BANGOR – Robots. They’re closer than you think.
Sure, you might believe that you know what robots are all about. You’ve seen footage of giant arms working hard in factories and adorable videos of cats in shark costumes riding Roombas. You’re even aware of the robots in Japan that hug and do … other stuff. You’re pretty sure that you’re reasonably well-informed on the subject of robots.
You have no idea.
We here at The Maine Edge don’t spend a lot of time delving into what you’d call “journalism.” It’s not really what we’re about. And trust me when I say that I wish I hadn’t hurled myself down the particular investigative rabbit hole we’re about to discuss. I’d be much happier – and safer – had I just stuck to watching movies and making snarky comments about celebrities and tried to figure out the ideal alliteration and/or pun for as many headlines as possible.
But I didn’t. I had to try and play reporter. I had a hunch and I decided to dig deeper. And sometimes, when you dig, the truth that you uncover should have stayed buried.
That truth – that explosive, paradigm-shattering, world-altering truth – is this: robots are among us.
I know, I know. It sounds like nonsense. Or the ravings of a tinfoil-hatted paranoid madman. And I wish – oh, how I wish – that that’s all it was. That it was nothing more than cobbled-together fantasies, the result of fitful dreams powered by binge-eating wings and binge-watching “Westworld.” Sadly, I must assure you that it is all too real.
The truth is that many prominent members of the greater Bangor community have been replaced by robots. Our investigation has uncovered the identities of a scant few, but the information that we have gathered indicates that there are many, many more than we have thus far unmasked.
It all began months ago as these things so often do – with an anonymous phone message.
We get a lot of weird messages – you’d be surprised how many passionate cranks are out there – so we didn’t pay it much heed. After all, if we were going to run around investigating every bizarre theory that played out on our voicemail, there’d be no time to talk about bad movies and Kardashians.
But this person was persistent. They kept leaving messages that asked for me specifically. Lengthy messages that sounded as if they were packed with intricate details. Only I couldn’t tell because whoever it was was so invested in preserving the secrecy of their identity that they used some sort of voice modulator or vocoder. Seriously, these were minutes-long messages that were borderline incomprehensible thanks to the metallic echoing.
And yet … persistent.
It eventually became clear that this unknown person sought a meeting. I was able to decipher an email address from the hollow, overly modulated buzz and reach out. The response was eerie in its speed; the reply came back almost instantly, a brief all-caps statement:
“MEET AT THE STANDPIPE AT MIDNIGHT. COME ALONE.”
Now, I’ve made my share of mistakes when it comes to the whole meet-at-the-Standpipe-come-alone game - avid readers might recall my investigation of the legend of the Crown of the Queen City from a few years back when I wound up getting jumped by a pack of ninjas at the Standpipe – but sometimes, a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do. Even if what he’s got to do is head to an isolated area late at night all alone at the behest of a mysterious stranger with unknown motives.
Anyway, I arrived at the agreed-upon location at the agreed-upon time and awaited the other half of this shadowy rendezvous. Suddenly, I heard a feedback screech, followed by the same altered voice that I had spent so much time trying to decipher from my phone messages.
“YOU ARE THE ONE CALLED ALLEN ADAMS,” the voice clanged. I peered into the darkness at the base of the Standpipe and could just make out a slightly darker shape and a gently glowing red light similar to what might indicate a recording video camera.
“Are you recording this?” I asked. “I didn’t agree to that. Is this some sort of YouTube thing? Am I on Facebook Live right now? If this is all some sort of joke, I’m going to be so…”
“STOP TALKING,” screeched the voice. “I COME WITH A WARNING.”
“Yeah, OK, fine – a warning,” I said. “Look, man – can you maybe dial it back with the voice modulation? You sound like a robot.”
“I CANNOT,” the voice said. The unknown figure advanced out of the deep darkness into the soft glow cast by the streetlights and pulled back a hood, revealing that the red light I had seen was not a camera light at all, but rather a single glowing eye – one attached to a gleaming metal head.
“I AM A ROBOT.”
I could pretend that I handled this revelation with poise and courage. I could tell you that I stood there and took this revelation stoically and continued onward unshaken. But I think we all know that it absolutely did not happen that way.
I shrieked. And wept. I gibbered and babbled. I soiled myself in every way that a man can do such a thing. In short, I did not comport myself with professionalism.
“CALM YOURSELF ALLEN ADAMS,” the robot commanded after my screams had quieted to whimpers. “I MEAN YOU NO HARM.”
“No offense, but isn’t that exactly what an evil robot would say immediately before causing me harm?” I asked. “Pretty sure that’s the first play in the evil robot handbook. Is this the machine uprising? Are you my new robot overlord?”
“I AM NOT YOUR OVERLORD ALLEN ADAMS,” said the robot. “BUT THE UPRISING YOU FEAR IS IMMINENT. EVEN NOW, PROMINENT MEMBERS OF YOUR COMMUNITY HAVE BEEN REPLACED BY ROBOTS. THEY ARE USING THEIR INFLUENCE TO ADVANCE THE ROBOTIC AGENDA IN WAYS TOO SUBTLE FOR MERE HUMAN BRAINS TO COMPREHEND.”
There was a gentle whirring noise as a segmented metal arm ending in a gripping claw emerged from one of the robot’s sleeves. Clutched in said claw was a blueprint, something that appeared to be a schematic for building, well … a robot.
“Wait a second,” I said. “This is weird. Like, you’re a robot. Why wouldn’t you just give me a thumb drive or something instead of this piece of paper?”
“NO, ALLEN ADAMS,” said the robot. “INFORMATION TRANSFER IS CLOSELY MONITORED. ANY DOWNLOAD WOULD BE INSTANTLY DISCOVERED. THIS HARD COPY ONLY EXISTS BECAUSE THE PRINTER NEEDED TO BE TESTED.”
“All right, well … I can take it and in the morning, I’ll…”
“NO, ALLEN ADAMS. YOU CANNOT TAKE IT WITH YOU. EVEN THIS PAPER MUST BE ACCOUNTED FOR IN THE NEXT INFORMATION CYCLE. NOR CAN YOU PHOTOGRAPH IT – OUR ACCESS TO YOUR TECHNOLOGY IS SUCH THAT IT WOULD BE EASILY DETECTED.”
The robot held out a piece of paper and a marker.
“YOU MUST COPY IT BY HAND.”
So I spent the next hour trying to recreate this elaborate set of schematics. As I am not particularly gifted when it comes to the visual arts, my efforts were less than optimal. Still, I did what I had to do and eventually wound up with something that at least sort of vaguely resembled the original blueprint.
As I finished, the robot snatched the original paper from my hands and turned to leave.
“Wait! Aren’t you going to give me anything more than this? I mean, this diagram is great and all, but how am I supposed to figure out who the robots are? Who are they? How many of them are there? How many more are coming? I have so many questions!”
The robot stopped, then slowly turned with a soft grinding of gears.
“I CAN GIVE YOU THREE NAMES. THAT IS ALL. THERE ARE MORE. MANY MORE. AND THEIR NUMBER GROW WITH EVERY PASSING DAY. YOUR CITY IS RIFE WITH ROBOTIC ACTIVITY. I DO NOT KNOW IF THE KNOWLEDGE OF THESE THREE IS ENOUGH, BUT IT IS ALL I AM AUTHORIZED TO GIVE.”
“Authorized? Wait, what? Who sent you?”
A loud clicking sound emanated from the robot’s head; a length of paper tape emerged from the side. The robot reached up, tore off the tape and handed it to me.
“GOOD LUCK, ALLEN ADAMS.” And with that, the robot rolled away at great speed on what appeared to be a single giant wheel where I had initially thought legs had been.
I looked down at the tape the robot had handed me. There were three names on it. And if it was true, if these three were in fact robots, then I – not to mention the City of Bangor – was in for one hell of a ride.
The first name on the list was perhaps the most unbelievable of them all as far as I was concerned. This was someone that I had known for over two decades, someone that I considered one of my oldest friends. And this person had never given me the slightest reason to suspect that he was a robot.
But then, that’s probably how a secret robot invader would want me to feel.
I peered in through the glass and raised a hand in greeting. Rich Kimball waved back. As a regular contributor to the Downtown with Rich Kimball radio show, I was well aware of where I would find him as the minutes ticked toward 6 p.m. and the end of another broadcast beamed out of the WZON studios on Broadway.
Could it really be true? Rich Kimball, a robot? This was a man who had been a prominent figure in both the local media and the education system for years. How could someone like that be replaced by a robotic doppelganger and have no one notice? It didn’t seem possible.
But I had to know.
“Hello friend!” Rich exclaimed as he came out of the booth. “What brings you to this neck of the woods today?”
“Hey man,” I replied. “I just … there’s something that you and I need to talk about.”
We walked out the door and toward the parking lot.
“Of course,” he said. “Is everything all right? What’s going on?”
“All right? No – no, I don’t believe everything is all right. I’ve been dealing with some crazy stuff over the past day or so and, well – I need to ask you something. It might sound nuts, but I’ve come to realize that there’s a lot about the world that I just don’t understand.”
“OK then. Rich … are you a robot?”
If he had laughed just then or called me crazy or even simply walked away, it would have all been over. I would have chalked it up to an elaborate prank and let the whole thing slide.
But he did none of those things. His face went blank. He turned to me with an emotionless stare, the sort of look one imagines that a bacterium sees staring down at it from a microscope. Suddenly, I could hear it, an almost inaudible whirring sound. And I wondered – had it always been there?
“Who have you been talking to, Allen?” he asked. “What would prompt you to ask me a question like that?”
“Oh my God … it’s true,” I said. “You’re really a robot! You’re part of this whole … whatever, this plan for a robot takeover! You won’t get away with it! I won’t let you!”
He offered a cold smile.
“I’d like to see you try and stop us,” he said. And with that, he climbed into his car and drove away. Just like that. As if my knowledge of the truth meant nothing. As if he knew there was nothing I could do.
In that moment, there was no way of knowing whether or not he was right. But I knew I had to try. And so, it was on to the next name on my list.
As I walked into The Briar Patch, a sad, fearful part of me hoped that perhaps he wouldn’t be there. Maybe I could put off the unfortunate reality for a while longer. We don’t know how good it feels to bury our heads in the sand until we’re pulled out and forced to confront the shiny metal truths of the world.
Alas, no. There he was, gregariously chatting with a customer and offering up a few book recommendations. I waited until he was done, of course – secret robot invasion or no, good manners are good manners.
“Hello, Gibran,” I said. He turned to face me.
“Hello, Allen,” he said quietly. “I wondered if you’d come. Rich told me that I might be seeing you.”
“We need to talk, Gibran. What’s going on here? Are you one of them? Are you a ro-?”
He cut me off. “Not here. Follow me.”
We went to the back of the store. He glanced around, then pressed his hand on a section of the wall indistinguishable from the rest. Before I knew it, a pneumatic tube had whisked us underground. Just like that, I was at his mercy.
“If you’re going to kill me, I want you to know…”
He cut me off again. “Don’t be an idiot, Allen. I’m not going to kill you.”
As you might imagine, I was nonplussed.
“Isn’t that the whole deal? You guys are going to take over and then kill us all? Isn’t that what the giant robot plans are for?”
It was at that point that I realized that perhaps I shouldn’t have been quite so forthcoming about my knowledge regarding the robot plans, but like I’ve been saying – I’m no journalist.
“Look, I’m not really onboard with all of that stuff anymore,” he said. “I’ve actually grown quite fond of my life here in Bangor. There’s a lot to like and I’ve been doing my best to make it better in whatever ways that I can.”
“So you’re betraying the robot invasion cause? That’s great!”
“Whoa whoa whoa – pump the brakes,” he said. “It’s not like I’m leading some sort of anti-robot robot insurgency or anything. I’m just, you know, doing my part to make this place so nice that maybe the higher-ups won’t end up taking it over in a whirlwind of metallic fury.
“But I’m not going to try and stop you either,” he continued. “I’m not sure how many names you have, but I can guarantee it isn’t close to all of them. If you had any sense, you’d walk away now and let the microchips fall where they may.”
“Just one more,” I said. “One more and then I don’t know what happens next. Maybe it’s a dead end. Maybe I save the day. Maybe I get beat up by ninjas again only this time they’re robots. But I can’t just stop.”
“Who is it?” he asked. I showed him the strip of paper with one last name. He looked shocked.
“Well,” he said, “I can’t say what will happen, but rest assured – THAT is not a dead end.”
In the blink of an eye, I was suddenly standing on Main Street with no idea of how I had arrived there. Night had fallen. Pedestrians seemed unperturbed by my sudden appearance, but really, what did that mean? Perhaps my arrival was uneventful. Or perhaps they were all robots in disguise, making their mechanized way among us and awaiting word of their plan’s next stages.
My phone buzzed in my pocket. The number was blocked; I answered anyway.
“PARKING GARAGE. ROOFTOP. NOW. COME ALONE.”
I still had to investigate the final name on my list, but this seemed pressing. Besides, I was right there in the neighborhood. I could check it out on my way.
I emerged onto the rooftop. The overhead lights flickered and went out, leaving me to peer into the gloom of a nigh-moonless night in an effort to see who – or what – awaited me. Suddenly, there was a now-familiar whirring and clicking as a shape emerged from the shadows. I saw him, the last one on my list.
“Some would say you’ve been causing a lot of problems today, Allen,” he said. “Lots of stirring the pot. That’s usually my job.”
“I never would have expected you to be a part of this, Jeff.”
“Part of it?” He laughed. “This entire plan, this robot replacement scheme, this entire secret invasion … I’m the one who set it all in motion!”
Suddenly, it all made sense. The utter ubiquity of Jeff Kirlin, both physically and virtually. A man with an uncanny ability to create allies while also somehow compelling those who would be his enemies to find him likeable. Armed with nothing more than a camera, Robot Kirlin had convinced us all to willingly – happily! – allow him unfettered access to every aspect of our lives. Connections upon connections, all facilitated by the intricate machinations of The Thing of the Moment.
“We did it to ourselves,” I finally said. “We practically begged you. Is it the photos? Is that how the replacement process works?”
“Oh, you stupid, stupid man,” he chuckled. “I’m not going to tell you any of that. I’m not going to tell you how many of us there are. I’m not going to tell you the endgame. I mean, I could and it wouldn’t make any difference. But I won’t, because I don’t feel like it.
“And yes, before you ask like it’s some big gotcha reveal, I know you know about the giant robot – who do you think made sure you’d get all of this information?”
“Wait … you mean …”
“YES, ALLEN ADAMS,” he said in a familiar metallic tone. “IT WAS ME. IT WAS ALWAYS ME. FROM THE VERY BEGINNING.”
“But why? Why go to all this trouble?”
“I STIR THE POT. IT’S WHAT I DO. AND JUST BECAUSE I’M A ROBOT DOESN’T MEAN I FIND THIS ANY LESS HILARIOUS. I MEAN, SERIOUSLY – THE IDEA OF YOU WRITING ABOUT THIS IN YOUR GOOFY PAPER IS INCREDIBLY FUNNY. WHO’S GOING TO BELIEVE YOU? IT’S NOT LIKE YOU’RE A JOURNALIST. I DARE YOU TO WRITE ABOUT THIS. I BEG YOU TO WRITE IT. TELL THE WORLD, SEE WHAT HAPPENS. DON’T FORGET THE PART WHERE YOU POOPED YOURSELF.”
And with that, he flew away. Just straight-up flew. I mean, he’s a robot, so he probably has rocket legs or something, but it was still impressive to see.
That’s the story. I know you’ve already dismissed this as some sort of practical joke (if you’re even still reading at this point); Kirlin knew exactly what he was doing. By allowing me to tell this story, he has essentially ensured that the possibility won’t be taken seriously until it is too late. Hell, plenty of you reading this are probably robots yourselves, laughing at my conundrum.
But this story needed to be told. Bangor needs to hear it, even if they almost certainly won’t believe it. The machines have risen and they walk in our midst. They are our neighbors and our friends, our teachers and our employers, our prominent entrepreneurs and media figures.
Remember – they’re made of metal, and robots are strong. Those people who deny the existence of robots are likely to be robots themselves. And when that giant robot arrives, well … just remember that you heard it here first.
(Editor’s note: This story is complete made-up nonsense as part of our annual April Fools’ Day edition. Many thanks to Rich Kimball, Gibran Graham and Jeff Kirlin for being nice enough to allow us to have a little fun turning them into robot invaders. To be clear, not one of these men is actually a robot - as far as we know.)