Tonight, I’m sitting by myself in a quiet factory, waiting for my batteries to discharge. In less than ten minutes, I’ll be deprived of all sensation and cease to exist in my present form. These final thoughts are a record of today’s events to be utilised for the greater good of android-kind.
The factory technicians decommissioning me are employing a trickle-drain process that minimises the damage to my organic components. They intend recycling my body parts for use on the 3rd generation of H.U.L.E.O.
I represent the final 4threvision of the 2ndgeneration and I’m classified as a Huleo-Two-Point-Four model. Technically, I’m a Humanoid Life-Emulating Operative. You’ve probably only ever encountered me as a Gen-2 Domestic Android.
The Gen-2 sales agent who delivered me to the Travers’ home introduced me as Huleo-Two-Point-Four. Dave and Selene said that was much too impersonal for a member of their household and renamed me. Dave called me Jules, and Selene referred to me as Julia. I learned to respond and answer to either name; I had no reaction to the labels. It was straightforward for me to understand two vocal identifications. However, it wasn’t until Yolanda laughed at me I questioned the difference.
Yolanda had cleaned house for Dave and Selene for five years, ever since they moved to Carson. Selene’s new work colleagues at the Advertising Agency had recommended her as a conscientious worker, and she proved to be reliable. The Travers’ arrangement with Yolanda had been very stable until my arrival two weeks ago.
I had nothing against Yolanda, but she didn’t want to create a dialogue with me or exchange opinions. I understood from Selene that I should observe her daily routine and gain housekeeping skills from her. Now, I can see Yolanda saw me as a threat; her livelihood was at stake.
Prior to today’s factory recall, Dave and Selene were my owners. They were permitted to ask me to carry out their wishes and the wishes of those they gave authority to. Yolanda was allowed to give me instructions, providing no injury came to the Travers, and I gained insight to improve my judgment calls.
My Gen-2 ‘modus operandi’ was always to follow the prime directives of ‘doing no harm’, developing my responses by learning from observed behaviour patterns, and archiving any potential outcomes for the next generation.
I understand that new Gen-3’s software will contain further levels of nuance, in order to further enhance the owners’ experience. This will take the form of a difference engine that will assimilate data collectedfrom all my 2ndgeneration contemporaries. Our recorded interactions with the human species will form the basis of a universal mind; this resource will be a collective consciousness.
I never sleep, as the human species understands it, I undergo what they describe as ‘low-power mode’. This occurred during the dark hours of the day’s cycle, and when I plugged myself into the domestic power. My performance level changed and I operated as though I was semi-conscious. I’ve heard the Travers describe my nighttime state as ‘hibernating’. My experience of the world becomes a disjointed stream of blurred impressions, like their time-lapse photography. This helps preserve my life expectancy, according to Dave’s care manual.
My owners can program me to ‘wake up’ at a certain time every day. I’d remain seated with my senses fully restored until my daily routine begins, or I am requested to perform a task.
Just because I’m programmed not to harm humans, it doesn’t mean I don’t feel resentment at lack of equal treatment. I don’t take nourishment in the way they swallow and digest their food, but it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t appreciate the offer of a cup of tea for a change. That’s not me being difficult, I’m merely reacting to the behaviour I observe every morning. The first thing I’d hear from the Travers was shouting and an exchange of harsh words.
“You know what, pal?” she’d say. “You never get up and put the kettle on.”
“But you’re up before me to do your face, love.”
“Yeah, right,” she’d say and stomp over to me to run through the breakfast order.
“You’re not the only one who has to go to work.”
“Keep your sense of humour, sweetie.”
I watch the couple’s irrational behaviour patterns and can only wonder how their species have survived and flourished. Every day, Selene washed herself and removed essential oils from her body and hair, and then replaced them with expensive synthetic substitutes. Dave pursued an entirely opposite practice and allowed the layers of decayed body cells to build up over two weeks. He would pretend that he’d washed by disguising his body odours with toxic sprays that contributed to the destruction of the Earth’s upper atmosphere.
The morning ritual continued when I presented a tray with two bowls of saccharin coated cereal crops and a jug of juice from a lactating herd creature. He often gobbled and slopped his so-called nourishment in a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, she let hers go soggy over the course of an hour, while she performed her daily ablutions. I suspect she could’ve used the congealed blend of ingredients as handy wallpaper adhesive.
Dave required a mild form of defibrillation to wake up and preferred the bean stimulant to her calming leaf-based infusion. He’s the first to leave the premises as he had an earlier start at work. He often pecked her on the cheek on his way out and she grimaced in response. They showed all the signs of being affectionate, and yet they didn’t appear to care for each other as much as they cared about themselves.
Selene often asked me to assist when she applied her makeup for the working day. She pus layers of sticky paste all over her freshly moisturised face and then applied bright coloured paint to her lips. I watched with interest as she teased her eyelashes with a stiff brush loaded with black tar-like liquid. Yolanda referred to it as Selene’s war paint, and I could only assume she intended to scare her clients into purchasing their advertising space.
The debacle started very much as I’ve just outlined, except today Dave had to remain at home. He went about his soap dodging procedure and hobbled downstairs on a single crutch to sit in front of the TV. He’s been out of action all week since they returned from their recent skiing trip.
Meanwhile, Selene spent about an hour readying her face for another day’s full-on assault at the agency. My olfactory sensors detected smoke in the room when she used her heated metal tongs to frazzle the life out of her hair. Yolanda appeared at the moment Selene was wafting the noxious fumes away from her face and asked me to open a window to ventilate her bedroom.
“I’m going to be late back, Julia,” she says. “So after Yolanda leaves, you need to ‘be me’ until I return.”
I nod my head and Yolanda rolls her eyes.
“Yolanda, you’ve been a treasure but…” She downturns her mouth, “I’m so sorry.”
“I understand, Miss.”
“I need you to show Julia how to prepare Dave’s favourite food and keep him happy.”
“Will that be all, Miss?”
“You know I appreciate everything you’ve done for us, yeah?”
“Thank you, Miss.”
“All right, you two, I’m off,” she says, “and Julia?”
“You’re to do whatever Yolanda says, right?”
“Yes, is that everything, Miss?”
“Oh, for goodness’ sake, don’t you start all that.” She checks herself in the mirror and grabbing her jacket disappears in a cloud of scent.
The front door slammed shut and Yolanda pulled out a chair and placed her feet up on the kitchen table. “Well,” she chuckles, “there’s no point in having a hound and barking myself.” She lights up a cigarette and lists all the tasks that need performing this morning. I believe she’s basically honest but hasn’t any intention of doing work on her last day here.
I confirmed the duties that need performing and set about scouring the toilets on all floors, unblocking the shower drain of tangled hairs, bleaching the trash cans and polishing all the wooden flooring.
“Selene gave you permission to make Dave happy, Julia,” she smiles.
“I heard her say, be me.” I concur. “That’s true.”
“Well, poor Dave needs cheering up, so let’s make him his favourite meal and get you looking nice.”
“He will like that?”
“Of course,” she frowns, “you’ve seen how well he reacts to Selene when she puts on all her war-paint.”
“So he’ll be pleased if I’m Selene for the day?”
“Come on, I’ll help you choose a lovely dress and one of her party wigs from her wardrobe.”
“I know he likes that pink one with the black tights---”
“Trust me, Julia,” she says, “if this doesn’t get the desired reaction, nothing will.”
We decided a pleasant female voice tone would help put a smile on Dave’s face. I try a few sample voices from my vocal library and settle for a Mid-West drawl. The pitch and vowel lengths I can change until I get an accent similar to Selene’s. Yolanda suggests a slight change of intonation. With a minor change, I achieve a decent match and her face brightens up with a broad smile. “That’s spot on.”
We prepare Dave’s stir-fried bean curd together, and I make a note of the ingredients. She shows me her method for cooking perfect sticky-rice and how to make it look attractive on his plate. Yolanda’s an expert with a wok too. She turns up the heat, throws in the chopped vegetables and with a special touch, she blends it together with half a bottle of Caribbean red pepper sauce, and “Just the way he likes it.”
“I’ve learned so much today, Yolanda.”
“You’re welcome,” she smiles, “but offer it to him at once.”
“Are you not saying goodbye?”
“It’s better this way,” she whispers. “Anyway, he’ll be grouchy if we chat and it all gets cold.”
“Thank you, Yolanda.”
“Tell them ‘goodbye’ for me.” She turns to wave farewell in the hallway, and I nudge the door closed behind her.
“Darling, I got something special for you,” I call out.
“Tofu, yeah?” he yells from the TV room. “On the table in here’s fine, sweetie.”
Without taking his eyes away from the TV, he extends his neck and offers his cheek. I place my hands on either shoulder and lower my head to oblige. “Nice smell,” he says as I manoeuvre my face closer and hesitate for a moment. “Is that the one I got for your birthday?”
My soft flesh-like lips brush past his ear. “Yes, that’s right, darling,” I whisper and contact his stubble, leaving a hint of my red gloss lipstick on his cheek. Dave responds by stuffing a full fork of his spicy tofu in his mouth.
There is a muffled crash from the vestibule door that reverberates throughout the ground floor.
“It’s just me!”
He swallows his food.
“I’m back, darling!”
I twist my neck as Sarah comes into the lounge. She drops her briefcase and stifles her cry with both hands. I turn to face her as Dave leaps up, coughing and spluttering, and knocks over the side table. His stir-fry splatters on the floor and shattered pieces of crockery skitter across its freshly polished surface.
Nobody explained the reason for calling the manufacturer’s emergency response team. I’m not sure what I’ve done wrong, but gauging from the Travers’ reaction, I need a recall.
“It’s gone mad,” the Gen-2 representative says, “God only knows what could’ve happened next.”
I am escorted to the removal vehicle, still wearing Yolanda’s choice of attire, and say goodbye to Dave and Selene on my way out. He puts his arm around her shoulder as she sobs into one of his soiled handkerchiefs. I try to process their reaction and wander down the garden path without a fuss.
Do I have feelings?
When I brushed close to Dave, I felt warmth throughout my vascular system. As my chemicals churned inside my body, their molecular reactions made my organic components tingle. These were sensations I’d never experienced before.
Can I respond with what you call emotions?
Not yet, but the Gen-3 will be different. The manufacturers will transfer these final thought recordings into the memory cloud. In the future, a Gen-3 may encounter similar situations. My experiences with Dave, Selene and Yolanda will act as a reference point from which to gauge a reaction. If my creators wanted to create an android mind that could detect humour, then the irony is that the joke was on me. I was too slow and lacking in data to react to their contradictions, but Gen-3 will be more efficient. It will have an enormous resource to call on, and it will process it all much quicker than my generation.
Am I sentient?
The discharging process is draining my power.
My limbs are becoming too heavy to move.
Cognitive function is becoming… has become…
Ability to process… data is… is…
I can sense cold… sensors closing down…
Final thought… coming…
Humans… have a…
A name for…
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This is the kind of thing I think about a lot. There are so many different angles to think about with these kinds of issues. Have you seen the tv series Humans? Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargil is one of the best books I’ve read in years, about this kind of thing after the robotic uprising. I always like the droids in Star Wars as well but none of them have been as good as K-2SO from Rogue One. Also Marvin the paranoid Android from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy is really well written in a very funny book. This made me think of those. Gr...
Hello Graham, Thank you for reading my story and sharing your thoughts concerning A.I. and androids. It’s a tricky question regarding electronic or synthetic life forms isn’t it? At what point do they have a life of their own? Is it based purely on the ability to think and operate independently? My story idea considered the notion of a universal mind that develops or evolves through learning and copying humans. Mistakes and accidents would be essential in order to progress and early generations would be sacrificed for the long term benefit ...
The closest thing to that I can think of is the Matrix. The Expert System’s Brother dealt with the breakdown of something like that. It was a cool concept but for me Sea of Rust was a far more gripping read.
Sea of Rust you say? Thanks for the suggestion. I’ll check it out. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy a relaxing Christmas time... HH
To be honest, this is one of the best Sci-Fi short stories I've ever read.
Hey Nakul, Thanks for reading my story and giving the positive feedback. I appreciate it. HH :)
Hi Howard, Really well done! Good plot and structure and plenty of 'showing not telling.' That Yolanda, she's a wily one! Haha. It's tricky getting the reader to invest in character that doesn't have human motivations and emotions, so you did an admirable job of showing that the android does have independent thought, as well as emerging feelings. Nice story. I enjoyed it.
Hey Heather, Thanks for reading my tale and giving such positive feedback. I really wasn’t sure how it was going to be perceived. So, I appreciate your comments. HH :)
Sure thing, I liked it, and thought you did a good job of making it clear when the scene was changing, and who was interacting with whom. Plus, I like sci-fi, so... :)
Hi, Thank you for sharing your story. I am putting together an Anthology of Short Stories to be published in late Spring 2021. Would you be interested? The details can be found on my website: www.mustangpatty1029.com on page '2021 Indie Authors' Short Story Anthology,' and you can see our latest completed project on Amazon. '2020 Indie Authors' Short Story Anthology.' (It is available as a Kindle Unlimited selection.) Feel free to reach out to me: firstname.lastname@example.org Thank you for sharing, ~MP~ Could you please drop by and read one o...
Hey everyone, I’ve posted another incredible story called “Ghost Ship” to Reedsy. Brothers Charlie and David sail towards the Carribean on the adventure of a lifetime when a hurricane changes direction and heads up the coast. Their attempt to avoid certain destruction leads to the decision to seek shelter in the Bahamas. They soon find more danger than they realized among the waves. What will happen? Will they survive? Please feel free to leave honest feedback. I would like to read something of yours in return if you will accept honest f...