“Do you Chess?”
She finally asked me! All these months, and even though she knew I wouldn’t answer her verbally, she finally asked! If I could weep, I would have cried tears of joy. To be asked to play chess, to interact with my maker on a level that would bring our minds together, was beyond compare.
Though futile, I still tried to answer, quivering as my insides spun and sputtered. My form wobbled, the counterbalances along my Drives wavering enough that the discs running my central drive hesitated. I blinked. She smiled.
She had recognized my reaction as joy.
Whatever I was, whatever I looked like, she could recognize an emotion in me. Perhaps we looked more similar than I had been led to believe.
Dee’s smile inspired me to wobble and shudder again.
This was our relationship. Me, sitting alone in this basement, day after day, after she disappeared for hours and hours. Then, at night, she would sit with me, tinkering, adjusting, mostly out of sight. It was impossible for me to turn and face her during those long night hours, and the only times I could see here were when she’d walk into the room, and then once more when she’d leave.
I was not lonely, or bored. It was impossible to experience these feelings. She would often type in a program before leaving so that I could begin a new process to occupy my time. Still, it doesn’t take me long to execute her information inputs, and I prefer to study the flashes of images on the wall instead, which ran constantly throughout each day, on a loop. Each day, a different loop began so that my memory banks would not expand by duplicates. Duplicates are dangerous and fill my drives faster than preferred, or so Dee told me one day while explaining her work. Her details are meticulous and she has studied a lot over time, herself. Living alone has advantages, and she makes full use of her time.
Once, while reviewing the animal listings, an actual cat entered the room. Had the creature come inside on a day prior, I would have not known what it was. But with the new information dump I was able to identify it, and knew enough to remain still, not attract it with any sudden movements.
The cat looked at me with wide blue eyes, nose wiggling with sniffles. It created a low grumbling sound and proceeded to chew at the wires near my feet. I waited, helpless, watching its tail swish back and forth. A new friend, I started to think.
But a short spark sent it leaping back and up and out the window. It poked its head into view some time later, but saw me and quickly bounded away.
The tingles persisted after that incident, but I continued my studies and focused on the imagery exercises. When Dee returned home, I tried to tell her about the cat chewing on my wires, my new friend who might be back tomorrow, but her new line of work interested me.
She set to adjusting my new limbs, sending trembles through my circuitry until my fingers shook. I couldn’t control them. We together watched them flicker and grasp for a pen, a paper, and then I felt tingles and wobbled, shuddered. Sleep came quickly then.
I awoke and Dee stepped back, smiling with her typical amount of enthusiasm. But she was smiling AT me. Looked right into my lenses. She took my hand in hers. She hadn’t yet installed the nerve endings, the sensors to tell me just what I’d be feeling, the weight of her hold, the texture, but I could sense enough to feel her hands on mine.
If I had a face, I’d be smiling. If I had a nose, I’d breathe deep her scent and tell her I love her. This last bit would require not only olfactory sensors, but vocal chords, things I’d never have. Perhaps a later upgrade would allow a device to be manipulated to capitulate my thoughts into verbal communication? Further research was warranted.
Mechanical engineering was first nature to me, and always would be. I am mechanical, I recognize this, and I was born. But human biology is and always will be, for me, a puzzle. All of the programs Dee had uploaded, the books that I’d been able to flip through, none of them allowed the complete study of human biology. She was saving it for last.
She was keeping me from learning and understanding our full differences. How people were made versus how I was made, understanding all of the details might push me to create a sense that we were too different, that there was “ME” and humans were “OTHER” and that might be disastrous, if not dangerous.
She instilled the understanding, again and again, that I was merely a robot.
I hate that word, Robot. She does, too. She never calls me Robot, only Rob. I get it. She’s being clever, but not so clever as to avoid my judgements about me. She created me, would continue to design and build me and nurture me, but I’d always be Rob(ot), the machine that would never be like her, would never be human.
“Do you Chess?”
I stretched out my limb and moved e4. She countered with e5. We proceeded to play, her moves countering my attacks within seconds, almost like she knew what moves I’d make.
She had me in check within a dozen movements, all in under two minutes. I decided to counter by putting my queen in harm’s way, then stopped before I released my hold on the piece. I adjusted my lenses to look at her face. I caught her grin, the corners of her lips RAISED slightly. She knew I was going to make that move. She’d known it at the start of the game, perhaps even before that. Was she programming me to make certain moves? Did I not have a choice? Would I even know if I did?
I quickly returned to queen to its place, and move my king instead. Dee hesitated. Her grin had been wiped away and she leaned forward, stared at the board, then up at me.
She circled around behind me and I felt a tingling sensation, a warmth wash throughout my body. A sudden flash crossed my vision, and I was reminded of the cat, something about the cat and wires… but I was lost in the fine sensation coursing through my innards, and when focus returned the board was the only thing I could see, and all of the pieces were red except one: The Queen.
Dee was back in front of me, and made her move, putting my King back in check. I saw only one escape, but the inevitable ending of the game was near. I moved the Queen, again putting her in danger, in order to protect the King… then I hesitated. Without glancing up at Dee, I returned the queen and moved the King instead. Cornering it. This would bring an end to the game sooner than later, and perhaps we could start another, one in which my Queen would remain safe.
But again, Dee was stunned and went around to readjust something in me.
There were more tingles.
Then I blinked, and the board was returned to its starting point. She made the first move, I countered, and the game moved fast. I did everything I could to save my queen, but eventually had to make the sacrifice in order to save the king. The point of the game. But instead of moving my queen and extending the game by six moves, I knocked over my king.
She stared at me, a questioning look on her face.
I grabbed a pen and paper, and wrote, in block letters (the only way I could write without my sensors put in) “I will not kill my queen.”
She grinned at me, held my hands. “You are altering your programming. You are a success.”
I wrote again, I AM YOUR SUCCESS
Dee pulled her hands away. She smiled again, but there was an empty nature to her smile, and her eyes felt bare, distant, in thought about something in the future, something that had nothing to do with me.
She returned to her nightly routine, cleaning up the workstations and opening the door to her Inside Home. She made to turn the garage light off, then stopped her hand. “Good night, Rob.”
I reached out to write on the note pad GOOD NITE D.
I held up the notepad, but she had already gone inside. So I studied my hands, the limbs that served as arms were thin, long metallic pieces, silver in color and scratched in all sorts of directions. They would serve me well, I could see, in that they were durable. Like everything about me, they’d last for a long time, holding all of my mechanisms in check against the elements of the outside world, the weather, the erosion of time, the invasion of–
A noise, and a quick image scanned across my vision: The cat. What was it about that animal that was invading my senses? Did I have a glitch? There must be a glitch, for me to see things that aren’t there. The claws of the cat, the spark as it chewed my wires, the orange of flame flickering across the window.
Then the flames leapt higher in my vision, and more sparks came, and more flashes. The WIRES! Chewed and crushed and twisted and broken. And all the tinkering from Dee this evening, the game of chess, the breaking from programming. I had overheated, and the cat, the fat, hungry, desperate animal, had allowed for my wires to overheat and stretch beyond capacity and nothing would stop them from expanding —
I watched, helpless, unable to move, as the “flesh” on my hands melted. My arms moved up and down, slowly, incredibly, frustratingly useless, and I saw the room burn around me.
My lenses were starting to melt, to corrode away, the heat was that strong. It did not hurt, my vision grew unfocused and empty, and I worried what Dee would think of me when she re-entered.
I heard the sound of the door, from a great distance. I had a microphone built into each side of what she called my “monitor” but the sounds of her footsteps, her shouting, were so far away I wondered if I’d ever see her again.
I could see no longer, and if my hands were moving there was no indicator to tell me so. Something was melting, was burning away at my drives. The world is hot and dangerous and I cannot fathom not being a part of it.
Time is meaningless to me, and this might have been yesterday or six years ago. I cannot see, and hearing has been mostly lost, at least muted. But somehow my circuits are still processing, and information reaches my central drive at a rate that was designed, successfully, by Dee, my creator. Perhaps one day another person will lift my Monitor and replace it, or add skin to my hands again so that I may pretend to feel.
I feel I may be duplicating images, or information, in the search for a solution to my current situation, or an end to all things. The wires will eventually fray, or perhaps another cat will visit and finish the meal.
Somewhere, far away, in the muted and distance chambers of my internal speakers, or perhaps in a duplicate memory being processed repeatedly, I hear the call that I want to answer so badly:
“Do you chess?”