It was another perfect day on Xerox 4. The dual suns shone like brass pennies, the white sanddunes reflected the whimsical purple of the sky...and Joel's body lay dead amongst it all.
The oil from his neck had begun to leak into the sand, but his synthetic skin was as perfect as the day he'd been created. Everything was very clean. The only thing that gave him away was his head. Totally detached from his shoulders and the hard drive ripped from the back - these were the things that distinguished Joel as dead.
Sure, they could patch the skeleton up no problem...but the data was gone...Joel was gone.
"What are you thinking?" Detective Susan Maple said to her colleague. "Suicide?"
"He hardly ripped his own hard-drive out, did he?!?"
That was true.
First the killer bee epidemic - now this...
They had a killer on their hands. A killer of robots. A hacker. A person who wanted to mine data.
Joel's brain held nothing more than office dross. Processes, ways to streamline processes - if it was possible to make a machine more machine like - they had done it with Joel. He was an automaton, through and through...
"Thank you for calling Vortex Systems...yes your contract will be emailed to you shortly..." This was Joel's script. This was Joel's line. These were things he said day after day - things he reeled off. It made no difference to him. He was a robot. He was built for this.
That was, until one day - there was a glitch. The system he used, a computer, like himself - the system acquired a virus - and Joel was shown the most extraordinary things - things well beyond the scope of Xerox 4...
Vast bodies of water; strange beings; animals with four legs; robots that looked so primitive, they might as well have been toasters. It was a beautiful place, and he desperately wanted to go.
It didn't matter what task Joel completed - answring the phone, updating the database, completing the ritual of changing out of his work clothes (even though his synthetic skin did not sweat)... He kept thinking about that strange place....it ran in the back of his mind like a screensaver.
The police hadn't know about the virus - not until Joel - because a tiny bit of the hard-drive was left. They plugged it in, let it whirr to life, and that's when they saw the flashes of colour, the oceans, the turtles, the birds, the humans.
"Why did this guy's virus look like a video from National Geogrpahic?" Detective Maple said. She knew about Natioanl Geographic, because she, unlike Joel, had blood in her veins.
"Dunno. Bit boring if you ask me!" Detective Dennis said. He also had blood in his veins - but really no stir in his spirit. Not even the killer bee epidemic had frightened him.
"What if Joel wasn't bored..." Detective Maple whispered, the images of her home planet flooding her eyes. "What if he was homesick?"
Detective Dennis laughed - a grin that showed all his teeth. "Manufactured on Xerox 4 - that was Joel. How could he be homesick?"
"Where I'm from, where my family were from...there's something called Hiraeth. It's this longing, this homesickness...oddly mixed with a sort of grief..."
"Joel isn't Welsh." Came the reply.
This was day 1,800 for Joel. Day 1,800 of putting his shirt on, of buttoning up his tie... And all the while, he was ever-dreaming of a deep blue sea and clear blue skies. Places he would never go. Things he would never see. Things he would never feel...because he didn't have the capacity...and yet...Joel felt something.
But he knew robots weren't meant to feel. And he knew how to make the feeling go away.
"I don't get it." Detective Dennis said. "These robots...they're so expensive, and they've got all this data inside their heads...and they're just walking around..."
"Just like you..." His colleague laughed. "You're head's full of data."
"A mine of useless information!"
It was if a lightbulb had come on over the woman's head. "But there's nothing Joel's skull...office data. Just office data. It's not sensitive information...nothing worth killing over."
Joel typed his work address carefully and deliberately. The killer would know exactly where to find him.
"I can't belive they are still buzzing on about that bee epidemic..." Detective Dennis said. He narrowed his eyes at the screen. "I've never understood bees...why they sting people...it's a suicide mission. It's like they are asking to be harmed..."
A silence hung in the air.
Asking to be harmed.
"What if..." Susan's voice tailed off. "What if Joel was asking to be harmed?" She said.
"Why would anyone in their right mind do that?" Detective Dennis asked. He was seriously beginning to doubt his partner's ability. Then it dawned on him - Joel wanted rid of the Hiraeth.
Joel had known who to contact. The oddly stirring screensaver had come with a contact address - so he's emailed them. They had won. So they came to Joel just after his shift had ended. They can to him clothed in black like the Grim Reaper of lore, that the humans feared so much. They had come to Joel, and ripped his hard drive out, and smashed it. They'd smashed it until Joel was no more. Until all the Joel data was gone.
"So are we saying that someone planted the Hiraeth in the first place? Someone wanted Joel to feel this way? They wanted him to feel...?" Detective Maple asked. Detective Dennis nodded. "Why would you want a robot to feel?" Susan asked.
Detective Dennis shrugged. "Dunno. To make it suffer."
Joel's murder had been centuries in the making....and it wasn't just Joel...it was humanity's hatred of all technology. People said his murder had started with the introduction of self-service checkouts, centuries and centuries ago...
It was a theory Detective Dennis subscribed to. But the question was - who hated Joel the most? Who saw Joel as a self-service checkout?
"The person whose job Joel took." Susan said. "Who was the last human to do Joel's job?". Detective Maple's voice activated an archive search: The employee before Joel, a human, as long since dead.
"That puts an end to that, then." Detective Dennis, said. A block in the road. Sometimes he wondered if a robot wouldn't best do his job.
Joel had had feelings about the end, although he wasn't sure what they were. All that mattered was that soon, he would be free.
He had waited patiently at his desk...for the killer to appear...but they hadn't. Fearing he had been abandoned, Joel got up to leave - then the fatal blow struck the back of the robot's head...and the hard drive removed in one clean movement.
Everything had been very clean.
But then cleaners were clean. Or ex-cleaners at least. The automated floor sweeping automatons had taken their jobs years ago. They had been replaced by a glorified mop...so they knew the pain of seeing hardworking colleagues replaced by humanoid robots.
After his job had been taken, they had sworn revenge on his behalf. After his death, they had sworn revenge again...and now they had their eye on all the robots that had stolen all the jobs....
Where would it end?
More to the point, did they care?
They kept daydreaming of open oceans, turtles and pale blue skies. They longed for the days of people at their desks, chatting during their breaks about where they'd like to go on holiday.