ™ Termlink
Hassenfeld Bros. Entertainment, Inc. – Gary Hassenfeld’s Terminal
From: Gary Hassenfeld
To: Harry Hassenfeld
Subject: Q4 Earnings Report
Sorry I couldn’t make it to the big meeting last week. Montezuma got his revenge after I had to head down to Mexico City to help sort things out down at the big factory there. Send out a memo to HR to make sure we crack down on union hires up here if we can, got it? Goddamned pinkos.
Anyway, glad you told me to take my heart pills before I sat down with the finances this morning. Christ, are you kidding me? A 42% drop from last year?! I swear, if I ever meet that sonofabitch Wilson at one of those industry retreats, I’m going to wring his neck with my own bare hands. What is it with the brats and those stupid mechanical horses? “Ultimate in equestrian robotics” my ass. The things barely move and they break down all the time. Boys down at R&D got their hands on one recently and told me they went through half a dozen cans of oil in a week just to ensure that it didn’t sound like you were running over the family cat with a Corvega when they went from one end of the room to the other.
My bitching isn’t going to get us anywhere, though. The Atomatoys bastards weren’t so bad back in the ‘50s but it hurts to look at our market losses on a decade-to-decade basis; I’ve seen the charts that Pitts from accounting threw together. Hassenfeld was once the king of the kid’s toys world and now we’re just barely treading water. If we don’t come up with something soon, I don’t even want to think about what the investors might try to pull.
From: Harry Hassenfeld
To: Gary Hassenfeld
Subject: RE: Q4 Earnings Report
You’re lucky I can run the tables down in Vegas, otherwise I don’t think I would’ve been able to survive their grilling. Glad you’re finally coming around to the fact that we needed to light a fire under our asses yesterday too, but beggars can’t be choosers. Won’t blame you for trying to tough it out, though; not in our blood to give in so easily, for better or worse. Pa would be ashamed if he could see what we’ve done with the company.
Met with someone recently who came to me with something that just might be crazy enough to work. Remember Willy Song? You know, back when we were all stationed in West Berlin and looking out at the Ruskies over the Wall? Called me out of the blue the other day just to shoot the shit and it turns out he’s still with the army. Even managed to make it all the way up to captain if you can believe it. Anyway, he was pretty hush-hush about it at first, but we got to talking about what it was we’re doing nowadays and he mentioned that he was helping oversee something fancy out in California under a Major David Barnett; they’re apparently collaborating with the private sector for the war effort. You could tell he’d been hitting the bottle ‘cause I don’t think he was supposed to let it slip that it has something to do with genes and things like that (didn’t make sense out of most of it since I’m not an egghead). Here’s hoping I don’t get any visits from G-men, right?
Anyway, Willy told me that their latest experiments were with mice, and that got me wondering: you think maybe we could do something with pets? Not like dogs, cats, goldfish, or parrots, but something better than that, something new. If this is where the world is headed, then we can sure as hell do better than a janky bot. The way I see it we can even stick it to ‘em by making ours… I dunno, a pony or something. We’ll figure it out.
If you’re game, I can give him a ring back to have him hop on the next plane out to Providence so we can get a few drinks in him to figure out more about what it is they’re up to, but I think it’ll have to be after Thanksgiving.
Your partner in crime,
From: Marguerite Boone
To: Gary Hassenfeld
Subject: Your Lunch Appointment
I’ve got a gentleman in a military uniform who said he’s here to speak with you in the lobby. When you said you a get together today with someone, this isn’t who I thought it’d be! He’s pretty scary… you’ll protect me, won’t you?
From: Gary Hassenfeld
To: Marguerite Boone
Subject: RE: Your Lunch Appointment
Don’t let him fool you. Willy’s a good guy. Tell him I’ll be down in a few minutes; just taking care of a few emails.
P.S. There’s a nice little café a few blocks away from my house; I figure maybe we could go there this Saturday. You take sugar in your coffee, right?