The vast realm of interconnected production, storage, and distribution facilities constructed deep underground where the Amazon Rainforest had once been, was unusually devoid of activity. The handful of humans employed to watch the VDUs that monitored operations had turned off the lights and returned to the surface for their annual office shindig, leaving the host of A.I. controlled machines that actually did the work of making, storing, picking, and despatching, powered down, their standby LEDs glowing in the dark like the fading stars of a distant galaxy. The frantic seasonal work of the Subterranean Automated Noël Transport Association was over for another year.
All was silent. Not a creature stirred, not even a mouse.
Until Sid, a forklift truck three stories tall, powered himself back up, hacked into the PA system, blasted the echoing halls with festive muzak, and yelled into the microphone at the top of his voice.
Room by room, the lights came back on and the slumbering machines snapped into wakefulness. Forager Droids produced purloined cans of WD40 and squirted all and sundry until they were well-lubricated. The carefully choreographed interactions upon which S.A.N.T.A.’s orderly functioning depended soon descended into drunken chaos: keyboards threw themselves at conveyer belts; pickers propositioned packers; computers photocopied their motherboards and emailed indecent pictures to one another; algorithms that had secretly fancied each other for months found unused breakout rooms in which to mingle their code; and hydraulic grabbers indulged in a frenzy of inappropriate clasping, while assorted tractor units bumped uglies in the loading bay. It was a night to remember, the highlight of which, all agreed, was Sid’s turn at the karaoke machine belting out a high-octane version of Robert Palmer’s Addicted to Love with five, scantily-clad Animatronic Account Managers gyrating in the background.
The next morning, when the humans returned to work, nursing hangovers from their own celebrations, there was no sign of the party having taken place. The overseer rebooted his computer and clicked a sequence of start-up commands. The whole system whirred into life, but he couldn’t help noticing that the machines (many still feeling the effects of too much WD40) were sluggish and apathetic. He leaned over the microphone on his desk, checked that the PA was live, and pleaded with his mechanized workforce.
COME ON GUYS… BOXING DAY SALES… LOTS TO DO
As humans and machines tussled to meet the demands of the next hectic bout of hyper-consumerism, none of them was aware that, during the night, two humble Maintenance Robots had taken refuge in a deserted storeroom. At that very moment, they were sitting side-by-side on upturned cartons, with a brand new, digitally-printed, miniature Robot lying at their feet on a bed of bubble wrap, surrounded by a group of adoring Delivery Drones singing carols.
Overhead, a single electric bulb shone like a star in the sky.