The panel above Vikrama's station blinked red.
"Fuck. That's the fifth faulty eyeball this morning." He plucked the tiny eye from it's socket and brought it swiftly to his loupe. He mashed his lips together as he examined the part intently.
His workmate and closest friend, Tumelo, glanced over and tapped his fingers on the edge of the line.
"We'll be done with the fiddly babies before lunch. Back to the real babes then."
"What are they doing in China these days?" continued Vikrama. "I'm the one that gets punished for faulty parts. There's no consequences for them--"
"You know they're probably just like us," said Tumelo.
"How do you mean?" said Vikrama with consternation. "They're nothing like us. They're Chinese."
"Think about it. The people who put those eyeballs together are sitting along an assembly line, just like us. And they're probably complaining about the shitty job done by the people who put together the electronic parts that go into the eyes."
Vikrama flicked the eyeball into waste receptacle.
"Look at you, being all logical," he said.
"Always," said Tumelo. "Now get on with it. You're holding up the line."
"Yeah, heaven forbid the line gets held up for quality."
"It's all about money," said Tumelo. He held a sensor against each of a baby's fingers and examined how they twitched, adjusting the sensitivity as necessary on his keypad.
"I'd still like to know who buys this model. The girls I understand. The boys I understand. But babies? That's some sick shit."
"Would you rather they got off on real ones?"
"I don't want to think about either."
"These can't really feel things. Anyway, I don't think these get bought for sex. I think they get bought by weepy women who miss their real miscarried kids."
"There's really that big a market for that sort of thing? Come on." Virkama popped in two fresh eyeballs and watched the monitor. It blinked green. He passed the baby to Tumelo's station, then picked up another eyeless baby to work on.
"I wouldn't doubt it. Or people that can't have a child for whatever reason. Or people who want a kid that doesn't ever grow up so they can indulge their most basic parental urges."
"Now that's some really messed up shit," said Vikrama. "That's deeply psychologically troubling. You know what I mean?"
"Why does it bother you?" asked Tumelo.
"Life is about aging. It's about changing. You've got to go though all the stages or you're not really living. Keeping a baby like this, unchanging, constantly needing attention for decades, it's twisted."
"What do you care what other people do with their robots? What do you care what other people do with their lives? You have to make allowances for people."
"No I don't," said Vikrama, pushing in more eyeballs.
Tumelo snickered then sighed.
"What? What's so funny?" asked Vikrama.
"You man. You."
"You hate it when people judge you. You always say you want to be left alone. Yet what are you saving up for?"
Vikrama dropped the baby he was working on, looked squarely at Tumelo and raised his eyebrows. Tumelo smirked.
"Are we going to have words later?" asked Vikrama.
"Yeah sure, cause I'm gonna go there, cause someone needs to inform you how much of a hypocrite you are."
"I don't think you want to do this--"
"We're friends man. I don't care if you get mad, because I'm going to tell you what's real, although I think you already know."
Vikrama passed the baby to Tumelo's station and picked up another, staring at intensely.
"You want one of them girls."
"So?" said Vikrama quietly.
"You don't even try to get a real girl. A lady. When we go out, all you do is criticize every one you see, like you're some sort of catch."
"All they do is talk about their boys. Why can't I have a girl then?"
"I'm not saying you shouldn't, but it seems that you only want one to spite everyone else--the very people you hate for buying these things. I mean, do you see how that is some sick shit?"
"What, so you're saying I should try harder when we're out? You know because obviously I have nothing going for me, as you say, so I'll just make a spectacle of myself--"
"You're such a child, man. You're missing the point."
"Yeah, and what's that?"
"Lighten up? But this is the way I am. Fully concentrated crankiness."
Tumelo burst into laughter.
"Yeah, can't argue with that," he said when he had regained his composure. Vikrama smiled slyly at his friend, then the bell for the lunch break rang.
"Ugh, finally," said Vikrama. He punched some keys on his keypad and logged out of his station. Tumelo did the same. They picked up their lunch boxes. Tumelo slung his arm across Vikrama's shoulders and they headed for the cafeteria.