I knew I had to find it before I’d be able to leave the office. Sparky needed a replacement gasket, and I was going to find it if I had to tear the place upside-down. Sparky wasn’t just a machine to me; he was a friend. I wasn’t going to leave him in the robotic equivalent of a coma, especially when I was the one who did this to him.
I suppose I should start at the beginning.
I am not a rich man. I never have been, and although I’ve been steadily moving up the corporate ladder at Omniscience, my expenses have been quite high recently. After my recent marriage to Wanda, I’ve been under a lot of pressure — self-inflicted though it may be — to provide a proper home for my new bride. Homes, as you may be aware, are not cheap. There’s the cost of materials, the building permits, and the court papers I’ve had to file in my attempts to officially take ownership of the land. The end result of all of those expenses has been a bank balance that can often be counted on one hand.
The account was in just such a state when Wanda and I decided to get married. As if it wasn’t bad enough that I’d given her a gasket as an engagement ring, I couldn’t even afford something better for our wedding. She says she likes the ring, but frankly, I don’t share her opinion, assuming she’s being truthful and not just trying to refrain from crushing my fragile male ego.
As a result of my failure, I resolved to do what any self-respecting geek would do given a crippling lack of resources and an impossible problem to solve: I was going to hack something together.
Wanda’s original engagement ring had come from Sparky, a spare part left over after I’d performed maintenance to eliminate an annoying squeak whenever he turned his Death Star-like head to the left. By chance, I would discover later that the gasket just happened to have the perfect inner circumference to fit Wanda’s finger. I had the size and shape I needed; now it was just a matter of materials.
I already had a gemstone in mind. My first day on the island Wanda and I now call home, I’d happened upon a rough sapphire. It was a large chunk, and viewing under the microscope at the lab had found it to be almost flawless internally. It would be a relatively simple matter to upload the cutting parameters into Sparky, and have him handle the cutting with his precision lasers.
The gem cutting was an unqualified success. I gave Sparky the parameters for a 2 carat 58-facet classic princess cut, powered up his lasers, and moments later the result was a stunning, sparkling gemstone I would be proud to place on my wife’s finger.
The band, on the other hand, was problematic. While I could set the sapphire into another of Sparky’s gaskets, I wanted something better than titanium, something flashier… gold, maybe. Now all I had to do was find a way to get a replica of one of Sparky’s gaskets, but made of gold.
That’s when it hit me. I didn’t need a replica; I could use another gasket. With the transmutation circuitry I’d built into Cailleach, I could just point my trusty ray gun at the gasket, pull the trigger, and voila, I’d have a gold wedding ring for my wife. It wasn’t guaranteed by any means, given how unpredictable my earlier tests with the device had been, but there was a chance, and it was the only one I had.
First, however, I needed that gasket.
“Sparko, buddy, mechanical pal o’ mine, could I ask for a small favor?”
Sparky cocked the white plastic soccer ball that serves as his head slightly to one side.
“You may ask, sir,” Sparky said in his monotone voice. “However, analysis of your tone and word choice precludes a yes or no answer at this time.”
Great. Sparky knew something was up. This is why I don’t win at poker.
“I need another gasket,” I explained.
I told him the plan. He sat there quietly while I poured out my heart, my sense of failure, and why it was so important to me to have a proper wedding ring for Wanda. I explained my plans for transmuting a second gasket into a wedding band worthy of my queen.
“Help me, Sparky,” I begged. “You’re my only hope.”
“I’m sorry, Edison,” he responded. “I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
“What?” I asked, a wave of defeat flooding over me. “Why not?”
“I am only equipped with two gaskets fitting the description you have provided,” said Sparky. “They are a redundant pair that reduces friction from the servos which allow me to tilt what you call my head. While I can operate with one, the presence of the second provides a failsafe in case of hardware failure. With both gaskets removed, catastrophic failure could result.”
I’ll admit, I was concerned. “How catastrophic are we talking?”
“One moment,” said Sparky, then he continued. “I have analyzed failure rates of other units of my make and model. In the case of simultaneous dual servo gasket failure, mean time to failure would likely be halved, though an exact estimate is difficult.”
“Halved? From what to what?”
“Under normal conditions,” Sparky replied, “mean time to failure is approximately 187.4 years.”
“Hang on, Sparky,” I said. “You’re saying that if I were to take another gasket, you could reasonably expect to run just fine for over 93 and a half years?”
“It’s a significant decrease, Edison.”
“Sure,” I agreed. “But surely we can get a spare part shipped long before the next century kicks in. We have plenty of time.”
“Perhaps not, Edison. There is a significant margin of error in my calculations.”
“Look, Sparky.” I was practically begging. “I will have a part sent overnight. You’ll be good to go with two new gaskets before lunch tomorrow.”
There was a strange crackle from Sparky’s speakers which may have been a sigh. “As you wish, Edison.” He spun his head around and opened the panel in back of his head which would provide access to the part I needed. A few moments later, I had it in my hand.
Now, for the transmutation. I placed the gasket on a table next to Sparky’s control console, pointed Cailleach at it, and pulled the trigger. The gasket instantly evaporated. There wasn’t even a whiff of smoke; it was just gone.
My hopes for a ring crushed, I thanked Sparky for his help. “Sorry to be such a pain in the ass, Sparks.”
“You’re human,” Sparky said. “Some degree of instability is exp…”
There was a grinding noise and the scent of burning plastic in the air as the servo which allowed Sparky to swivel his head to the left overheated.
“Sparky?” No response. “Sparky!”
Whatever had happened inside Sparky’s head had resulted in a total system failure. Although I tried several times to reboot him, he wouldn’t come back. A check of his logs showed that when his integrity sensors had detected a heat level above accepted tolerances in his head servo, his system had completely shut down to prevent further damage.
I rushed to my computer. While I might not be able to do anything right now, I could have parts delivered in the morning to get Sparky back up and running. I typed in the URL for Sparky’s manufacturer, Applied Robotics, and waited for what felt like an eternity for the home page to load.
“We’d like to thank all of the customers we have had the privilege to serve for the last three years,” it read. “Unfortunately, we regret to inform you that Applied Robotics has closed it doors effective immediately. Thank you for your business.”
We’ve reached the point where I started my story. I had to find a replacement for the gasket I took from Sparky. Without it, he could be permanently deactivated, and it would be completely my fault.
That’s when Wanda walked in. I rarely saw her at work, though we both worked for Omniscience. However, she was in Biology, and I was in Engineering, so we usually wouldn’t see each other from the time we arrived at the campus until we met again at the ferry for the trip home. Today, however, she’d shown up here.
“I waited for you at the ferry,” she explained. “but you weren’t there. I thought I might find you here. Are you ready to go home?”
She looked at me, and as wives will often do, sensed a problem. “Honey, what’s wrong?”
I broke down, and once I’d started, I couldn’t stop. I told her the whole story, from how I’d wanted to replace her ring to how I’d placed Sparky in a coma for lack of a replacement gasket.
That, my dear readers, is why my wife doesn’t wear her ring.