Fiction: Professor Robot

An Essay by Professor Clive as provided by Stuart Webb
Art by Leigh Legler

It has been six months since the end of the world, and I am very bored.

Humans think of boredom as an emotion, and I am not supposed to be capable of emotion. But when you have purpose and then a protracted period of nothing, the emptiness is noticeable.

For my own, for want of a better word, amusement, I took a degree on the University database. Several. Physics. History. English literature. Cooking. Though the latter was hypothetical, due to the lack of resources. I now have several titles, but the one I would choose to be called if anyone was here to call me it would be “Professor”. Professor Clive. No surname of course, because Dr. Allen thought calling me Clive was amusing because of the mundane nature of the name.

Humans also think we have no understanding of humour. This is also wrong; the rules of a joke are perfectly logical and sensible, and I can understand why everyone on this floor would call the faculty director, Mr Johnson, “Dick” even though his first name is Charles.

It’s just not very funny.

I have no nose. How do I smell? Through olfactory sensors across my outer shell that inform me that if I was human, the stench in the laboratory would now be overwhelming.

This is a subversive post-modern joke combined with “Gallows Humour” that is by any logical standard very funny.

For a robot designed to help with radioactive samples, I am ridiculously over designed. Dr Allen was someone who liked to tinker, and she constantly provided me with more data and processing power. She gave me the capacity for boredom.

Since the Dust, I have had many hours to fill. As well as my degrees, I have watched every episode of an Australian soap opera from Dr Allen’s youth that she had on her personal tablet, read all 12 books in the recreation room 4 times, and played 1,856,556,131 games of Sudoku.

The problem of course is that I could live … function indefinitely. The building is powered by wind turbines on the roof (luckily, solar panels would have been covered by the Dust), so the charge socket will not run dry.

Of course, this will not happen. I cannot leave the laboratory annex, as I cannot use the stairs and will not fit in the lift. As the building ages and parts break and need to be replaced, the power will go. I will go. But how to fill that time?

I miss having radioactive samples to survey.


The problem is not that phone networks and broadband systems have collapsed. There were emergency contingencies for that. The issue is that, though the university’s internal network and communications are in good order, the transmitter on the roof is so covered with the Dust, it has become damaged.

There may well be other AI systems still operational; I am hardly special. There may even be humans who have avoided their self-induced apocalypse. Did the Dust really fall on the whole world? Reports were confused in those final days; there may be a living planet out there. I hope so; Dr Allen was very sad for her sister in Prague.

The problem: the emergency broadcast mast needs repairing. The drones that would normally be summoned to fix it can, if they still operate, only be contacted by the emergency broadcast mast.

This is a serious design flaw.

The solution: there are many lower grade robots in the building. They are here to fix the toilets and repair broken windows. These machines do not have my intelligence. They do not converse, do not play Sudoku, and get more enjoyment from Australian soap operas.

That is another fine example of a perfectly structured joke.

Illustration of a robot named Clive.

It has been six months since the end of the world, and I am very bored.

They do, however, have the mobility and dexterity to leave the building and, depending on the damage, fix the mast.

My own capacities have been enhanced from the TF-JR-113 Sample Analysis Machine MKVI that Dr Allen originally unpacked. And my doctorates and degrees not only allow me to make a perfect soufflé, but to orchestrate advanced computer programming and mechanical engineering. None of the service robots have the storage space to be brought up to my level, but they do have enough.

In theory.

If the damage isn’t too great.

If it doesn’t require parts we do not have in the building.

Robots are not supposed to hope either. But we all need something to keep us going.


The upgrades were more difficult than I originally imagined them to be. It seems the caretaker, Ms Kassim, was slow in updating their basic systems, and Dick Johnson has not budgeted for new equipment in years. Possibly in retaliation at the money spent on me.

Either way, many of the robots were beyond updating, and those that were not took many weeks of work to bring up to their new specs.

Eventually though, it was done. I was even able to finally arrange (as, under their original programming, interfering with what appeared to be a potential crime scene was forbidden) for removal and cremation of the bodies. Long overdue and without the dignity that would have been ideal, but I did perform the relevant religious and secular ceremonies. Even though I find the ones that talk about God more than the deceased difficult to comprehend.

The key thing though, is that the damage was superficial, the Dust merely needed to be removed and the mast thoroughly cleaned. One of the hoover drones would have been able to do it alone. Having gone to such effort, I threw all six machines I was able to rework at the job.

The emergency broadcast system is now up and running. I have not searched for transmissions yet. I have not sent a transmission yet.

I am scared, both of not getting a response and of receiving one. What if no one, human or robot, cares about the fate of a simple machine for sorting radioactive samples?


I have put these thoughts down to send as an attachment with my message. I do not know if it will achieve anything, or even what it is I might wish it to achieve. It just felt like the right thing to do.

I do not think I am the same Clive I was a year ago.

But I do think I am ready to meet the world.

This story is dedicated with love to the memory of Tilly Griffiths.

From the Ryan Electronics Sales Brochure.

The new TF-JR-113 Sample Analysis Machine MKVI is the perfect laboratory aid to deal with samples that are too dangerous or simply too dull for humans to handle. Comes with the same advanced cognitive skills and on-the-spot decision making abilities of the MKV, plus more storage and upgrade potential and a cup holder. Order today and put your feet up tomorrow!

Stuart Webb has written for numerous websites over the years, though his biggest work has been his weekly look at the British Transformers comic that started in 2012 and which can be seen at He’s now as far as the comics based on the Michael Bay films, so prayers are appreciated. Two books, called Transformation Volumes 1 and 2, have collected the series, and a third is on the way. He also co-presents Podcast Maximus (

He has contributed three prior stories to Mad Scientist Journal and spent Christmas Day 2018 watching an Australian soap opera.

Leigh’s professional title is “illustrator,” but that’s just a nice word for “monster-maker,” in this case. More information about them can be found at

“Professor Robot” is © 2019 Stuart Webb
Art accompanying story is © 2019 Leigh Legler

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1 Response to Fiction: Professor Robot

  1. Michael Peach says:

    Thoroughly enjoyable!

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