I was merely four days, thirteen hours, three minutes and fifty five seconds old when my creator made me feel fear. It was a feeling most unpleasant. I may be a strong machine, made of steel with titanium alloy, coated with titanium nitride, but the way my inner workings reacted as she fell... I shouted out like like I cared? No, how could I?
Lying on the floor, still in obvious pain from the fall, my creator looked at me quite surprised.
- How are you, Tinker? Everything ok?
Tinker? Oh, right. My newly adjusted knees! I looked down at the clogs that made a clinking sound as they moved into place. Tink... Tink... Tink... Tink. This sound had obviously inspired my new name.
I nodded my approval.
- Yes, Creator.
- Katie, she corrected.
She laughed, that strange, spontaneous sound that resounded inside her and left her mouth vibrantly. Not much logic to it, yet somehow pleasant.
- A simple 'yes' is quite all right, Tinker.
- Yes... Katie,
She responded by flexing the muscles on both ends of her mouth to form a smile. Again, a quite illogical behavior, but yet fascinating. I had never yet tried that, but what if I would? No, I deleted that thought. I didn't want to feel what humans call joy, or anger, or any other feeling! Those were the very reason why she had been hurt. Angry and frustrated with what had seemed to be a technical problem in her latest construction she had moved too fast on the bridge, slipped and fallen some six feet down on the concrete floor. I examined her and found a shallow flesh wound in her leg. I used the aerosol can with healing serum, for as crazy as that sounds humans heal. It's nothing like changing a clog or a sheet of metal on an android like myself, they had inner, spontaneous mechanisms taking care of that.
- Here, let me help you.
I lifted her up and carried her back toward our house as skyscrapers hovered over us like golden gods in mahogany frames, turning their shadowed backs to the field of trash that represented its past and was now our home. Katie didn't seem to mind. She was born and raised on this junkyard.
A technical genius from childhood, she had never thought twice about what she was created to do. Construct. Create. Time and again experience the pondering sensation of brining life, if yet artificial, to material. Trained well from early age by her father, one of the best, yet most misunderstood and underestimated, engineering minds of our time, Katie had caught the torch and had now, though only in her late 20's, exceeded her late father's life's work by far.
This was her destiny. The one of my own, I did not know of. Katie had not told me, she simply said that it was for me to find out.
- We're back!, Katie called out as we entered the house. I put her down carefully.
- How did it go?, Daisy asked from the kitchen.
- Oh great, just great.
Not one word about any accident or injury, just like Katie. If there are dark clouds, ignore them. If there is sunshine, tell the world.
Katie took off her working belt and threw it on the floor. A loud groan could be heard from the sofa, where only the back of a golden tinted head and the middle spread of a digital newspaper could be seen.
- I just cleaned that.
- Sorry, Katie said, smiled and hung the belt on a hook, then quickly made her way to the sofa and snatched the paper.
- Hello to you too, Katie giggled. Oh, looks like more business for us they've raised the taxes on trash again.
- I know, the android stole the paper back, I was reading it.
Katie smiled at him and kissed his forehead. Edward laughed in return and shook the dark locks on her head with his hand before returning to his favorite seat. The laughs of androids were quite different from human ones. Katie had had a hard time replicating it. But since laughter was Katie's favorite sound, she didn't give up until it became a resonance through their whole body and rang out like a note in music, though sounding quite... rehearsed.
Adding to the sound, Katie walked to the bell rope by the door and pulled it, making the whole house echo with the loud sound of the alarming, quite eerie signal. Answering the calling, all of its inhabitants gathered in the living room. Daisy was the first to arrive. The only female robot, and the first one Katie ever built, her name expressed Katie's obsession with flowers, which Daisy now shared. Edward, who didn't bother getting up from his seat, was her second robot, named after Katie's late father, and apparently he shared similar traits with him, even though they had never met. The third robot, and last to arrive, was Teddy, the strongest, tallest and most powerful of us all, still very silent and gentle in his personality, inspiring his somewhat awkward name. I was the newest, and smallest of them all, and Katie the only human, but no one really thought twice about that. We were probably as close to what would be considered a family community as we could ever be.
- Everyone, I have an announcement, Katie said excitedly. We're going to get a visitor today.
- Really? Edward looked up from his paper. We haven't had a visitor since... since before Teddy.
- I know, but now we do. His name is Dr. William Neville, and he's coming because he wants to meet you guys.
There was a unanimous feeling of shock.
- I think he saw Teddy when he unloaded some trash the other day. He asked me a bunch of questions; apparently he has got several of the new state models, but was more impressed by what he heard about you. It seems he wanted our help with something. Maybe moving stuff, I don't really know.
I couldn't help but feeling a bit uneasy about it, though I did not know why at the time.
Later that afternoon the man arrived, and his appearance betrayed his importance. He seemed to be in his late 40's, dressed in an impeccable navy blue suit, and a light blue tie that intensified his ice-blue eyes. But the way he acted was in no way close to a gentleman.
Katie wore one of her nicest (and few) dresses and greeted him with her nicest smile, still he barely gave Katie a glance, rather almost shoved her out of his way as he went straight for the subjects of his interest. Us androids, apparently. But the doctor did not bother to socialize with us, no. He was musing at the sight of us, with strange desire in his eyes. Eyeing us up and down, he probably would have loved to cut us open and dissect us if he could. It was becoming obvious that this was not a social visit. Daisy kept her composure, Teddy kept his hand on Edward's shoulder, keeping him from letting his anger loose on the unexpected human. Dr. Neville stopped in front of Teddy.
- I'll take him, he said and looked him over again Yes, yes, he'll do very nicely.
He took a step back and turned to the baffled Katie.
- Name your price.
- He... he is not for sale, Dr. Neville!, she said sternly. He is family, as are the rest of them. For a split second, it seemed to me his face resembled metal.
- I see, he looked over at Teddy again. Are you sure? I mean, after all, to the right price even families tied by blood have been known to
- Yes!, Katie said and went on, emphasizing every word: I am very sure.
There was a brief and not very comfortable silence.
- Then how about this: you come and work for me, building personalized robots like this.
Katie shook her head and the normally so lively green eyes had darkened.
- I have not the slightest desire to work with 'building robots', sir. It is not building them that I love; it is them in their own right. No money you could ever pay me could take them away from me, or me from them. Now if you would be so kind....
- Then you're a fool, his voice conveyed his disdain as he interrupted her, clearly used to getting what he wanted and not being questioned.
- Good day, Dr. Neville!
The man turned around and walked out the door without closing it, just before the fumes from the overheated Edward was quite visible.
- That rusted piece of metal scrap, he shouted.
- Language!, Daisy exclaimed.
- Didn't you see it, Daisy? How he looked at us? Oh, we were marvelous tin cans, weren't we? Edward was just getting started, but then a soft voice interrupted his rant.
- I'm so sorry.
We all turned to see Katie sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall with her hands covering her face and its ruined makeup.
- Why are you sorry, Katie?, I couldn't help but ask.
- I guess I should have foreseen this might be what he was after, but
I just don't see you that way. You know you mean so much more to me than that, right? Please say you do.
- We know, and that is all that is important, Daisy said.
Teddy sat down next to Katie and put his arm around her, and she leaned her head against his shoulder. We all stayed for a while without knowing what more could be said or done, then went to bed one after the other, all of us anxious to put this day behind.
As I lay down in my bed and thought through the events of the evening I realized something. In the light of reason, wasn't Dr. Neville right? Wasn't that what we were? Metal sculpted to fabricate working machines. Katie had once told me that just because I was made of metal didn't make me a machine. But what else could I be? I was a robot. I started powering off to disrupt further thoughts of the subject, but before regenerating and data analyzing started, I felt a slight notion that this was far from over.
The piercing alarm went off just before the sun fully had set on the sooted horizon. I answered the call as fast as I could, rushing down to see Edward.
- She's gone!, he shouted.
- Edward, what happened to your arm?
His left one was severely damaged, twisted just like a corkscrew, and I reached out to touch it. In rage, Edward pushed me out of his way.
- Who cares? Can't your hear me? She's gone!
I could hear Teddy join us behind me.
- What happened? Where are the others?
- He took her!
- That doctor! His androids got to her first. She was up early and on her way to the front door, and they just... snatched her in a second.
Teddy grabbed him with both his hands to calm him.
- And where is Daisy?
Edward closed his vision lenses hard and a look of intense pain crossed his face. Teddy released him in shock. Then slowly turned to me and said:
- Let's go.
We made our way through the door and started moving toward the city. We tried to stay away from people, who were often made uneasy by the sight of free ranging robots. Other androids however proved very useful since most of them are unable to lie or conceal information when asked a direct question (except for governmental secrets), and it was not long until we had managed to assemble the information we needed about Dr. Neville.
As we set off, it was painstakingly obvious that we were not made for speed. Our stamina way surpassed humans, naturally, but it seemed our purpose was not dependent on something that required high-speed transportation. It took us 51 hours to reach our goal, a manor located seemingly in the middle of nowhere, but it took no time at all for us to break in. Three guardian state model robots immediately showed up and even if I was ready to fight, between Edward's great rage and Teddy's strength I could hardly get a steel fist in the game. We left the floor littered with distorted metal pieces and ripped off cords as we silently began searching the house. Nothing useful was found in the upper floors except some maps and articles on killer robots, but when we climbed the uncomfortably narrow staircase leading to the basement we heard sounds telling us we were on the right track. A massive door opened into a huge room filled with advanced construction tools, and robot parts. I saw Katie right away, sitting by what seemed to be a gigantic steel cylinder with a power tool in her hand, but shaking so hard she could hardly use it. I felt a strong hand on my shoulder, and saw Teddy's other hand on the fuming Edward, undoubtedly to stop us from doing anything foolish before he could finish his visual search of the room. Looking back at her again, I made a mental note of a golden bracelet around her right wrist, which she would never choose to wear. There was also an unusual shadow around her eye - no, a black eye! For some reason, beyond my own understanding, that made me feel something - fear, anger and something else collided with many other seeds of emotion, and all I could do was call out her name.
She looked up and saw me. Her eyes started to convey something different, and she got up on unsteady legs. She barely took one step before she was down again, for a moment shaking violently with her teeth clenched tightly, grabbing the bracelet but seemingly unable to pull it off.
- I thought you had learned.
Dr. Neville came into view behind her. We all stepped back, hiding in the shadow of the door. He grabbed her shirt and pushed her up against the metal tube.
- You are not allowed to rest or leave this room until you are done!
He backhanded her and she fell to the ground, groaning in pain. He pulled a little hand-held device from his pocket, undoubtedly the mechanism that had brought on the seizures.
Was this fury? I could barely focus or stand still because of the intense hatred I felt for this man. Suddenly there was no hand to stop me. I rushed off. Edward was faster. The unsuspecting human barely caught a glimpse of his attackers until the first and only strike hit him, sending him flying across the room, smashing into the wall, then silently sliding to the floor.
As I turned to Katie, electricity was once again rippling through her body, violently trying to ravage it. Edward saw it too, and ran to get hold of the device that had fallen out of the doctor's hand.
- It is broken! It... It's not working, he shouted.
- Just make it stop, I called back to him desperately.
I went down on my knees by her side and reached for the bracelet that apparently worked as a receiver, but Teddy stopped me.
- Don't touch her, he said as he grabbed my hand. It will fry your hard drive.
I could see the pain in his eyes, for both of us knew it was frying her hard drive too. As her body trembled, I found myself so utterly useless. How could I be this great machine, carefully designed and created into something so close to perfection, but still unable to even remove a bracelet? If only she had been a robot, we could probably have taken the whole arm off without any problems!
I looked at her trembling face; eyes wide open in shock, mouth screaming without a sound. It would be a matter of seconds now.
I looked down at my own arm, grabbed the outer metal covering and pulled it off. Using it's razor sharp edge, I threw it down with all my strength over her wrist just above the golden accessory. I closed my vision lenses as it cut through her arm and as I opened them again, it was to the sound of Katie's screams and the sight of blood, lots of blood. Her cut-off hand was still seizing with electricity, but the bracelet had come off and lied a few feet away. Edward pushed me out of the way and carefully studied the wound as he sprayed it with healing serum. He opened the test kit from the medicine supply that every robot of Katie's carries, grabbed her dismembered hand, looked at me firmly and said:
- Keep her conscious.
Katie looked at me but with eyes so pale I wasn't sure if she saw anything at all. It seemed she didn't have the strength to scream anymore, she just made strange, stuttering noises and kept her teeth tightly clenched.
- It's going to be all right, I assured her. Just hang on.
I continued to talk to her as Edward worked. He was extremely fast, but he was a perfectionist and wanted all the nerves and blood vessels in place before he sealed her up. When finally done, Katie was ash white, but still alive. I felt so exhausted, but lifted her up and left the house, Teddy and Edward walking behind me.
- Thank you, Katie mumbled with her eyes closed.
I didn't know the proper response, so I just kept quiet. Katie leaned in to rest her head against my chest, hearing the clogs and pipes working frenetically and yet so smoothly beneath the surface.
- You're welcome, she whispered.
- Welcome to what?
- No, that's what you... reply to a 'Thank you'.
I felt the corners of my mouth being pulled upwards as I formed my first smile.
- You're welcome.
I was seven days, four hours, eleven minutes and fifteen seconds old when my creator made me feel anger, hatred, and joy. And with these feelings discovered, I have begun to doubt if I was created to be simply a machine. She awakened my artificial soul to feel, and for her I'll feel for the rest of this existence.
My first sci-fi story.
Very impressive characterization, and good plot. For a first story, that's exceptional.