Here’s the second story I’ve written to promote A Perfect Machine, this one for R. Thomas Allwin, who pre-ordered the book, and so won the luxury of being murdered by a robot at my hands!
THE NAMELESS ROBOT
The best day of fifteen-year-old R. Thomas Allwin’s life was the day his mom bought him the robot. It was also the best day of the robot’s life. They became fast friends because everything Thomas needed, the robot provided: friendship, support, encouragement.
But that’s where the problems began, and Thomas would come to realize that the day the robot came into his life was actually the worst day. The robot became clingy, was constantly pressuring Thomas for hugs, to open up, be candid about his feelings. The robot loved him, and was just here to help, it would say. Why wouldn’t Thomas just let it help him—all the time?
It made no sense to the robot that Thomas could be helped enough. Its programming told it that there was always room for improvement. Twenty-four hours a day.
Some nights, when Thomas was sleeping, he’d have a nightmare, and start fidgeting in his sleep. The robot—who stood in the corner of the room where its charging station was—would disconnect, walk over to him, wake him up, and ask if he was okay, if he’d like some help. Thomas was amazed at the machine’s empathy at first, but this sort of behaviour became tiresome very fast. And there were no signs of it getting better. Thomas had had more than enough.
One day, Thomas was getting dressed, and was going to be late for school. The robot asked if it could help Thomas put on his clothes. It had started asking this every morning for the past three weeks, and Thomas was at his breaking point.
“No! I told you I don’t need help getting dressed! I can do it myself!”
“I know you can do it yourself, Thomas, but I’m here to help. Your mom bought me and gave me to you so that I could help you. Why won’t you let me help you, Thomas?” It was the same response the robot always had when Thomas lost his patience.
Thomas ignored the robot.
“Why won’t you speak to me, Thomas?” the robot asked. “Telling others about your feelings will make you feel better. It’s always a good thing to let others—”
But Thomas had heard it all before, and was sick to death of it now. He fumed, felt the now-familiar rage boiling up inside him.
“I don’t have to tell others anything, because there is nothing to tell!” Thomas shouted. “I feel fine! Goddamnit, I’ve told you this a thousand times! And you never fucking listen! You just never fucking stop!”
The robot blinked. Thomas had never exploded with such vehemence before. When Thomas showed signs of anger, the robot was programmed to ask, “Don’t you like me anymore?” The programmers thought this would make the robots seem more human. But now the robot said, “Don’t you love me anymore?”
Thomas froze. “Love you?” He paused for a moment. “You’ve never said that before.”
The robot looked down at its feet.
“Thomas?” it said.
Thomas was calming down, now feeling bad for his outburst. “Look,” he started, “I’m sorry I lost my temper. It’s just that—”
“How come you didn’t name me?” the robot asked.
Thomas thought about this for a few seconds, then just looked away, couldn’t make eye contact with the robot.
“I talk to other robots like me through the Internet, and they all have names, but I don’t. Why didn’t you name me, Thomas?”
“I don’t really know,” Thomas finally said.
The robot blinked a few times very fast, its head twitched to the side twice in quick succession. “I think,” it said, its voice dropping several octaves lower than usual—deep, threatening, “that you never loved me at all, Thomas. You have a hole where your heart is.”
Thomas frowned, mind scrambling. “Whoa, wait a sec, what are you—”
“Thomas has a hole where his heart is,” the robot repeated, and advanced on him. Thomas stumbled backward, tripped over the arm of a chair, fell to the carpet.
“A hole where his heart is, a hole where his heart is, a hole where his heart is . . .”
The nameless robot straddled Thomas where he lay prone on the floor, arms raised to ward off his attacker. The robot extended one of its metal hands, palm facing out, toward Thomas’s chest, right above where his heart was.
It pushed once, very hard—so hard that its hand burst through the other side of Thomas’s body, came flush with the carpet. Blood pooled slowly out of Thomas’s body, soaking into the carpet, turning it a deep red.
“A hole where his heart is,” the robot said once more, and then nothing in the room moved.
The robot had not been programmed to cry.
But just then, it tried.