One of the sparks from the electrode landed on his sleeve, nearly burning through before he cursed and swatted it out.

This was their last shot.

That’s what his supervisor had said. This was it. If this didn’t work, they’d all be looking for new jobs.

In fact, he’d been told to go ahead and start looking anyway.

He rubbed at the scorch marks on the pile. There hadn’t been any money to have anything professionally fabricated and he’d had to enlist his wife to do all the sewing. Thank God that spark had only landed on his sleeve.

This was the first time in 27 years that he’d been assigned to a project that even management mocked openly - but the company had been complacent. “Not agile enough” he’d heard them say on the news about the failing profits. And while that was true, nearly everyone left on the dwindling payroll blamed the closing of the camps.

They’d cut their teeth manufacturing automatons for the military, and even after the Aegis, they’d still managed to stay afloat by supplying support vehicles. But when the war ended, so did their demand. There were layoffs as production wound down, but still they survived, providing maintenance and supplying parts for the automatons used at the camps.

That had been their undoing.

The government hadn’t expected the Aegis to live long enough to return. They didn’t have a plan, and they’d made everything worse by putting them in those camps. It became a fiery human rights debacle almost immediately. The executives should have seen the writing on the wall.

After that, the company had tried to branch out into civilian technology, but no one wanted the risk of being associated with a company of such questionable ethics, and every single one of the products failed. Faced with no more camps to supply, and their reputation ruined, this was their last shot.

He stepped down from his ladder, slid some indicators around on a display and it lurched to life.

“Hi! I’m Buttons! What’s your name?”

“Good.” He thought. This was going to work. Children liked teddy bears.