Deep in the lower rooms of the bunker, two robots stood and stared at a small and brightly coloured paper object. It was sat on a little metal stand, a sort of raised hexagonal pillar. Technically it was a medical table, but as nobody had used it in a while the robots imagined that it wouldn’t matter if they borrowed it. The coloured object sat there. Sometimes it moved when one of the robots poked it.
“DO YOU SUPPOSE”, Robot 1984 asked, “THE GUNPOWDER WILL BE ENOUGH?”
Robot 2001 examined it, leaning down and peering at it a bit. He prodded it. The object didn’t explode. In fact, it just sort of rolled a bit then stopped.
“No, I’d have to say not.”
Both robots stared at it for a moment, the glow of their mechanical eyes suffusing the cheery reds and greens with a slightly sickly hue.
It was a Christmas cracker. It was thirty pence from the local corner shop.
The robots were going to make it better.
It was simple, really, at least insofar as they understood what a cracker was for. During a celebration such as the one currently being planned, it was customary to place these where people were planning to sit. Then they would be pulled. A cracker was then supposed to explode, and everyone would therefore know that a good time was being had.
It was as simple as that. However, the devil was in the details.
The colours. Apparently crackers had to be colourful, the better to attract attention and embody fun. Naturally the robots’ fun circuits were really quite sharp. It was exactly what they’d been built for, after all, and if there was one thing they absolutely knew it was that bright colours screamed FUN. As a result, when they began to make their own cracker, they used all of them.
1984 was particularly proud of the purple and orange combination along the edges.
The prizes. Anyone with any kind of processing power knew that a good cracker had prizes. The little paper hats they’d used as prototypes were strewn everywhere, either flung there after a brief examination or propelled there from the early explosions. That had been the biggest issue, actually. 2001 had dedicated considerable processing power to it. It was all very well and good having prizes, you see, but the average paper hat wasn’t really built to withstand an explosion of any kind.
Which brought them to the third detail.
Robot 1984 brought forward the latest prototype, and for a moment both machines stared lovingly at it. At least, insofar as they could stare lovingly at anything. Their faces were only really built for one expression.
It was really quite something. It was, as mentioned before, painted in every colour. It was big, too, about the size and thickness of a child’s arm. 2001 had delicately looped ribbons around it and tied a little bell to the middle too. It was a move that 1984 had argued was a bit over-the-top because that was at the exact place where the cracker would break and the bell was tacky anyway. 2001 hadn’t paid the slightest bit of attention, as 1984 had lost fair and square when they’d drawn straws for the right to decorate it and besides, he’d clearly not grasped the meaning of the cracker as a concept if he was going around saying things like that. It was supposed to be tacky, he’d pointed out.
They’d argued for some time after that, but then the gunpowder was ready and there were more important things to be getting on with.
“RIGHT THEN. WHICH END WOULD YOU LIKE TO TAKE?”
“The left this time, I think. It’d be nice to try it out.”
Each robot took an end of the cracker. For a moment, neither moved. It wasn’t that they weren’t busy, of course, because they were. Cracker cracking was an art form and it deserved serious respect and consideration.
Besides, each robot wanted to be the one that won the prize.
Finally it happened. A twitch of the servos. A glint in the eyelamps. They pulled.
The cracker came apart in a bang that shook the walls, blew confetti and fire across every corner of the room and hurled both robots into the respective walls behind them. An alarm shrieked and fire-suppressant systems panicked, realising that they were about to be called upon to actually do their jobs for a change. The robots had only just managed to pull themselves back onto creaking feet when flame suppressant foam slapped them straight back down again, causing a few muffled cries of surprise and a clatter like a pack of knights being thrown into the world’s largest stack of drums.
For a moment, both robots simply stared through the foam at the centre of the room, where their table had been cracked into pieces and sort of scattered about a bit. The entire top had been charred, and there was precisely nothing left of the cracker itself.
Nothing except a canary yellow party hat, perched jauntily on the topmost strut of blasted metal.
Both robots looked at each other and grinned. They would have grinned anyway, of course, because that’s how their faces had been designed, but this time they meant it. They looked an awful lot like demented snowmen.
“I THINK”, Robot 1984 murmured after some thought, “THAT WE’VE SOLVED THE PROBLEM WITH THE PRIZE’S DURABILITY.”
“Do you think it was the nanofibres or the jellyfish venom?”
“PROBABLY A MIXTURE OF BOTH. I PERSONALLY SUSPECT THE VANILLA EXTRACT WAS VITAL AS WELL.”
Both clambered to their feet, brushing off foam, charred cardboard and bits of their own bodily structure that had been battered loose by their attempt to create something fun for a family engagement. 1984 took two steps and fell apart at the hips.
Robot 2001 offered him a hand up and rumbled in alarm as it detached entirely from his shoulder up and sort of wobbled a bit in 1984’s grip. Both stared at the escaped limb, seemingly surprised by its decision to abandon its owner.
“…Do you suppose we overdid it with the gunpowder?”
They looked at the arm, at the legs which were strewn about and seemingly kicking in an attack of pique at being abandoned, and at each other.
“WELL… MAYBE JUST A LITTLE.”
Both nodded seriously, then jumped and fell apart even more as an annoyed female voice sounded from the bunker wall. A slim red eye, a lens like theirs, peered out at them from the door’s security terminal. Oh. The security detail had woken up.
“Maybe? Just a little?“
“Ah, er, now then, SD42! How, how nice of you to join us-“
“You do realise that these laboratories don’t come cheap? Why is it that whenever there’s a breach in containment or one of the hamsters gets into a heavy-duty supply-moving exoskeleton or someone tries to set fire to the administrator’s beard, you two aren’t far away with your hands wringing and excuses on your vocal units about “experiments” and “in the name of science?” Why is it that I’m always chasing after you? And just what the hell happened to that medical podium?”
“WELL, AH, YOU SEE, WE’D BEEN STUDYING THE THEORY BEHIND THE PERFECT TOYMAS CRACKER AND…”
Robot 1984 explained himself, taking great pains to emphasise the steps they’d made for the good of all and how the bunker would undoubtedly benefit from what they’d learned here. SD42 responded. She was not impressed.
All in all, experiment #69 wasn’t going quite as well as they’d initially thought. Certainly not if the security droid had any intention of following up on her threats, which… well, considering what had happened to robot who’d crossed her last, was probably pretty likely.
Still, at least they’d made the party hats indestructible.
That had to count for something.