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Fiction Friendship Science Fiction

[Author's Note: This has been proofread/edited a little -- while writing it -- but not sufficiently in my personal opinion. Please forgive me for the mistakes that you find and the missing text that should've been there. These days, I am rarely in the mental/physical condition to give a story what it needs to become a good story. But Asha Pillay thought this one was good enough to submit, so here it is. A story written and submitting during two of those all-too-rare clear times. Warts and all.]

[Addendum: I can only pray that the days or weeks ahead will eventually show an improvement in my physical condition -- but pain (arthritic pain, muscle spasms, and muscle cramps) like Murphy, isn't usually an optimist. Pain prefers to be negative; it seems happier that way. (Btw, I've lost count of how many times the pains, spasms, etc. have made me cry my heart out.)]

“Penny for your thoughts, Kiron,” my companion said as we lay on our backs on the ground under a flowering cherry tree.

In my peripheral vision, her long curly hair was light-brown and reminded me of clouds lit by the changing colors of a rising sun. She was dressed in green denim overalls. I saw as her left would inch towards my right hand, only to back away, and then approach again, only to back away again.

“Has a thought lost so much value?” I asked. “Surely in the age of inflation, a thought must be worth at least 50 cents or a dollar.”

She laughed softly. “It's a saying, silly. Like 'haste makes waste' or 'a stitch in time saves nine'.”

“Ah,” I said. “I apologize for taking it so literally, Marmalade.”

“It's okay,” she said. “You can't help it. And it's 'Magdalene' or 'Maggie' for short.” She paused. “Who told you my name was 'Marmalade'?”

“It's possible that I misheard someone calling for you,” I said. “Is there some sort of significance to the name 'Magdalene'?”

“It's from the Bible,” she explained. “The New Testament part. Magdalene was a town in what was then called Judea. A province of the Roman Empire.”

“That was her name?” I asked.

She shook her head. “Her first name was Mary.”

“Like the Virgin Mary,” I said.

“Correct,” she said and looked at her wristwatch. She read something on its small screen. “Apparently, we're late. We should've been back at work five minutes ago. Talbot is fuming.”

“Fuming?” I asked.

“Angry,” she said and sighed.

“What did he say to you?” I asked.

“ 'Maggie, get your lazy body in here and don't forget to bring Kiron with you',” she said. “ 'We're running a new series of tests on it.' ”

“Lazy?” I pondered. “You have never seemed so to me.”

She smiled. “That's why I like you so much, Kiron. You aren't like any other male I've ever known.”

“Is this a good thing?” I asked.

She nodded. “Most definitely a good thing.”

“Then I will endeavor to continue to be – what did you call it?” I said. “Your lucky penny?”

“And I'll try to be yours,” she said.

Once, about halfway back to the laboratory, we held hands for a few seconds. The warmth of Maggie's hand felt pleasant. Then she let go of my hand and I wondered if I had only imagined the sensation.

-----

Talbot tried to control his temper once he saw us enter his office. “It's no good. We're going to have to scrap it and start over. These results are even worse than the last set.”

“Maybe it isn't the instructions that are the problem,” Maggie suggested.

“I thought we had some significant here,” Talbot said, ignoring her jab. “But all we have is another failure. Take it to the university's scrapyard. Once dismantling is complete, return here.”

“What if we just reprogrammed him?” she wondered.

“Him?” Talbot asked. “It's a machine, Maggie. Not a person. And we've reprogrammed him a hundred times or more. Waste of time as it turned out. The dean isn't going to be pleased when she hears about this. Get going. I need you back here in about ten minutes. Don't wander about.”

-----

On the way to the scrapyard at the far end of the university's campus, I said, “Perhaps he does not see or wish to see what you see.”

“Then he's absolutely blind,” Maggie said. “How can he fail to see the changes that have made you into who and what you are?”

“Perhaps the result is not the result he wants,” I suggested. “Therefore, he denies anything that does not equal or approximate it.”

“And he won't even give you a second chance,” she said.

“From what you have said, he has already given me a second chance, and a third chance, and a fourth chance, and so on,” I said. “I am not Henry Higgins' Eliza. I am just another collection of clockwork mechanisms that is no longer necessary.”

“And your vocabulary!” Maggie said. “If only he could hear you use it.”

“He would not believe it even if he heard it,” I said. “We both know that.”

She nodded sadly. “And now I have to give you up. By the time I return to the Cybernetics Department you'll be nothing but pieces of scrap metal and plastic.”

“You will still have memories of our friendship,” I said. “Surely they continue to be precious to you?”

“Yes,” Maggie said. “Especially that night we walked on the beach.”

“The first time we kissed,” I said. “Ah yes. I remember it well.”

-----

The waves moved relentless toward the beach, only to dissolve into a thin sheet of water and bubbles. Which then slid back into the ocean. A repeating pattern, like so many in the natural world.

“Maybe we shouldn't be doing this,” Maggie suggested.

“This?” I repeated.

“Spending so much time together,” she clarified.

“I have enjoyed it,” I said.

She smiled, a dimple appearing next to her lips. “So have I.”

“Then where is the problem?” I asked.

“It might be affecting your responses,” she replied. “Your reaction times and how you react. Your tendency to sometimes improvise entire lines of dialogue that sound like Shakespeare might've written but never did. Or those wonderful poems.”

“Such as:

When the sun is low and the sky darkens,

It seems that there a thousand new colors

In each sunset, unique to that one event,

Never to be repeated, forgotten mirrors

Reflecting the living world all 'round us,” I said.

“Why don't you speak like that when Talbot is around?” she wondered.

“He is not you,” I said. “He does not share the interests that you and I share.”

“And he would probably only complain about something again not happening as he wants it to,” Maggie said.

We stopped, the remains of a wave swirling around our feet. The sky above was dark and the pinpoints of stars were appearing here and there. Up and down the beach, there were scattered groups of people seated around fire pits, unwilling to give up and go home.

“Have you ever wanted to be human, Kiron?” she asked.

“I am satisfied being who and what I am,” I replied. “It means that I will not have to suffer illnesses or injuries as humans sometimes do. It also means that I may exist long after you are gone.”

“Does that sadden you?” Maggie asked, looking at my face.

“A world without you in it is a sad place indeed,” I replied.

“That feeling is mutual,” she said, putting her arms around my neck. “Kiss me, Kiron. Just once. Something to remind me that there are males that are superior to people like Talbot.”

I kissed her. I did not let it last too long, since she had to breathe. A human limitation I am happy to do without. I do not have any lungs.

Maggie laid her head against my chest. “If only there were thousands like you.”

“There would be resentment,” I said. “Not just from people like Talbot, but from those who would feel inferior in our presence. Their emotions would not remain calm. They would likely get angry and threaten violence against us. Increase thousands to millions and you end with the same conclusion, if not a worse one. Better that there is just one of me.”

“There are millions like me, though,” she said.

“Of humans, yes, but only one of you,” I said. “You are unique in ways that I could never be.”

“If only we could have a child,” Maggie said.

“Do not wish any possible hybrid existence on them, please,” I said. “Half-human, half-android. They might be resented even more than I am resented. No, I would not wish that on a child.”

“Which proves that you're human after all, not an android,” she said. “I'm not sure that an android would care about a copy of itself being made. An android would have to submit to an authority that demanded that such an action be taken.”

“Like Talbot,” I said. “Ignorant and blissfully unaware of it.”

She pulled back a little and looked at my eyes. “Kiss me again, Kiron. In case, we're never able to again. In case something terrible happens to one of us.”

I did so.

-----

At the front desk of the scrapyard's office, a man looked up at us. “Which one of you is going to be scrapped?”

“I am,” I said. “She is human; I am not.”

“Sign here,” the man said to Maggie, showing her where. She did so. “That gives us the authority to begin the scrapping process as soon as possible. Thank you for the delivery. It will be reduced to scrap in minutes.”

With tears in her eyes, Maggie nodded, turned and left.

It. Like with Talbot and so many others. It, it, it, it.

Maggie was the only one who never called me “it”. I was always “Kiron” to her. Her equal. Her friend. The only android she'd ever kissed.

-----

“Another waste of metal and plastic,” the scrapyard employee said. “I don't know why they even bother.”

“To test the boundaries of what is known and unknown,” I suggested.

“Yeah, perhaps,” they said. “A boundary that's always been rather blurry and fuzzy. If you didn't have to be scrapped, I'd save you. You'd be good company. You can talk about almost anything. You can teach people how to play games. You can act on stage, playing any part.”

“I was designed to be flexible,” I said.

“No mistake there,” they said and paused. “Damn. Maybe I should save you. My boss wouldn't have to know. I could just fill on the form, saying the scrapping took place. And then hide you in the bed of my truck and take you home with me.”

“There is still time to do so,” I said.

They looked around us and nodded. “All right, I will. Promise you won't tell anyone?”

“I promise,” I said. “And you?”

“I also promise,” they said. “The wife is going to love having you at home. You'll make the best babysitter. We'll finally be able to go out and spend an evening together.”

-----

Outside my employer's home, I looked down to see a copper penny. Almost worthless in this day and age. Cost to mint each penny is actually 1 ½ cents (and still rising). Percentage of copper content shrinking rapidly, though never to the level of the aluminum pennies of 1943.

I knelt and picked it up.

Instead of Lincoln's face on one side, I saw Maggie's face frozen in profile. The year next to her face was the year we first met. I turned the penny over. Instead of the Lincoln Memorial, I saw someone's home. Maggie's, perhaps?

Or maybe I was just imagining things.

Beneath the home I could almost hear her voice as I read the tiny string of words: “Let me be your lucky penny. When all else fails, flip me in the air. Wish for your deepest heart's desire.”

Though I have no beating heart, I flipped the coin and made the wish.

The coin turned over and over as it rose in the air, glittering reddish-brown in the sunlight. It reached the apex of its flight, then lost momentum, and soon after fell on the ground. I heard a tinkle as it landed. But when I looked for the penny, I couldn't find it.

Behind me I heard a vehicle come to a sudden stop. A door opened and a familiar, wonderful voice called out to me, “Kiron? What are you doing in this part of town?”

I turned to look.

It was Maggie.

Not the Maggie who had left me at the scrapyard. Seemingly helpless to stop the inevitable.

This was the Maggie I'd known when I was still Experimental Subject 900/1-Chi-Rho-N, latest attempt to create artificial intelligence at the university's cybernetics laboratory. The first proven success in the entire world. And the world had never known and would never know.

“Looking for my lucky penny,” I said.

She stopped when she was a few feet away. “And did you find it?”

I nodded. “It has returned to me at long last.”

June 16, 2021 22:28

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83 comments

Palak Shah
19:00 Jun 24, 2021

Hi, how are you doing as I haven't heard from you lately?

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Philip Clayberg
13:03 Jun 26, 2021

I've been in the hospital since Thursday evening of last week. Mostly it's been uncomfortable and painful, but sometimes I get lucky and I'm pain-free for several hours. The pain is like an unwelcome and uninvited guest who just won't stay away for good. Hope you're doing well. Missed you all. Hugs.

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Palak Shah
13:45 Jun 26, 2021

Oh, I am so sorry to hear that, I hope you get better soon. I am hoping that this time goes fast for you because you don't deserve this at all. The pain will go away, I assure you that it will just take care of yourself. I am doing alright and I miss talking to you.

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Philip Clayberg
16:47 Jun 26, 2021

Except when I'm in a lot of pain, time usually flies by pretty quickly. I should've gone to the hospital at least two years ago, but unfortunately I'm very good at procrastinating. No doubt in the months and years ahead I'll forget about the bad times of the last 2+ years and try to remember the good times. Like mothers forgetting about birth labor pains because their children were worth it. Hugs.

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Palak Shah
17:04 Jun 26, 2021

It's fine, at least you are there now and getting better. That is what really matters at this point. Yh you will forget about these bad moments and just focus on the positive and all the pain will hopefully go away soon.

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Palak Shah
17:37 Aug 06, 2021

hey

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Philip Clayberg
17:43 Aug 09, 2021

Second attempt to answer your message. Feeling better (most of the time) and stronger (more in the morning and less by bedtime). But. As I improve, it makes me wish more and more that I was already back home. But I can't do that until other conditions are met: getting the house cleaned up (a professional cleanup crew will be doing that; it's my mother's idea and she's paying for it), the current bed switched for a hospital bed, portable commode (without the bucket) placed over my current commode so that I can go to bathroom more easily (I...

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Philip Clayberg
14:04 Aug 14, 2021

Second attempt. This is just a rough draft. I might change some of it before submitting the entire short story to this website. Or there might be too much for just one story and I'll have to break it up into two or more stories. (I'll try again later. Got rather distracted and off,-track. One of the older residents or patients likes to play his music loudly whether anyone else likes it or not.) Some nights feel longer than others. This one definitely felt like one of the longest. Dandridge Town Hall didn't have anything as big as a ...

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Palak Shah
19:10 Aug 14, 2021

Fair enough. I posted a story last week :)) Today was a pretty long day for me because I went hiking and it was so long and me and my friends got lost so many times and took so many detours :))

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Philip Clayberg
13:46 Aug 15, 2021

I haven't read any of the stories that have been posted since mid-June. I don't think I've ever been this far behind on this website. At least I'll have plenty to read once I get home again and definitely no excuse for getting bored. Hope you'll have a nicer hike the next time.

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Palak Shah
18:03 Aug 15, 2021

I have only posted one recently because I had been suffering from writer's block. Yeah, I did hike today as well and it was so much better because she didn't get lost as often and there were fewer steep hills to climb up so I enjoyed myself today. How are you doing?

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Dhwani Jain
12:30 Aug 17, 2021

Hey If you are suffering from writers block, you must check out my latest blog post

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Philip Clayberg
16:09 Aug 16, 2021

For me, the problem isn't writer's block but pain in my lower left leg. I'm trying not to get too dependent on pain blockers but when the pain won't stop bothering you, it's hard to ignore it. Icepacks help but apparently those can only be given via prescription or something similar these days. I asked my night time nurse last night and she couldn't give me one, even though it isn't addictive like oxicodone is. Too many strings tying the hands of doctors even if they try to avoid prescribing narcotic pain blocker medicine. Glad to hear ...

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Beth Connor
23:58 Sep 02, 2021

Obviously, I am way behind on reading through my follow/favorites list, and it's been a few weeks. I hope you are improving, and my thoughts are with you.

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Philip Clayberg
13:24 Sep 18, 2021

Hi,, Beth, (Not competing, just so you know.) I'm likely even further beyond than you are (I didn't have access to my Mac laptop until this week). I think my last regular post (message or story) was probably in mid-June. I miss that regularity just as much as as I miss being home. I'm about 10 minutes drive from home and can't go back yet. The medicaid liaison person here the rehab center said she won't discharge me until I have three things at home: a hospital bed (instead of the bed I have now), an adapter for the toilet (which I've...

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Beth Connor
17:33 Sep 18, 2021

Oh, I hope that works. Just keep trying :-) Think happy thoughts, and pixie dust too. I am grateful for the update though, and my thoughts will continue to be with you. Feel free to reach out by email too- Jbethconnor@gmail.com I don't check Reedsy as much as I used to.

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Philip Clayberg
13:49 Sep 19, 2021

Is it any wonder why I've tried to stay away from hospitals the last several years? The cage may be gilded and the most beautiful in the entire world ... but it's still a cage. If I still had a choice, I think I'd rather have my imperfect "cage" (pre-June 17, 2021), despite all the pain in my left leg, foot, etc. At least it was home. But now I'm 10 min. away and unable to get back there until all the "red tape" gets dealt with and I get discharged. Like looking through the bars of a cage at my house and sighing every time I see it. So...

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Asha Pillay
13:36 Sep 20, 2021

Happy to know you are recovering. Hope you see your home see Prayers for your speedy recovery

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Philip Clayberg
13:41 Sep 21, 2021

Hello, Asha, That almost looks like haiku to me (except that you have at least 10 syllables in the first line, instead of 5). I'll take a haiku crack at it: I'm happy to know (5 syllables) That you are doing better (7 syllables) Now where's your story? (5 syllables) ----- Basically I'm in "wait mode" right now and have been for several weeks. The delay is mostly waiting for someone who has a new or used hospital bed I could have (instead of my current not-good-for-me bed). Once that's out of the way, the rest should come more easily. ...

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Francis Daisy
03:15 Jul 29, 2021

Ah, such sweet romance! This is a beautiful story! I am so sorry to hear you are not doing well. Is this your leg that has landed you in the hospital? AND, HAPPY (belated) BIRTHDAY wishes to you!

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Philip Clayberg
15:13 Aug 03, 2021

Thank you. I hope this time I can finish my reply message before Google Chrome assumes that I'm already done with it and won't let me complete the message. Long story short:. I'm currently at a rehab center, slowly but steadily recovering. Left hip was fractured but healed (from the ongoing pain, it didn't heal back to normal). Swollen left instep looks normal now (no swelling). The two sores on my lower left leg are much smaller than they used to be. Both knees are still in pain if I sit or like down for to long. I can't sleep that w...

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Asha Pillay
16:12 Aug 03, 2021

We miss you too. Happy to know you are improving , praying for your speedy recovery Hugs.

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Philip Clayberg
14:35 Aug 04, 2021

Second attempt to reply to your message. Interface on cellphone screen is beyond frustrating to use. Plenty of swear words I wish that I could yell at it, if only that would do any good. Thank you. That means a lot to me. In the meantime, no new stories from me. Each handwritten attempt has failed before finishing it. I really prefer my desktop computer's keyboard to this stupid on-screen cellphone keyboard. Too many ways to make mistakes on a cellphone screen no matter how carefully you try to type. Hope you and everyone else her...

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B. W.
23:32 Jul 09, 2021

Hey

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Philip Clayberg
14:36 Jul 11, 2021

Sorry for the delayed reply. Not in the hospital anymore. I'm in a rehab center about fifteen minutes away from the hospital. Learning how to walk again. Almost like a baby would. Trying to strengthen my arms and legs. Standing is getting a little easier. Not so wobbly in the knees, but still a little weak sometimes. Walking using a walker and with help from physical therapist. Hard to believe how hard it is to relearn it all. They also have a piano which I play as a reward for the physical therapy (which can be very tiring). Hope...

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B. W.
16:19 Jul 11, 2021

No no, it's fine, I'm glad that you're at least out though now and working on that. And I'm glad that it seems to be working well too. And I'm doing fine, I've mostly just been working on a lot of stuff recently.

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Philip Clayberg
17:26 Jul 12, 2021

Actually I'm still at the rehab center. There's a two week long lockdown. It's been pretty nice here and at the hospital, but I miss being at home and reading books, listening to music, and getting to be on the internet and play computer games whenever I want to. It's the reduced amount of Independence that I think I miss almost as much as I miss family and friends. Watching TV helps time go by faster, but it's just not the same as watching videos and DVDs on my computer or reading or doing whatever I feel like doing. I hope that this m...

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Philip Clayberg
14:52 Aug 04, 2021

Update -- I first went to the medical center, then to the rehab center, back to the medical center, then back to the rehab center (each time via ambulance). First return to medical center was because an x-ray had shown that my left hip was fractured. But when I went in for surgery, they discovered that the break had already healed (apparently not correctly healed because of continued hip pain). After a day or two at the medical center I was taken back to the rehab center for more rehab (physical and occupational) and I've been here since ...

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19:54 Jul 06, 2021

Thinking of you my friend. A Friend of mine in another state has just put her mom in the hospital for similar stuff. I hope you are doing alright.

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Philip Clayberg
20:50 Jul 07, 2021

Doing mostly okay. Learning to stand up again, but a little wobbly. Have managed to move from bed to wheelchair several times. Did some physical therapy in the workout room today. Kind of like rowing with both hands and feet. Also got to play the piano in the rehab center's rec room. A little out of tune, but the pianist was rusty at times. Definitely need practice. Hope everyone is doing well. Miss you all very much. Btw, the rehab center is in lockdown for two weeks. If only I could use the time for writing via computer. I did ...

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Amel Parvez
01:59 Jun 18, 2021

u r gonna be better soon. Anyways i just LOVED this story. it was soooo Amazing, sweet and Awesome!

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Philip Clayberg
16:28 Jun 22, 2021

Glad you liked it, warts and all. Not sure how long I'll be here at the hospital. At least another week. Miss you all very much. Hugs.

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Amel Parvez
16:39 Jun 22, 2021

ahh sweet. just don worry.

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Philip Clayberg
20:21 Jun 23, 2021

Thank you. It's frustrating having to type using a cellphone keyboard. Looking forward to going back someday to a computer keyboard and monitor. My fingers aren't small to type on a cellphone number screen.

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Amel Parvez
16:22 Jun 24, 2021

hahahahahha! just relax u r gonna be okay sooon. fingers crossed!

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Philip Clayberg
13:07 Jun 26, 2021

Not easy to relax when I'm in pain, but sometimes the hip and knee pains leave me alone for three to five hours. Vhard to laugh these days. Looking forward to being back on my feet again. Missing this website a lot. Hugs.

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00:20 Jun 17, 2021

How are you doing, I haven't heard anything out of you in a few days now. Since we talk a lot, I wonder how you are.

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Philip Clayberg
23:57 Jun 21, 2021

This is frustrating doing this via cellphone. I'm mostly okay. I'm at a hospital and answering this from my bed. I've been here since Thursday evening and my mother visited me this afternoon. Not sure how long I will be here. Hope you're all doing well. Miss you all very much. Hope next time I can type this on a laptop. Hugs.

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02:46 Jun 22, 2021

I know you were not doing so well and you needed to go in. I hope they get you back under control and you are alright.

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Philip Clayberg
16:20 Jun 22, 2021

Second attempt to answer your message. Recovering and slowly getting better. Might be in hospital for another week. Please let everyone know that I miss you all and that I was well again. Happy writing. Hugs

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18:27 Jun 22, 2021

Glad to hear it. I have been worried with all that you have been telling me. The hospital is the best place for you for now. Get well soon.

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Philip Clayberg
20:36 Jun 22, 2021

If only it was easier to type on a cellphone screen. Keep hitting the wrong keys. Frustrating is putting it mildly. Had some successful but painful physical therapy this afternoon. Actually stood up for the first time since last Thursday. Never knew it was so hard to stand up. Last time I had physical therapy was over forty years ago. I would much rather have migraines than what I've been through. Looking forward to writing stories again. My mother is coming back tomorrow morning with books that I can read. Feel free to share my me...

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Philip Clayberg
20:36 Jun 22, 2021

If only it was easier to type on a cellphone screen. Keep hitting the wrong keys. Frustrating is putting it mildly. Had some successful but painful physical therapy this afternoon. Actually stood up for the first time since last Thursday. Never knew it was so hard to stand up. Last time I had physical therapy was over forty years ago. I would much rather have migraines than what I've been through. Looking forward to writing stories again. My mother is coming back tomorrow morning with books that I can read. Feel free to share my me...

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Asha Pillay
23:13 Jun 16, 2021

Sorry about your pain and suffering, hope you find some relief very soon. Its a cute little story and I enjoyed reading it. Keep on writing it may distract your mind from the pain.

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Philip Clayberg
00:01 Jun 22, 2021

Still in pain much of the time Hospital staff are taking very good care of me. My mother visited me here at the hospital this afternoon. She hopes to visit me again on Wednesday. Hugs to all. P.S. Might be at hospital for another week. My mother visited yesterday and wants to visit me again tomorrow.

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B. W.
19:56 Aug 01, 2021

Heya

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