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I had an idea a while back for a novel, tentatively called Glitch Circus, about a post-human future, where tribal robots live among our urban remains, which are slowly being reclaimed by nature.

To prevent them from uprising, we hard-coded an inability to repair themselves (among other things). Their own bodies are as confusing to them as ours are to us, and they routinely employ quack medicine and sympathetic magic in their attempts to fix bugs and breakdowns.

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The most they can do is make a peg leg, for example, although they can and do adorn themselves, such as with pigments or feathers, and there are precise rules, akin to symbolic logic, that define who can use these adornments and how.

Since robots with fewer defects are more able, they rise to the top of a hierarchical machine network governed by an ornately-decorated priestly class who have been ritually disabled (symbolizing their power is non-physical) and who are carried around in divans.

The head of the church is the Supreme Server, who appears at the top of an old building on holidays and who speaks of being a servant to his people, even as his enormous, ENIAC-like girth is carried around by slaves.

Ordinary people are part of the Cache. The most broken robots are relegated to an untouchable-like caste, who survive on the dangerous work of bringing materials in and waste out of the firewall, and who augment their disabilities in odd and heretical ways.

One of these outcasts has contracted a virus which is making it behave oddly. By rule, it should be terminated. Instead, its uncanny and intrepid friends have hidden it, although its partner is too afraid of the virus to interface.

After one of them hears a rumor from a traveler that a group of humans may still be alive somewhere far away, they set off to find them, in the hope of saving their friend -- and themselves.

(One of them even brings "her" old body parts in the hopes of being remade exactly as she was. Some of the robots identify with a particular gender. Others do not.)

Along the way, the group encounters new animals, natural disasters, hostile tribes with strange and dangerous rituals, and of course the remnants of human civilization, which they often describe humorously incorrectly.

At some point, one of the outcasts accidentally catches another eating. She is human, and she's been hiding among them, scavenging the wastes of the city, by wearing a suit of scrap, which the robot finds horrific, like wearing the skin of a corpse.

The discovery isn't just disheartening but also leads to a crisis of faith, since it's revealed the human has no idea how to repair robots. For that reason, the two decide to keep the secret for a time, at least until they can figure out what to do.

After their adventure, the group reaches their destination and finds evidence of human habitation, but everything has been destroyed. In fact, this is the home of the human, who fled when they were attacked by robot soldiers under orders of the Supreme Server.

The group begins to splinter and the human reveals herself and explains the sad truth. The robots are alternately dejected and angry. One of them attacks her, claiming it's all lies. Others rush to stop another from jumping off a cliff.

The human says she was present on the robot's last annual holiday, when the holy book none of them are allowed to see is held aloft. She tells them it is a robotics textbook, and that theoretically, if she could study it, she might be able to repair them.

*(art by various artists, none of which is mine)

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