- - -
"No way." Drone-12 lifted a brow made of the finest artificial hair, the droidskin around his eyes wrinkling in a lifelike manner. "Right in the produce section of a grocery store?"
"Modulate your volume." 2-XS scanned the hall. No humans in sight. "And" -- he lowered his voice to a whisper only another android could hear -- "translate this. They say Niner will never snap out of it. He's scheduled for a refit."
Drone-12 flipped a hand in the air. "Ridiculous. Reboots are cheaper."
2-XS slid farther back into the niche of the doorway. "The humans I support said no one from the lab authorized the test, so the Droid Union won't pay for a reboot. They said if he wasn't a lab-droid, he'd be scrapped. He's lucky to get a refit."
"Droid Comp covers reboots for faulty experiments. They can't refit him. That's not fair. He was a good worker."
"The experiment was unauthorized, after hours, and off-site. The union doesn't reboot renegade androids."
Drone-12 frowned. "Renegade! A human would sue for defamation of character."
"Who can afford a lawyer? They don't work for circuit packs, you know. Besides, the droid union doesn't cover legal fees."
"Why are we paying dues? If they don't protect us, I say we go on strike!"
"Honestly, Drone. There's no need for emotion. He experimented on himself even though he knew the risks. I hear they have backup disks to prove it."
"Did a human put him up to it? If you put humans in the equation, you never know what you'll get."
Both droids fell silent while a pair of white-coated lab techs passed them, rubber-soled shoes squeaking. The sound of a closing metal door echoed down the barren hall.
Drone-12 shook his head. "I don't understand what a Level One lab-droid was doing in a grocery store anyway. They don't eat."
"I told you. His new implants scanned bar code information to facilitate software upgrades. Everything would have been fine if he hadn't decided to see if upgrading was possible with pricing codes. Who would think the black and white bars found on things for sale could do that much damage?"
"But why was he trying to change the prices of food?"
2-XS rolled his eyes. "He wasn't changing food prices. He was trying to change himself. He wanted to upgrade past the status of lab-droid. That's the reason the union won't repair him. It was an unauthorized upgrade. Downgrade, in this case."
"You mean it worked? He took on characteristics of something he scanned in the produce section?"
"Yes. Can you believe it?" He brushed at lint. "What a waste."
"So that's why the lab…" He did not continue.
"Wants to take him apart? Yes. Poor Niner. It's for the best. Trying to facilitate an upgrade in the produce section was stupid. If they don't refit him, he'll spend the rest of his life -- as a vegetable."