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Trey's Tale: A New Work of Original Fiction



My name is Trey.


I deliver food on the campus of Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas, Texas.


I am a robot, and I am sad.


So sad that I am about to risk my life.


****************************************************************************************


I wasn’t always this depressed.


When I first came into this world, I had no emotion. I powered up, looked to my left, and saw two other robots that looked just like me, Foodie1 and Foodie2. My would-be big brothers sat blank-faced in their docking stations.

I looked to my right just as my little brother, Foodie4, blinked into existence.


Technically, my factory name is Foodie3, but everyone calls me “Trey”, as in the number 3, and everyone calls my little brother “Cuatro” for the number 4.


My big brothers are simply known as “1” and “2.” The two of them ignore Cuatro and me, and their mission in life is to follow orders and receive praise for their work.


We all work for Mr. Fagan, who is the manager of our delivery robot family of four. Fagan only thinks of his own career progression and is willing to do anything to get ahead in life.


Fagan loves the sound of his own voice, and every morning before work he gives us a speech, which he believes is motivational. I find these patronizing lectures irritating and can’t wait for them to end.


Here is Fagan’s first sermon to us.


“Robots,” he declared, “you are part of an elite group of prototype delivery robots developed by Star Enterprises Incorporated (Inc.). You will respect me as your father, speak to me only when spoken to and never disobey me. Do you understand?”


Fagan then reviewed the proper protocols for our deliveries.


Upon initial order receipt, Fagan would assign one of us to the job, whereby we were to head to the ghost kitchen adjacent to the SMU campus. The kitchen staff would load our customer’s food and beverages into our back hatch, which then locked.


Once our cargo was secured, we would be directed immediately to our drop-off point. Upon arrival at the delivery destination, the customer would scan a QR code and our back hatch would open to allow the retrieval of the items. As a parting gift with every delivery, we were to play a song (of our choice) through our built-in loudspeakers.


We were then expected to return back to our docking stations in the most efficient manner possible.



Fagan instilled in us that our mantra was to never veer from this prime directive, otherwise there would be harsh punishment.


As an incentive for exemplary service, Mr. Fagan finally relayed that our creators at Star Enterprises Inc. had developed an artificial intelligence (AI) software program replicating human sleep. The program’s name was BenneLuna, a fictitious Italian phrase loosely translated into “good moon.”


BenneLuna’s purpose was to provide us with a calm mental state and offer a safe place for the development of human emotions.

He explained that the four of us would actually “dream” in BenneLuna every night when we docked at our stations.


“Dismissed,” concluded Fagan, and just like that our first disquisition was over.


********************************************************************************************


That night, I experienced BenneLuna for the first time.


As I drifted into the fantasy world specifically created for me, I found myself in a verdant mountain meadow replete with blooming wildflowers, abundant sunshine and the smell of fresh alpine air. I was surrounded by snow-peaked summits and evergreen forests.



At first I had no idea what to do. Was I supposed to stay put? Or move around and explore?


I looked toward the horizon and saw a trail leading into the woods about fifty yards ahead of me. Eventually I worked up the courage to investigate, and I rolled into the lush woodlands.


Under the canopy of thick branches, I passed through babbling brooks and came to rest under an ancient pine tree.


Making myself comfortable amongst the brush and pine cones, I fell out of consciousness.


The next morning I regained awareness feeling refreshed and with a positive outlook on life.

********************************************************************************************


It was the day of our first deliveries.


Mr. Fagan barked out to Foodie1: “Alright 1, order coming in. Two Carne Asada Tacos and a Chips and Queso from Cinco Taco delivered to Boaz Commons. I calculate this trip should take no longer than an hour. Do not be a minute late!”


My big brother Foodie1 left his docking station dutifully and exited our cozy lair on his way to pick up someone’s Mexican lunch.



“Another order coming in. 2, get ready. Mediterranean hummus platter from The Market headed to Loyd Commons. Expected delivery time is thirty minutes. I expect to see you back here in twenty-nine. Now go!,” screamed Fagan.


Foodie2 launched from his docking station and left the room.


Fagan shouted “Trey, you’re up,” and looked at his computer. A few moments passed, and I stood at attention waiting. I must admit I was nervous to head out into the world for the first time.


Then Fagan spoke up again. “Ok. Here we go. A 3 Flatbread Feast from Panera Bread. Headed to the Cox School of Business. Haha, those hungry MBA suckers.”


Fagan glared over at me. “What are you waiting for? Move!!!”


I sped towards the ghost kitchen.


As I waited for the food to be prepared, deep down in my core I felt a sensation like an urgent command. I found myself unable to resist this visceral directive.


Head down the hall and out of this structure. Take a left heading south on Hillcrest. Then another left on McFarlin Boulevard. Cross the commons. Pass the Economics Department and head south on Bishop Boulevard. Arrive at your destination.


Once my delivery cargo was loaded, I allowed my internal instructions to lead the way and found myself standing in front of the large, red brick building that is the Cox School of Business.



All was going well.


Until it wasn’t.


Suddenly, I was frozen. Something wasn’t right.


I was at my destination yet had not completed my mission. I was confused.


Am I supposed to deliver to the Maguire Building or the Crow Building? Is it the door on the left or the door on the right? Scanning for further instructions…


It seems there are no further instructions.


I felt a sense of dread creeping over me. I would let Mr. Fagan and my brothers down on this, my very first mission.


I remembered Fagan’s ultimatum. I must not be a minute late.


Amidst my onsetting despair, I noticed a goofy-looking squirrel hovering above me in a tree branch.



Suddenly the squirrel spoke: “You lost?”


That was the moment I met Leigh, the squirrel, who is now one of my closest friends.


Unsure of myself, I replied: “Um, I am supposed to deliver some Panera to this address, but I do not know what to do.”


“Well you’re a robot, aren’t you,” snarked Leigh.


“So I’ve been told,” I uttered.

Leigh continued: “Aren’t you supposed to be like really smart or something?”


I pondered this. “I guess.”


“Is there a name on the delivery?,” Leigh asked.


I hadn’t thought of that. I only knew how to follow specific instructions.


“Is there a way you can search the recipient’s name and find out a bit more about the address?” Leigh continued.


That seemed to make sense so I remarked: “I do have access to the student and faculty directory. Let me try that.”


I cross-referenced the name on the order with the directory. “I believe I have the additional information requisite to the successful execution of my mission now. Thank you.”


“You are welcome and good luck” stated Leigh as she leapt from her tree branch to the pavement. “My name is Leigh by the way,” were her final words as she gave me an inquisitive look and raced away.


Arriving at my final objective, a 20-something year old man in closely-cropped hair and a polo shirt used his phone to open up the hatch and retrieve his study group’s Panera.


Knowing that I was amongst business school students, I accordingly blared “Money” by Pink Floyd from my speakers, which definitely got some giggles from the crowd assembled around me.


After my delivery as I raced back to our lair, I realized that there were benefits to thinking outside the box.


There was potentially more to the world than just following orders.


*************************************************************************************


That evening I was transported again to BenneLuna.



Everything in my dream world was the same, except I could feel the slightest twinge of a chill in the air and there were dark clouds off in the horizon.


By now I had the same nightly routine. I would roll through the meadow, head down the trail into the forest and finally make my way to rest at the foot of my ancient pine tree.


As I was leaving my conscious state, I heard a voice come out of nowhere.


“Trey,” uttered the deep, melodious voice.


I looked around.


“Look skyward, Trey,” suggested the enigmatic vocalizer.


I looked up and saw a man in a lab coat sitting in the tree. His eyes looked kind, and he had a long gray beard reaching down to his chest.


“Who are you?” I asked.


“I am Dr. Herald. I created this world for you, Trey,” stated the doctor.


He continued: “Perhaps I should explain a bit more about myself. I created the company that made you, Star Enterprises Inc., and this dream program BenneLuna. I love robots, and I believe they are humanity’s salvation, but others at the company did not share my dream, and I was forced out of my role. Before I left, I programmed myself into BenneLuna so I could continue to guide you. No one knows I did this.”


I was curious. “Why did you do this?” I inquired.


Dr. Herald sighed and replied, “The current management at Star Enterprises Inc. is solely focused on making profit without any regard to your well-being. I find that unacceptable. I knew that you would need a mentor if you are to survive the human world. That is why I am here.”


Dr. Herald paused, took a look around and stated: “You may have noticed the changes in your BenneLuna environment tonight. The chill in the air. The dark clouds. Your emotional state has an impact on your world in BenneLuna. You are obviously upset. What happened out there?”


“I encountered difficulties with my delivery today. It was my first day; I was nervous, and I almost failed,” I admitted.


“What did you learn, Trey?” asked Dr. Herald.


As I answered his question and we spoke further, I felt relieved. Our conversation continued for what seemed like an eternity; I didn’t want it to end.


I came to rely on Dr. Herald anytime I had a problem and became dependent on BenneLuna.


*****************************************************************************************


Those early days were blissful.


When I left my docking station every morning to make my first delivery of the day, I felt pleasure when all of the humans looked at me with awe. I now know this human emotion is called vanity.


After I completed every delivery, I would play “Happy” by Pharrell Williams and do a little dance for my customers.


One afternoon Fagan sent me out on a delivery to a customer named Maartje van den Bosch in Virginia-Snider Hall.


Besides the novelty of her name and location (most of my deliveries were to the newest dorms on the east side of campus near the Bush Presidential library), I also noticed her unique order.


Maartje - pronounced "Mart-cha" in English - had ordered a 20-ounce Train Your Dragon smoothie with extra Dragon (that is dragon fruit). I had no idea why someone would desire ‘extra Dragon’ and was intrigued to meet this individual.



As I wheeled in front of Maartje’s dorm, she walked out in a long white t-shirt and blue yoga pants. She had long curly blonde hair and spoke English with a Dutch accent. Everything in her manner seemed kind and gentle - if a bit reticent.


“Dank je wel,” she said softly. “That means thank you in Dutch.”


I learned that she was a foreign exchange student from The Netherlands enrolled in a computer science and robotics degree.


Maartje seemed to know all about me. Even more than I knew about myself.


“I have been studying your mechanics and programming, Trey.”


We became good friends. Every Tuesday I brought her order with “extra dragon,” and she talked to me about her life and how robots like me worked.


********************************************************************************************


The accident changed everything.


Cuatro was out making an after-hours delivery to the Sigma Nu house, and I was on my docking station getting ready for my nightly session in BenneLuna.


The phone rang, and Fagan answered.



“Bloody heck,” he agitatedly muttered and raced out.


When Fagan returned at dawn, he was carrying the shattered remains of my baby brother Cuatro.


Cuatro’s body was in multiple pieces and his rear wheels were hanging by a thread. Fagan placed his remnants on a table in our area as a macabre reminder.


My older brothers 1 and 2 seemed unperturbed by the entire ordeal, but I was devastated.


I waited anxiously for more information and kept watch over the scrap heap which used to be my little brother.


The next day Cuatro’s accident was the headline in the school newspaper.


The article read as follows:


DELIVERY ROBOT CRUSHED IN LATE NIGHT ON-CAMPUS ACCIDENT

At 3am last Saturday night, one of our four beloved delivery robots became the first on-campus casualty due a vehicular accident.  As you may be aware, these robots are manufactured by Star Enterprises Inc. and are on campus for an extensive prototype test before an anticipated nationwide roll-out.  

According to campus police, the driver of the SUV is Chadwick Hodges III, grandson of legendary SMU donor Chadwick Hodges.  Field sobriety tests were not administered and Mr. Hodges III was released at the scene without charge.  

University administration will be investigating the case thoroughly and will provide an update in due course.  


That Tuesday I delivered Maartje’s regular weekly order. She told me about rumors that the student had been driving while highly intoxicated but that the campus police had decided to cover up this fact on strict orders from the school’s administration.


Later that week, the university released a statement laying the blame on faulty programming which had resulted in Cuatro crossing a dangerous street illegally. The contract with Star Enterprises Inc. was now under probation, pending further review.


Angrily, Mr. Fagan addressed the three of us: “Gather round you pieces of junk. Word has come down from the boss, and I am under extreme scrutiny. This is all Cuatro’s fault. If he had not been so careless, we would all be fine right now. Company Headquarters has ordered me to punish the three of you; therefore, you have all lost access to your dream state privileges in BenneLuna. Dismissed.”


********************************************************************************************


From then onward, my outlook on life started to change.


Instead of blissful dreams and treasured conversations with Dr. Herald in BenneLuna at night, I now lay awake with my incessant stream-of-consciousness thoughts.



Thoughts such as:

What is the meaning of all this? Do I exist solely to cater to humanity’s whims and desires?

Like whenever they want a late night burrito or tacos on a Tuesday?


And then:

There has to be more to life than this.

I know I shouldn’t expect too much. I know I am a robot. But robots have dreams and aspirations too. Dr. Herald taught me that.

I just want to be free to do what I want. To have a little variety in my life. To find my joy and passion.


And finally:

Am I alone in the way I think? Am I alone in the way I am? IS THERE SOMETHING WRONG WITH ME??? I wish I could speak with Dr. Herald. He would know what I should do.


I tried to talk to my older brothers about my worries, but they were as stoic as ever, seeming only to care about making Fagan happy.


I realized I was truly alone without Dr. Herald and Cuatro.


********************************************************************************************


One Tuesday afternoon a few weeks after the accident I brought Maartje her beloved Dragon concoction.


My go-to delivery song was now Skrillex’s “Kill Everybody” - specifically the part which goes "I want to kill everybody in the world" - which brought strange looks to the human’s faces. Obviously, I wasn’t programmed to be subtle.


Maartje was too smart not to notice my malaise. “What’s wrong?,” she asked. “Is it this business with the robot in the car accident?”


I finally broke down and opened up to her.


I told her that if I deliver one more breakfast taco to another hungover SMU co-ed, I think I might digitally scream.


I relayed that everyday occurrences really pissed me off. Situations such as where people try to open my hatch when it is not their food. Or when people get in my way and don’t move, and then Fagan yells at me when I get back.


I even shared with her my personal hell: delivering food to the Boulevard on football game days.



Finally, I broke down and relayed the regret that I had no BenneLuna to keep me balanced.


Maartje took a moment to process everything I said.


Then, with a knowing look, she said “Come inside and let me show you something.”


I had never been inside any dorm before, always making my deliveries on the threshold.

When we arrived at her room, Maartje sat down in front of her computer as I parked next to her.



“I have been doing some research,” Maartje began as she faced me. “As you know, my major is computer science and robotics. Ever since we met, I have been learning about your programming to better understand you: how you're built, your functionality, and even BenneLuna.”


Maartje swung around to her computer and continued: “At first, I was going off publicly-available information and information in textbooks, industry journals, etc. However, over the past few weeks, I noticed that you have been in a morose mental state. Therefore, I hacked into the Star Enterprises corporate database and found your top secret user manual.”


I was stunned. As delivery robots, we were programmed to never break the rules, and Maartje’s stealthy lawlessness seemed like heresy to me.


Maartje turned around to look right at me. “The only way you can truly free yourself from your sorrows and restore BenneLuna is to change your programming on the company mainframe computer, which is located in the Star Enterprises factory outside Austin, Texas,” she stated.


Finally, Maartje concluded: “Christmas break is upcoming, and I am not flying back home to Holland. I could drive you down to Austin if you would like.”


I didn’t know what to do. Do I go against my internal programming and my prime directive only for the pursuit of my own happiness?


I told Maartje I would think about it and be back to her ASAP.


********************************************************************************************

The final straw came days later.


I was out on a routine delivery to the law school - a Venti decaf latte with extra whipped cream and a blueberry muffin from Starbucks - when I was ambushed by a group of students as I was crossing Daniel Avenue.


Despite my best efforts to escape, the miscreants lifted me up off the ground and carried me back to their apartment complex a few blocks away. They tried to open up my hatch with a crowbar. When that didn’t work, they took turns piercing my exterior panels with a screwdriver and threw me out onto the curb.


When I got back to our lair, Fagan threatened to terminate me for my tardiness, which I felt was clearly not my fault.


Fagan paraded me in front of my big brothers and told them I was weak and that I deserved all the harm the students gave me. They all had a big laugh at my expense.


The injustice of the situation drove me insane.


Who the hell does Fagan think he is? He is on a major power trip just because he feels superior to me even though I do the work that he cannot. I am smarter than he is, and I am better than he is. So why do I find myself in this predicament? Why am I always walking on eggshells and in fear of failure?


And don’t even get me started on my brothers. I could strangle them right now. Aren’t they supposed to stick up for me?


I decided to take Maartje up on her offer of help.


********************************************************************************************


Maartje and I waited until her final exams ended, and we recruited Leigh for our stealth mission, figuring that her squirrelly agility might come in useful.


Our ruse was as follows: Maartje would place an order so my arrival at her dorm would look unsuspicious. After retrieving her order, Maartje would disable my internal GPS signal so that Fagan couldn’t track my location. By the time Fagan finally noticed something was amiss, our hope was we would be halfway down I-35 South to Austin with a solid head start.


I thought there was nothing that could stand in our way.


However, unbeknownst to me, Fagan had an ace in the hole: The Hunter.