Mechanical Hearts

By Rebecca Jane

It was strange seeing a flesh and bone human being. Leahtried to ignore the man, tried not to watch in fascination as he wandered around the room, analysing every bench and whiteboard, every box under the tables, every scrap, design, and every piece of tech. Movement was rare in this space. It only came from wires caught in the breeze that came through the broken window, or limbs of old mechanics that found a drop of energy in long dead batteries and lashed out in a spontaneous memory of their program.

This man was like a child in the deepest parts of Wonderland, his eyes glazed, not understanding what was going on around him, but fascinated with it, curious, seeing it as some otherworldly design of futuristic magic. Only when his eyes fell on Leah did they lose their shine.

Leah regarded him. He was a small man, well-built, his skin brown with the healthy glow of someone who felt the sun often, and his suit well pressed and more expensive than all of the discarded robots in the room. She must have looked no better than the unfinished and exposed junk that lay about the room; frazzled, mismatched, sure to start shaking and smoking and falling apart at any moment.

His attention found the two robots sitting on the main workstation behind her, and his face lit up. Leah turned to take them in also, seeing the same thing he was, the glory of what had been done, especially in the second one, no matter how many hours in the day were spent staring at the small bot.

The first was okay. She called him Rover because it looked like, and was supposed to be a dog. It was nothing but a black frame with thick wires wrapped around a broken motherboard making up the middle. The other was Illia, a bot that would eventually look like a child’s doll and move like a human being, but at the moment was nothing but a metal skeleton with a thick metal plate over her face and twolarge, dark cameras staring blankly through the eye-holes. She was a personal project, a response to ideas that were floating around upstairs.

The man regarded each of them. ‘You’ve been working hard.’

‘It’s easier when I have nobody coming in and messing it up,’ she replied.

The man laughed and peered at Illia,‘I hope I’m not just “nobody”.’

‘Well, it depends on why you’re here.’

The man turned his attention back to her. ‘Well, considering I run the place I should be around at all times, don’t you think?’

Leah kept her face passive. So this was the big brass Hunter J. Tejakin. The billion-dollar visionary that had university drop-outs building the next big thing in his basement. She picked up the sulphur gun and went back to melting down Rover’s exposed wires.

‘I would think the grand master of innovation would want us to keep our head down and actually get work done.’

‘Well, Miss Chalin, what if I was here because I wanted you to have less of a burden.’

‘You’re cancelling the projects, aren’t you?’ Leah didn’t look up. It was typical of this company to throw her work away like it wasn’t hours of life and passion just being deleted like a simple reset button. It was a surprise he even knew her name.

‘Not exactly,’ Tejakin flicked off the gun at the switch and Leah swore as a chunk of sulphur melted across her knuckles. She wiped it off on her overalls and glared at him.

‘Then why are you threatening the deadline?’ she demanded.

Tejakin smiled and regarded the robots. ‘It’s been the opposite actually. People are getting excited for this one,’ he pointed to the dog. ‘They’re already in high demand. We were hoping to have them on the factory line in three weeks.’

Leah dropped the gun. ‘Sir, no offence, but are you kidding me? That’s less than half the deadline away!’

Tejakin turned to the other bots. ‘Well, we were actually thinking of putting a team in here. A couple more hands to get the HomeRover ready.’

Leah rubbed the burns across her knuckles. If this guy had turned around and said they were scrapping Rover she wouldn’t have cared. Nobody was going to buy a robotic pet when actual dogs existed for an eighth of the price and could act like real dogs. Whoever was demanding these things was an idiot.

‘So I’m getting taken off the project?’

‘No! On the contrary, we want you to be in charge of them all.’

Translation – a bunch of baby-faced kids straight out of university following her around like puppies.

‘But what about the Degrader?’

Tejakin sighed, ‘This is the one that breaks down plastic and waste, right?’

Leah nodded.

‘It’s not as popular upstairs, that one.’ He flicked the mask of Illia, and turned back to Rover.

‘It’s this one we want right now.’

‘The deadline for the Degrader is at the same time as HomeRover.’

‘Ah…’ Tejakin’s face hardened, and he bit his lip. ‘Discard it then. Having a toy that eats plastic may be good for the environment and all, but it’s going to freak the kids out. We’ll come back to it in a year.’


‘I don’t think we even approved the Degrader anyway. Honestly, Miss Chalin, this must be why you’re so overworked. No more personal projects.’


Leah was still fuming hours after he left, slowly continuing to melt down the exposed wires under Rover’s paws and making note that the sun had long since disappeared under the horizon. She hated this dog. It was taking all of her will not to pull it apart and leave the pieces for another project, one that mattered. Instead she had to leave this waste of wires intact. The one she was supposed to rip apart, the one she was supposed to kill, was Illia.

She glanced down at the tiny robot sitting crookedly on the table. It was true; this doll made of wires and parts and drives was a personal project, but it was from an idea that had come from upstairs. It was one that could be considered more once the prototype was finished. It was one that could do a lot of good if released onto the world. She was small, would eventually run on solar power and be waterproof. She could come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. She could even come in the shape of a dog if some peoplereally wanted that.

She glared at Rover and punched the plate over his chest, then wished she hadn’t as the blisters on her knuckles burst. She didn’t even like dogs. The only dog she ever liked was the one in Fahrenheit 451, the one that was what a robot should be; soulless, programmable, a machine designed for one purpose and could do its job without concern.

Leah picked up Rover and dropped him on the floor, hearing something shatter and not caring. Nobody was going to love the dog when it was programmed to be a hunting machine of death just like the Mechanical Hound. Especially if she set it on Tejakin himself in an ironically beautiful twist of fate.

She regarded Illia, then Rover as he lay on his side on the floor. She had spent too long on both to just throw them away. Both were made as much from blood and sweat as from oil and hardware. She couldn’t completely remove Rover from her own memory and program herself to focus only on Illia. She couldn’t bring herself to remove weeks of 10-hour days, of being the one to lock up the whole facility after staying until the dawn lights showed.

Perhaps it was okay like this, having others step in and build Rover for her. She wouldn’t have to look at this stupid mutt and think about billionaires and brand loyal maniacs who were crying out on their computers for a dog made of steel that cost thousands of dollars. Her name would still be on the damned waste of metal.

If she had a group, then she could remove some of the workload from herself. She could work on Illia.

Leah got up and kicked her chair back, stretching the stiffness from her muscles. Let the new kids pick up the slack for once. She could say she was behind on schedule because people kept coming down and changing it. Let them stress over a mutt that could never be petted, never be let free on a leash, never show a personality beyond following orders.

The problem was of course that she wasn’t officially supposed to be working on Illia now. If she was caught, then Illia would meet the trash anyway.

Leah scooped Rover off the ground and threw him back down on the desk. She had to hide the doll, the precious child of her hard work and time. They couldn’t destroy her. They couldn’t take her away.

She lifted Illia off the bench, untangling her loose wires from the connections on the desk and holding her close as if she was a child holding a real doll. She glanced around the room, then reached up and placed the robot on top of a box of spare parts, just above eye-sight. Illia’s leg hung over the edge but she wasn’t unbalanced, which was perfect for Leah. Now she was out of danger and still visible for her, a reminder that she would eventually go back to the little project.

Leah sighed and fetched her chair, which had skidded across the room. It was sitting against a box of discarded parts, pieces of projects and Frankensteins that were also dropped. She thought about pulling the box out, considering the other parts, the other blueprints, the other memories of hard work shoved in the corner and forgotten, but thought better of it. Trudging through past would-be achievements would only leave her in a slumping depression, one that killed what little motivation she had left to finish Rover.

She sank into the chair and spun it around, turning her attention back to the dog. She could at least get something done today, make it look like she had worked on him, and pour her attention into Illia tomorrow.

Rover was still sitting on the desk, but his breast plate had fallen to the floor. Leah rolled over and picked it up, then clicked it back in and stood Rover up. She flicked through her toolbox to find her pliers, then swore as the breast plate popped off again.

She snatched it up and shoved it into Rovers middle, holding it with one hand and clicking each edge in place with the other. Rover stood still, unresponsive, dead, staring straight ahead with a single lens in his forehead.

Then his tail fell off.

Leah swore again and smacked the mutt with its tail and the breast plate flew off and clattered to the floor.

‘What are you doing now, you piece of shit?’Rover’s engine clicked on then, making a low whirring sound like a growl. Leah leapt back, and Rover shuddered, spilling gears and oil across the bench.

Her thoughts about the Mechanical Hound came back, but she forced herself to screw her head back on. This wasn’t some weird irony. This was her anger breaking something internally, and Rover falling apart.

She grabbed a cloth from another bench and wiped up the oil, inspecting the machinery in Rover’s body, but apart from the missing pieces everything seemed normal.

That was when the whirring behind her started.

Leah screamed as a robotic limb started ticking and twitching, going beyond the single random spasm and clawing against the box it was trapped in, rattling it, forcing it to bounce violently towards the edge of its shelf.

The broken window whistled, and Rover’s engine growled again as he started jerking around on the bench, jumping up and down as his head started vibrating. The spare wires that shared a shelf with Illia began to curl and twitch in the breeze, tilting towards the doll as she stared down at Leah with silent eyes.

Rover’s jerks began to move sideways towards Illia’s shelf. More boxes came to life as other spare parts burst into motion, whirring and hissing, smoking and jolting from their hold. Some fell from the shelf and shattered on the ground, instantly dying as gears and clips and metal scattered across the tiles.

Leah hugged Rover’s tail into her chest and felt her whole body shake as the room around her came to life and destroyed itself all at once. Even the mechanical tail in her hand was shaking harder than her hands were, wires springing loose and springs bursting against her hands, drawing blood.

She turned to Illia, turning away from the ghosts in the machines, her works all suddenly aware of their incompletion. She stared up at her current project, looking for just a sliver of reassurance, a shred of sanity that all of this was the pressure of giving up finally taking over. She was only hallucinating because she couldn’t give up Illia. Illia could be perfect if she was just given a chance!

Instead all Leah saw was the box she had placed Illia on also jerking from the technology trapped inside. The wires that had been caught in the breeze were now curling around the lid and pulling it up, pulling whatever was inside the box free.

Illia’s leg reappeared as she began to slide off the lid of the box towards the floor, and Leah cried out, hoping the bots would hear her and stop this before her one shred of sanity was destroyed. She thrust her hand up to grab the doll before she could fall, and instead felt something slam into her knees, knocking her head into the shelf.

Stars flashed across her vision and another spring burst against her hand. She screamed as the skin split and blood filled her vision. She shook off the pain and stumbled, her feet giving way and falling out from under her. She landed on her back hard, and the room above her spun dangerously as everything around her continued to bounce and jerk in a blur.

A thick shape came at her from above and slammed into her chest hard, knocking the air from her lungs and jolting her into a sudden moment of clarity.

She lifted the weight from her chest, ignoring the spiking pains in her hands, and noted that it was Illia, still thankfully in one piece, caught in her fall by Leah’s chest.

Another shadow fell over her face as Rover finally fell off the bench, landing on his feet next to her head and staring down at her as he continued to growl and shake. There wasn’t much left of him now, only his frame and wires that were sparking and smoking.

Leah met the gaze of the dog’s single, dead eye, then pushed herself up and sat Illia in the safest part of her workstation, where she was sure to not fall even if she did start breaking apart. She then gripped the broken tail in her fist and turned back to Rover.

‘You don’t get to guilt me for this,’ she growled.

Rover growled back.

‘None of you get to guilt me for this!’ She cried. ‘I never even wanted to build you in the first place!’

She brought the broken tail down on Rover’s head, and it sprang to the side dangerously, the still smoking wires even more exposed.

‘I hate you!’ She brought the tail down again. ‘You…’ Again. ‘Stupid…’ Again. ‘Fucking…’ Again. ‘Robot!’

She smashed the tail into the remains of Rover’s head and he shattered into a heap of metal and smoke on the floor. Leah screamed, then turned the broken tail on the shelf next to her, snapping the wires in half, shattering the gears, the frames, the mother-boards. She dented the boxes and stamped down on already broken parts, she herself switching off and becoming her own kind of robot, one programmed to destroy everything, everyone.

When nothing else moved, when nothing else remained, she launched the tail at her work station, sending it’s now sharpened points straight through the heart of Illia.


The team arrived in the morning, led by Tejakin, who was smiling and enthusiastic for the new group to meet their passionate and headstrong leader. All of them were fresh faced and ready to start their internships. All were surprised to see their team leader sitting on the floor in yesterdays clothes, crying as she used broken spare parts off the floor to haphazardly glue together a small mechanical doll.

As she knelt there sobbing, the doll cried too, with strings of oil running down it’s mask from a small cracked camera lens that stared blankly up at the roof.




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