From the author: On humanity's lengthy journey into the unknown, androids are in charge of the entertainment.
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This time when Roo woke them up, some of the colonists began to cry. They looked around with eyes still bleary from deep sleep, at the medical robots that stood ready to check their status and Roo waiting to take them to their scheduled entertainment, and burst into tears.
Being an android, Roo did not understand. There was no obvious reason for their tears: the medical scans revealed them all to be in perfect health. Tears could mean a number of things, including sadness, pain, or joy, but Roo did not know enough about human emotions to tell which. The wellbeing of the colonists was a primary function, and so Roo stepped towards one of the women.
“Why are you crying?”
The woman cringed back from Roo’s smooth dull-silver hand. “Let me go back to sleep,” she begged. “Please.”
“Sleep will be resumed after the entertainment,” Roo told her. “The health of each passenger must be checked, as must the status of the hibernation pods. A film has been provided for your enjoyment during this interval.”
The woman wailed and fled into the arms of the person from the tube beside her, a man called Aaron Blake. Blake glared at Roo, who returned to the task of shepherding the colonists into the auditorium. They stood single file in corridors that were dimmed to protect their newly-awoken eyes. Tears tracked silently down the cheeks of some, others stared blankly, while a few sobbed openly and were consoled by those in front or behind.
Like those on so many other ships the colonists were heading for an unknown destination, to reseed their civilisation on planets far away from their own dying Earth. It was one of many plans conceived by mankind to save itself. Computers were created to design and build the ships and their android crews, and selected those passengers most likely to succeed in such an endeavour. Roo watched the humans file into the darkened hall.
Rows of tiered seats faced a screen that took up a whole wall, and the aisle was marked by gentle lights set into the floor. The humans sat down in their designated seats and Roo moved back towards the doors. A man stepped out and folded his arms, blocking the aisle. It was Blake again, the man who had shortened the designation R00-1RX to Roo. Recognising that humans felt better appending names to things — animals, vehicles, weapons, and now androids — Roo had not corrected him. The wellbeing of the colonists was a primary function.
“Why?” Blake demanded. “Why do you keep doing this to us?”
“I do not understand, Mr Blake,” Roo replied. “The film was especially chosen to lift your spirits during the maintenance of the hibernation pods. It contains family values, romance, hope, victory against oppression, and songs to foster a sense of community.”
“We’ve seen it fifty times!” Blake caught at Roo’s arm. Roo could have broken his grip easily, but instead chose to let him express his frustration. “Look, Roo, can’t you just show us something else?”
“I am afraid not, Mr Blake. The film was especially chosen…”
“To lift our spirits. I got that. There are other films that could cheer us up, right? We wouldn’t even mind if it was another musical.”
“There are no other films, Mr Blake.”
Blake stared. “What?”
“There are no other films. It was not anticipated there would be a need for them, and so no other films were brought. There is after all a significant interval between viewings.”
“For you, maybe.” Blake’s shoulders sagged. He looked like he, too, was going to cry. “Roo…”
“I must ask you to take your seat, Mr Blake. The film will start shortly, and another group is scheduled to begin maintenance once it has finished.”
Blake’s face crumpled and he didn’t resist as Roo steered him firmly but gently to his seat. Roo moved back to the doors and closed them. A moment later there was music and a young woman’s voice was raised in song as she proclaimed the landscape to be alive with melody. There was a collective howl from the audience: not singing but screaming.
Roo moved up to the projection room. There were controls there to release gas into the auditorium, to temporarily paralyse the humans should it be needed. It had been fitted after a group of them had refused to go back into hibernation. Roo would use the gas if necessary, if they showed any inclination to harm themselves. The wellbeing of the colonists was a primary function.
This story originally appeared in Every Day Fiction.