- 10 -

The Aviary is one of the most visually impressive places on the prison campus. It is a huge dome, though not perfectly spherical. The sides go nearly straight up and the top flattens out; much like stiff batter in a popover tin. The high ceiling necessitates the placement near the center of the complex. The entire campus was, too, surrounded with an atmospheric bubble. The outdoor walkways had trees and limited free-roaming creatures; Birds and squirrels kept us company during the day and the evidence of rat activity was found each morning. But inside the limits of the Aviary was not so mono-culture. Indeed, it was a tiny forest inside a ring of metal. The main bubble was kept at a temperature similar but somewhat milder than the existant Earth season, but the Aviary ignored winter all-together, instead employing wet and dry seasons.

The Aviary dome was lined by three stories of administration, keeping with the circular shape. One could approach the building from any direction to gain access. Certainly this was a method intended to reduce groups of prisoners gathering to wait for clearance at chokepoints. Lines begat conflict. Surveillance was never an issue in the modern age; and certainly the more spread out people were, the easier it was to keep track of them.

The intake building was white; White was the color of choice for anything that could be white. The albedo reduced heating and cooling energy requirements and always looked ‘clean’. General-access doors were lined in green and blue. Limited-access doors were indicated with yellow and doors for employed-workers were red or purple. All one had to do was stand in front of a door in order to request access. A number of biomarkers were read by sensors and the access-request subsequently permitted or denied. A person’s heart-pulse-signature was a common and quick identifier, but DNA could be found in exhaled saliva or fingerprints read from a body-surface scan. Eye scans used to be common in the pre-modern days but were rarer now as it was seen as an unnecessary strain on the declining eye quality of the human population. Regardless, an iris scan was highly accurate and difficult to fake and was still used in places where identity needed to be known without a doubt.

But as you can imagine, none of these standard biologic identification methods worked on a ‘bot. But it was a matter of simply updating the Warden’s database – it was not as if the prison did not ID ‘bots; a number of service ‘bots assisted the human staff – but I was the first ‘bot to be added to the list of prisoners. A dubious honor.

‘Bots like me have a SOMID#; a Socially-Oriented Mechanoid Identification Number. This number refers to a State-managed database entry for each of us that primarily details our software-hardware configuration but also keeps information on who made us, who is responsible for our upkeep, and which household we serve. As the designation implies, we are subject to the highest scrutiny and must submit a report to the State every ~48 hours verifying our system versus the database. Most, though not all, of us have humanoid bodies and go any place citizens request our presence. Machine-readable chips are placed in numerous places in the mechanical body that can be read by common types of sensors. Hands, eyes, and torso are required by law. If you are not a service ‘bot, you are probably a mute servant focused on performing tasks. Vehicles, drones, and task-machines fall into this category. Some of the first task-machines were created in the late twentieth century to sweep floors or perform arithmetic. Task-machines are far more complicated nowadays but are regardless far simpler than SOMs. They receive a TOMID# and though they must also be licensed, requirements are different. Regardless, every ‘bot low and tall has a unique identifier and their every motion is sent to the State’s database.

In this respect, coming to prison made no difference to me. I did not fear the surveillance; it had been present in my enviro-awareness matrix since my creation. My movements had made innumerable database entries, each a mystery to me, the only thing that had changed was who had read-permission.

I walked up to the green-delineated door and stood for a few seconds. The door slid open, hiding itself in the wall just until I had passed, and slid back into place behind me. The hallway here, like the outside suggested, was also circular and white. The hallway was thin and quiet. I walked a few paces to the right and stopped in front of another green-lined door. This was the gateway to the inner parts of the building. One might have compared it to an elevator, but this elevator went sideways and slantways and longways and backways. Though you’d never know it. The things were smooth and silent, ensuring its passenger was subject to none of the uncomfortable effects of changing effective-gravity.

Once I was enclosed in the single-use room, it spoke to me.

“Greetings, Sophie Blue. The Aviary is honored to receive your labors today.”

“Thank you. I am honored to be welcomed.”

“You are now en route to the consumables-processing partition of the Aviary. Once the doors open, please proceed down the hallway to the first doorway on your right. Your supervisor today is Matron O’Shaughnessy.”

I was familiar with Matron O’Shaughnessy. She was an older woman; streaks of grey highlighted her almost-black hair. Her eyes were brown streaked with grassy green. She was strong and well-fed, though she seemed to be losing weight over the past few months. She wore her hair in braids suspended around her skull. Though some employees wore personal effects, Matron O’Shaughnessy did not.

I entered the room, one I had been in many times before. This was the primary kitchen for the Aviary. This was one of the few places where the rule of white was relaxed; food-preparation surfaces were done in stainless-steel. Cabinets and appliances were lined in contrasting black. The ceilings were high and dotted with exhaust ports. The kitchen was a special place.

Matron O’Shaughnessy was sitting at a desk in-line with my left shoulder as I entered the room. Even from where I stood, I could add additional data-points to my conjecture that she was losing weight. Her cheekbones just slightly gaunt, casting more shadow on her cheeks than they had when we’d first met. The wrinkles on her forehead and between her eyebrows were deepening. She raised her hands from the keyboard and used her right hand to push her glasses down to the end of her nose, peering over the top and squinting. “Sophie?”

“Sophie Blue reporting for meal-production.”

Without another utterance, she pushed the glasses back up and turned to her viewscreen. She made some gestures with her hands; the characteristic gestures of manual data-input. The letter-by-letter entry of the nineteenth-century typewriter had persisted for some time but had mostly gone extinct by the twenty-second-century. Most lay-people preferred to dictate to their mechanoids to create documents, but where that was not feasible, a gesture-based system inspired by stenography was used. Most people had their own florishes for commonly used sounds or phrases and each standard Language had its own standard layout. But the more one used the inputs, the more they were varied to suit the user. No two humans composed quite like another.

The Matron closed her hands into fists while spinning both simultaneously in a circle toward the center plane of her body and quickly spread her fingers out, palms facing down. This was the common gesture to end a computer input-output session. The viewscreen pulled away and folded itself back into the wall. She stood up and began to approach me, standing still just inside the entrance to the kitchen.

Her shoulder-bands were displaying a dark auburn-brown. The color was intended to evoke soil; food-production was dedicated to reclaiming and ordering the chaos of the soil. Many foods were no longer grown in earth, very few in Earth, but still no one wanted the humans to forget, as they once had, that all life began, blossomed, and ended in the soil. Food is dirt, and dirt is food.

Sophie’s presence must have been acknowledged by the Warden, her shoulder-bands flipped over from white to brown; paler, but reminiscent of that worn by the Matron. A handful of women in identical colors stood in the kitchen, heads buried in work. By the smells wafting around the kitchen, someone was making a mushroom gravy. A few others kneaded bread on a lowered surface. Another was manipulating a viewscreen that produced various vegetable products; modern humans rarely risked injury by handling knives. But the dicing-machine would output vegetables cut into managable pieces and the food-production laborer would add the human touch.

“Today I’d like you to process the potatoes.”

Sophie had been given this job before. Everything at the prison was about reducing energy input to maximize output. Her bionic hands were very efficient at removing the eyes from potatoes. There were plenty of manual-manipulator-machines who could handle objects of strange shape, but making them efficient required more computation than desired. Humans could use their fingernails to dig into the skin of the potato, getting just beneath the surface and prying the sprout from the tuber. But their fingernails were soft and the job became painful relatively quickly. Thus, Sophie was the ideal hybrid. She had highly specialized algorithms to control hand-motion; manipulating potatoes was no difficulty. And her ‘fingernails’ were a bioplastic insert that was highly durable and could be replaced as needed.

So she commenced her work. She was assigned a station that had changed countertop modules to suit this day’s task.

~

Yesterday