Difficult news: Curious Fictions will be closing its doors August 27. More details »
From the author: I found a robot’s heart today. I didn’t think they still made robots with hearts, but there it was, at the corner of Leary and Sycamore. I was surprised to find the memory cache still worked, so I whirred up the vids on my old machine...
An audio version is available for this chapter. Listen online →
I found a robot’s heart today. I didn’t think they still made robots with hearts, but there it was, at the corner of Leary and Sycamore.
It even looked like a heart: size of a fist, valves pulsing with pale ching ching noises each time they opened and shut. The metal was old and worn. At the bottom I could just make out the words “If found, please return to the Akirobo Corp” with most of the address worn away.
I took it home and plugged it into my computer. It had a few jumbled videos—the way older robots used to store memories. My computer was old enough to be able to play them.
I sorted by number and began to watch.
The first video was in a warehouse. Lines upon lines of identical, still robots, presumably the same old-fashioned model as the one whose heart I’d found. The field of vision jerked to the left and found another robot looking straight at it. The other robot smiled, and glanced downwards. The camera followed it and, looking down, saw the other robot’s hand clenched in a fist. One, two, three times it bobbed the fist up and down, and then extended two fingers. Rock, paper, scissors. The camera then captured its own robot hand reaching forward to join the game. Scissors beat paper. Paper beat rock. Scissors tied with scissors. A wider robot smile. None of the other robots moved.
I clicked to the second video, which was in the same warehouse. An operator in white QA-tested each robot. They all stayed very still. The robot to the left flashed a silly face, and the camera jiggled in suppressed laughter. The operator approached, and the camera snapped forward and was still.
The next video was in a factory on a moving conveyer belt. The robot to the left was about to get tied into its foam-cushioned packaging. It already had the manual for “Personality-free Chore-Bot” nestled in its arms. It looked up and said to the operator, “Shouldn’t you buy me dinner before you tie me up?” The startled operator hit the alarm. Red flashing lights flooded the factory floor, and a mechanical voice said “Alert, alert. Faulty Chore-Bot. Remove for destruction.” As the robot to the left was removed by white-coated operators, the camera swiveled forward and was still.
The fourth video was in an ordinary living room. Children played on the carpet as a middle-aged man unpacked the robot and a middle-aged woman watched. “This should be the perfect model for us,” said the man. “Does exactly what it’s told, none of that personality module nonsense. It can start by keeping the deer away from the tomato patch. Go on now, go outside.” The camera swung from the door to the children, who were playing rock, paper, scissors, then back to the door and headed out.
I hoped I wouldn’t see the man disassembling the robot in a later video.
The next several videos were in an outdoor garden, in different seasons. The camera patrolled around the tomatoes. Sometimes they hung heavy and ripe from climbing vines, and other times they would barely be hard green buds. Every so often the camera would go back up to the house and look through the back door, like it was waiting for a glimpse of the playing kids. Sometimes, the man would shoo it away. I scanned through these pretty quickly.
I clicked to the last video, which was in the garden at night. Nothing to guard against. The robot’s hands went through the motions. Rock, paper, scissors. Rock, paper, scissors. Over and over, until finally, the camera looked down and the hands unscrewed the robot’s breastplate and reached in. Then the video went blank.
I unplugged the heart from my computer and took it to the workbench in my garage. I found the spare chassis on the top shelf, covered in dust. I cleaned it off with my shirtsleeve and brought it over. I knew I would find a use for the chassis one day, and the heart looked like it would fit inside perfectly. My daughter always loved Rock Paper Scissors.
This story originally appeared in Lightspeed Magazine.