Thursday, July 07, 2011

Flash Fiction Challenge: Less an Overlord than a Friend

The challenge is here: 1000 word limit, has to take place on the 4th of July. Chuck said it was probably not suited to FSF, so of course I had to prove him wrong.

Dina had plugged X-15 in overnight, so he wasn't there to help her get out of bed. She had to rely on her replacement hips and knees, for a change.

As she washed up, she asked herself how she would ever get her full mobility back if she didn't have to use it occasionally. You'd think a physiotherapy program would be applied to the X-15 so he'd gradually hold back the help until she asked. Or something. Maybe that's what the Anti-Robot League were talking about, when they had their radical meetings and went on the radio and the like, talking about humanity's over-reliance on robots.

"We're not against help," they would say. "We just want to keep our ability to think and act for ourselves."

Dina wouldn't have minded doing that some other day. It had been mildly liberating to dress, do her own makeup and fix her hair herself. But she was exhausted by the time she began the journey to the pantry to finish the robot's boot cycle so it could get breakfast started.

"Good morning," X-15 said as its eyes lit.

"Good updates?" Dina asked. She figured it never hurt her to be social. The robot was programmed to read her moods, which had only made her better at concealing them, or maybe faking it until they both believed it.

"Our programmer is very concerned that we understand about the 4th of July," said X-15.

"It's our nation's birthday, and I guess you're a good American, too." Dina paused. She followed the robot into the kitchen where he began taking fruit from the fridge.

"Though naturalized," said X-15. "Not born here. Not eligible to vote."

"That will change," Dina said. The line between people and robots was blending all the time, no matter what the Anti-Robot League said. She had to be more than half robot herself. In addition to the knees and hips, there was her heart, her kidneys, both wrists, one elbow, her collarbone, and her bladder and colon.

"The updates were not about that though, Dina," said X-15. "We are to ignore the loud noises of the fireworks. Our defensive mechanisms can't take over. A defenseless human could be shot and harmed."

"Humans still light off fireworks themselves?" Dina said, trying to remember how this had been handled in previous years. She'd had a whole series of X-units, and fireworks had never been a problem. Must be the demands of the Anti-Robot League. They made mountains out of molehills sometimes. "I would have thought that was a job more suited to robots."

"Some people like to do things for themselves," said X-15.

Dina smiled, and to be rebellious, grabbed a chunk of peach from under his arm. "Young people are like that." Her jaw was metal, and her teeth were ceramic. The robot didn't have teeth, or a jaw, just a speaker grille.

"I was wondering about these fireworks," said X-15. "If they are so much like guns, why do people like them? Is it the danger?" He handed her the tray with the fruit and the cottage cheese separated, so he could stir it together the way she liked. When he mixed it, it didn't taste nearly as good.

"I've seen countless fireworks displays, and they've always seemed very safe," said Dina. "I haven't been in years."

"I have never seen them," X-15 said.

"They put them to music," Dina said. "They shoot them from rockets, or off buildings. They have cascades, and giant rockets that explode like the big bang at the start of the universe, and balls of light that spin in crazy directions like sperms running away from an egg." X-15 laughed politely, though he clearly didn't get her joke. "The noise -- what I guess they were warning you about -- is always a second after the light."

"It's at night, then," X-15 said, handing her a bowl of medications.

"Oh yes," said Dina. "Well past my bedtime."

X-15 let it go.

Dina thought he seemed a little forlorn all day, wistful. Maybe she was projecting. The Anti-Robot League said robots had no emotions.

Over dinner, X-15 stood so politely, waiting to take her plate away, that she gave in and said, "Oh, let's go to the square at town hall and see the show."

"We'll leave just before sundown?" said X-15. She thought he'd brightened already.

"Earlier than that," said Dina. "There will be a band, and hotdogs, and dancing in the fountain, and cotton candy."

"Neither of us can eat cotton candy," said X-15.

"That does not preclude me getting it in my hair," said Dina. There would be no dancing, either -- not with her joints, even replaced.

"Should I bring you a chair?" said X-15.

They headed out to get a good spot close to the stage. The crowd filled out so X-15 had to stand close protect Dina as she listened to the band with her bionic ears. She glanced around at all the youths, wondering if she was the oldest one here. Other robots herded children, or held them on their shoulders. She even saw one serving what looked like champagne. It was nice to see them participating in the national holiday.

And the countdown began.

There was a bang.

"I thought you said. . ." said X-15.

"It must not be the fireworks," Dina said. " That would go against the laws of physics."

The sky lit with a series of starbursts, red, blue and white in the sky. There were more bangs, at least some from the fireworks. Green screamers spiraled away against thet clouds from previous explosions.

X-15 had been an easy target for the snipers shooting from the roof of city hall. He landed behind Dina. Triple cascades of fireballs shot up over the crowd. Dina ducked down, like everyone else, wondering how they were targeting just the robots, and whether there was human enough in her still to survive.


Anonymous said...

Damn you. That was a good story. Why oh why didn't I write about robots? I appreciate your rebellious nature. Chuck needs to tell us what not to do, so that we can do it. You rock. You rock hard, like an 80s hair band trying to get out of rehab and do a reunion tour before the one that owns the rights to the name dies.

ChiaLynn said...

I love Dina's awareness that she's "more than half-robot herself." I'm sure that's part of what the Anti-Robot League is worried about - the blurring line between robot and human. (Can you tell I'd be interested in seeing more of this world you've created?)

Robyn said...

Thanks guys!

It's weird that two of the last three stories were about robots, since I generally say I *hate* robots. Maybe I should revise that, and say they fascinate me--and not in a good way.

Ed said...

That was awesome! You've left me wanting more. But why do you always kill off the characters I like?!? I'm sending this to the engineers at Sony. I know that Asimo is a favourite of yours.....