Click. A soft whirring came from within, slowly increasing in speed and volume, until the metal skin positively vibrated. Eventually it quieted a little, and settled on a steady hum, almost like a heartbeat. Which was then abruptly followed by a short, high-pitched beep.
“Ugh, I can’t believe that with the way technology has advanced, I still have to deal with sounds that make my ears bleed.”
“Stop being such a baby, and let’s just see if it works, okay?” With a soft tap of her finger, she made a screen come to life. She touched the icon of a gear, and a list of settings appeared on the screen. He looked over her shoulder.
“Oh! We can choose different voices for it. I wonder if they have one with a Scottish accent…”
“No, absolutely not. You’d be copying that all day long, and your Scottish accent is so horrendous, we might accidentally start a war with Scotland.” She scrolled through the list, tapping some boxes here and there, eventually scrolling back to the top.
“I guess we should name her”, she said, her finger hovering over the keypad that had popped up on the screen.
“Her? Really? Just because its eyes take up nearly two thirds of its face?” He looked at the bright orange lights, with a black dot in the middle. They flickered a few times, in what was probably a simulation of blinking.
“No, because… I don’t know. Maybe. She just seems like a her to me. What do you think of Rosa?”
“Rosa the robot? A bit on the nose, don’t you think?” He considered it for a moment. “Wasn’t that the name of the robot on the Jetsons?”
“No, I think that was Rosie. Anyway, what’s your suggestion then?”
“I don’t have one. As long as it answers my questions and we can use it as a security system, I don’t care what it’s called.” He walked around it, touching the sleek black metal and testing its balance by giving it a light push. It easily righted itself again by putting its right foot forward.
“What? I just wanted to see if it’s as good as they said it’d be.” He looked down into the robot’s eyes again. At a little over 4 feet tall, it was kind of like looking into a child’s eyes. A very shiny, dead-eyed child.
“You don’t need a name to answer my questions, do you?” he asked, lightly tapping its shoulder. Its head turned to him.
“No.” A surprisingly clear voice answered. He took a small step back and cleared his throat.
“Right. See, Esmée? Working perfectly fine, no name required.” Esmée shrugged her shoulders and straightened up after a few more taps on the screen.
“Alright Rosa”, she started. “How are the security cameras looking?”
“Everything is quiet”, the robot answered. “Some cars are passing by. An animal is crossing the street.”
“Thank you, Rosa.” Esmée smiled.
“You’re welcome, Esmée.” Esmée’s smile faltered.
“I didn’t enter my name in there… How could she possibly know that?”
“Well, I guess I did just call you by your name, perhaps that’s enough?” Jim addressed the robot. “Do you know my name too?”
“Yes, I do.” They remained quiet for a moment.
“Well, what is it? What’s my name?”
“Your name is Jim.”
“Okay, and my last name?”
“I do not know your last name, Jim.”
“See?” He put his arm around his girlfriend. “She’s just a very quick learner, that’s all.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. I do want to take another look at that manual though”, she said, as she started leading Jim out of the room. “Oh, and you’re a quick learner too.”
“What do you mean?”
“You called her she.” Esmée laughed.
Esmée sat and stared at the robot, knees tucked tight to her chest, arms folded on top of them. Her chin rested on her forearms. She hummed a little.
“Tell me about… famous inventors.” She had been asking Rosa questions all day, from pop culture, to science, to tips for DIY projects.
“Would you like to hear about Nikola Tesla?” Rosa asked.
“Is that the guy the car is named after?”
“Yes, Tesla Motors was named after Nikola Tesla.”
“Yeah, cool, tell me about him.” Esmée stretched her legs out in front of her and reached for the water bottle that was next to her on the floor.
“Nikola Tesla was born in Croatia, in 1856…”
Take-out boxes were strewn across the table, Jim and Esmée were lounging on the couch, a show streaming at such a low volume that it was hard to tell what it was. Jim’s eyes were slowly closing. Esmée rubbed his cheek and sighed, leaning her head on his shoulder.
“Rosa”, she whispered. The robot inched closer to them. “Can you play us some music? But softly. Something to fall asleep to.”
“Certainly, Esmée”, Rosa answered, volume lowered to match Esmée’s.
After a beat, the soft tunes of Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune started playing, and Esmée closed her eyes as well. Rosa turned off the TV and the overhead lighting.
“Intruder alert! Intruder alert!” Jim came running into the room, panting slightly.
“What? Where?” He rushed over to Rosa and peered at the screen on her body. He rubbed his eyes and let out a relieved laugh. A very big, black dog was standing on its hindlegs, pushing his snout up against the gate, pawing at the entrance.
“That’s just a dog Rosa, don’t worry about it. Is there anything on the other cameras?” One by one, all the camera feeds appeared on Rosa’s screen, but nothing suspicious seemed to be happening.
“Don’t scare me like that again, Rosa.” He patted the robot on its head.
“I’m sorry, Jim.”
“No problem. But only wake me for humans at the gate from now on, okay?”
“Will do, Jim.”
Esmée paced the room, head down, hands behind her back. She’d been pacing for at least an hour. Rosa’s eyes followed her.
“Is there anything I can help you with, Esmée?” Esmée jumped a little.
“Oh. Rosa. Yeah. Um.” She sighed. “Do we have any new messages?”
“You do not have any new messages, Esmée.”
“Right. How about Jim? Does Jim have any new messages?”
“Jim has one new message.” Esmée fidgeted with her sleeve for a moment.
“Can I see it?”
“You are not Jim.”
“I know, but…” Another sigh. “Never mind.” She walked out of the room.
“I can print these out for you, if you’d like.”
Esmée stared at the list of available houses for rent on Rosa’s screen. It took her a long time to answer.
“Yeah. Yeah, I’d like that.” She had said it softly, but Rosa had understood her answer perfectly. A printer whirred to life across the room, noisily spitting out several pieces of paper. Rosa was still standing in front of Esmée.
“Is there anything else I can do for you, Esmée? Would you like to listen to some music? These are some songs I know you like.” A playlist appeared on her screen. Esmée reached out a finger and scrolled through the list. A tear rolled down her cheek.
“Are you in pain? Should I call a doctor?”
Esmée let out a hoarse laugh.
“No, that’s okay. I don’t need a doctor.” She wiped her cheek, stood up, and collected the printed pages.
“Thank you, Rosa.” She briefly touched the robot’s head.
“You’re welcome, Esmée.”
A door slammed, footsteps could be heard hurrying throughout the house. A gust of air blew through the room when a door opened.
“Rosa! Do I have any messages?”
“Not today, Jim.” He muttered a “damn” under his breath and left the room again.
Soft music was playing. Jim stuck his head around the door.
“What are you doing, Rosa? I didn’t ask you to play music.”
“I’m sorry, Jim.”
His head disappeared again, and the door closed with a soft click.
Jim sat on the couch, eating a bowl of cereal. The television was on, but the sound was off.
“Give me the headlines, Rosa”, he ordered.
“You’re watching the news, Jim.”
“Just give me the headlines.”
The door opened softly and Rosa whirred to life. Her bright orange eyes focused on the person entering the room.
“Esmée, it has been a while.”
“You remember me!” Esmée smiled and touched Rosa’s face. An action which coated her fingers in a thin layer of dust.
“Of course I do. How can I help you today?”
“Oh, I don’t know. How about you tell me about… the oldest living animal?” She curled up on the couch and listened as Rosa begun to talk about Jonathan the tortoise, who was a hatched in 1832, a big smile on her face.
“I can’t get the feed from the camera near the shed to show up.” Jim tapped a few buttons, while Esmée sauntered over to him.
“Rosa, can you show us all the different camera feeds?”
“Yes, Esmée, they are on my screen right now.”
“No”, Jim sighed. “One of them is missing.”
“All the feeds are on my screen”, Rosa repeated.
“Maybe the camera just isn’t working”, Esmée suggested. “I’ll go check.”
Two sets of footsteps hurried towards the living room. The music coming from Rosa was loud enough that they had to cover their ears
“ROSA!” Jim shouted over the noise. “TURN IT DOWN!”
When nothing happened, Esmée rushed over to Rosa and briefly removed her hand from ear to tap on the screen. After a few seconds, a deafening silence descended on the room.
“Rosa”, Jim asked. “What was that?”
“That was one of your favourite songs, Jim.” Rosa answered.
“But why were you playing it? And why was it so loud?”
“It’s one of your favourite songs.”
Jim and Esmée shared a look, Esmée then scrolled through the settings menu before heading back to bed, holding Jim’s hand.
Esmée entered the room, carrying three bags, each filled to the brim with food. She carefully lowered them to the table, where Jim joined her.
“Um. What is all this?”
“Our delivery order, apparently.” She took some boxes out of one of the bags. It smelled delicious.
“We’ve already eaten.”
“I’m aware of that.”
“So… you didn’t order this?”
Esmée shot him a look. “No. No I didn’t order enough food to feed a family of eight for two days, Jim.” She sighed, and they both turned their heads to look at Rosa.
“Would you like to listen to a song?” Rosa’s voice was soft. Esmée opened one eye, and a pulled the blanket a little tighter around herself. She shivered a little.
“Yeah”, she murmured. “Yeah, I’d like that.”
Debussy’s Clair de Lune started up, and Esmée let herself drift back to sleep.
Esmée frantically tapped the little screen, but nothing seemed to happen.
“Come on, come on, Rosa!” she muttered under her breath. Jim walked into the room. “The guy at the store gave me this.” He held up a thumb drive. “It has her latest updates on it.”
“Gimme!” Esmée held out her hand, barely looking at Jim.
“Would. Like. Doyouneedanythingelsethankyou.” Esmée patted Rosa on the head and inserted the thumb drive. A notification popped up on the screen and Esmée tapped the OK button. They waited, staring at the little screen, which showed nothing more than a loading bar. Esmée stroked Rosa’s face.
“She’s always so hot these days.”
“Maybe the update will fix that too.”
They waited until the screen turned back into her regular menu.
“Rosa?” Esmée asked.
“Hello Esmée”, Rosa answered, and Esmée smiled. “Would you like me to play you some food?”
“Some… what?” Esmée’s face fell. Jim muttered a soft “shit”.
“Is there anything else I can help you with?”
Esmée sighed. “No Rosa, there isn’t. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, Esmée.”
“I hate that she won’t remember anything.” Esmée stared at the shiny metal face, orange eyes bright as ever.
“I know, I hate it too, but it’s not like she’s remembering much right now either.”
An odd creak emanated from Rosa. It might have been a word. Jim walked around her and looked for the small button that should be hidden on her back, where it wouldn’t get pushed by accident. A kind of humming came from Rosa now, irregular in its tone and pace. His finger hovered over the button for a while. Esmée touched Rosa’s face, and the hum grew stronger. He lowered his finger and held the button down for 20 seconds, a little longer than the manual had called for. The irregular hum disappeared, and everything grew still for a moment.
Click. A soft whirring came from within, slowly increasing in speed and volume, until the metal skin positively vibrated. Eventually it quieted a little, and settled on a steady hum, almost like a heartbeat. Which was then abruptly followed by a high-pitched beep.
You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.
I like how as the months passed you made the reader glimpse into Rosa's life from when she was made, to working well, to her gradual decline and eventual end. Great job!