Cast of Wonders 128: Robots Don’t Cry

Robots Don’t Cry

by George Edwards

I walked alone down a road with farms on all sides, cowboy hat on my head.

“Where am I Marco Polo?” I knew where I was, of course, but Marco Polo could see better.

He fed me all the data he could. He was one of the few satellites still orbiting earth after years of neglect.

“Thank you sir,” I said after his transmission ended. He gave me my exact location. I walked for hours.

A pick-up truck rambled up the road behind me, an odd noise for times like these. I stuck my thumb out.

The truck slowed and cracked its window. A grizzled old man was behind the wheel said, “Where ya headed?”

Using the friendliest voice in my bank I replied, “East, sir, to Auburn.”

He leaned over and opened his door for me. “Hop in,” he said.

I didn’t hop. His truck suspension would have gave out if I had. I stepped in and sat down. The truck sank under my weight.

He extended his had to me and said, “Name’s Joe.”

I clasped his hand, toleration levels in mind, and said, “I’m Number Five.”

He shifted the truck into gear and pulled forward. “Number Five? Is that a joke?”

“No,” I said. “I am the fifth of my kind created. I am the lone survivor.”

The old man stiffened. These were dangerous times.

I didn’t want to scare the man so I said, “I came for a girl, not to harm strangers.”

The man who called himself Joe activated his cab light and looked me up and down. He was a man on edge as evidenced by his appearance. It wasn’t fear of me that made him look this way. To prove my estimation correct he reached over and traced my graphite lining. “Peg was right, I do need glasses.”

“Peg?” I asked.

“Peg,” he repeated. “My wife.”

“The female you love?” I asked. I was familiar with love. Tom spoke of it when talking about Jamie. I’d even had occasion to believe I was in love with her. Tom scoffed at this notion. He was good, he said, but not that good.

“One and only,” he said. “Before they killed her.” Joe accelerated and hit fifty miles-per-hour. He was silent a few moments before asking, “So, why is it you want to find this girl?”

“Jamie Dobson?” I asked, “Marco saw the raiders from the West closing in on her location. I promised Tom I’d saver her.”

He regarded me skeptically. “Space Robot, huh? So you came from space, down to earth, to save a girl?”

“Jamie Dobson. Yes.”

“Who is this Tom you were talking about?” he asked.

“My maker,” I said.

“So what happened to Tom?” he asked. He sounded tired. His voice trembled. It was how Tom sounded near the end.

“He died,” I said, “but first he made me human.”

Joe chuckled. “He made you human? How can a robot be made human?”

I shifted my focus from the road to Joe. “I don’t know,” I admitted, “but one day I awoke. He changed the structure of my mind. He programmed me to value my own preservation, to think in terms of trade-offs, to love.”

Joe took his right hand off the steering wheel to scratch his head. “Robots can’t love,” he announced. “At least, not the way I loved my Peg.”

“Why?” I asked.

“People are evolved to love,” he said, “and to hate, and all that other emotional stuff. You can’t get emotion from electricity and circuits.”

I contemplated this for some time. I wasn’t flesh and blood but I knew myself to be human. “Tom told me I was human,” I said. “Near the end he programmed me with a value stream. The others didn’t have that.”

He narrowed his eyes skeptically.

“Are you not a series of impulses? Of electrical connections?” I asked.

Joe looked straight ahead, brights on, swerving right and left to avoid debris on the road. He said, “You really think you’re human don’t you? That’s the darndest thing I’ve ever heard. Look at you,” he said, glancing at me, “sitting there all proud with your cowboy hat on.”

“I am proud. I am the first robot human,” I said.

“Probably the last too,” he said.

The collapse was bad but I didn’t know how. All I knew was that the failure of the means of exchange stopped ships from supplying our moon base. Marco Polo told me as much. The resources were present, the means of global cooperation disappeared.

The old man shook his head. “I can’t believe I’m conversating with a robot.”

His anxiety cued me to end the conversation.

We passed devastated suburbs and filthy cities. There were people all around struggling to survive. It wasn’t our place to join their struggle. We continued on.

We stopped at gas stations often, many times to no avail. Joe trained me to pull a hose from the bed of the truck and feed it into underground tanks. When we succeeded in pulling gasoline out of a tank we took as much as possible. We filled both internal tanks and a larger external tank.

“I need you to drive,” Joe said as he became tired. “It’s not safe to stop and rest.” From my observations I concurred with his opinion.

I had never driven before but I understood, academically, the mechanics of the process. I sat in the driver’s seat, took the wheel, and turned the key. The truck roared to life and I let the key go.

“Well, well,” Joe said. “Maybe you’ll turn out to be more than just dead weight after all.”

Approval. When I was faced with approval that aligned with my interests a subroutine initiated deep within my consciousness that compells me to show appreciation. I was aware of many subroutines that ran within my memory but Tom blocked me from direct access and from changing them. The subroutines could be changed, but only through learning, and only in ways I couldn’t consciously determine.

“Thanks,” I said.

The dome light was on. Joe pulled his spectacles out and placed them on his face. He stared at me, leaning over, as I pulled the truck onto the road that would take us to the interstate. “NASA,” he read aloud. “So you’re not some alien creation?”

“My original purpose was lost to me,” I said. “From what I can infer, before my upgrade; I worked as a team of five with other robots to create a human habitation on the moon.”

Joe grunted. His mind wasn’t invested in the conversation.

Driving was stimulating. There were a lot of variables that couldn’t be reduced to learned repetition or what humans call “muscle memory.” I learned quickly and was soon able to isolate what was variable from what was repetitious, allowing me to use less energy to complete the task. Joe became comfortable with my driving and fell asleep.

As I drove further East, the destruction of the raiders became ostentatious and smoke from burning buildings streamed into the air. I didn’t have the olfactory equipment to analyze it.

I drove on 70 East until I was forced to stop at a barricade just before noon. Joe was awakened by the sudden lack of motion and the bright sunlight that caught his face. “What’s wrong?” he asked, trying to overcome his grogginess.

“There are items in the road blocking our passage,” I said, “and I can sense men positioned in a hostile pattern.”

“Where?” Joe asked. He retrieved a shotgun from under his seat.

“Four in front, one on each side,” I replied.

Joe sized me up and asked, “Know how to shoot?”

I did. There was something clicking in my memory, a sub-routine I couldn’t directly access. “I think,” I said.

“You think? You’re a robot, you either know or you don’t.” He retrieved a second weapon and said, “This is loaded; just aim it at our enemy, not me.”

“Yes sir,” I said.

After a few moments of idling the truck a grimy man stepped from behind a burnt sedan. He was filthy; soot on his face, clutching a shotgun. He held his hand up to indicate that he didn’t want us to resist. Joe’s hands trembled as he handed me a rifle, never taking his eyes off the approaching man. I sat back in my seat, remaining still, and waiting for my orders. Joe cracked his window to talk to the man.

The man slapped the hood of the truck and said, “Beautiful vehicle you’ve got here.”

“Yeah,” Joe said. “It’s my damn vehicle. Keep your hands off.”

The man smiled, revealing rotting yellow teeth. He approached Joe’s window, stooped, and gave me a once over. “Think you’re going to scare us off with that… contraption?” he asked. “Boy, you have a costume on or something?”

I didn’t move. I observed the other men coming from their hiding spots. They were equally grimy, probably more aesthetically displeasing to the human eye.

Joe lifted his rifle and aimed at the first man.

“I wouldn’t do that,” the man said. He indicated the presence of his

associates in arms. Joe didn’t move is gaze.

“I don’t care about them,” Joe said. “I’m going to shoot you dead.”

The man paled. “Take it easy,” he said, not daring to lift his own shotgun.

“They’ll kill you before I hit the ground.”

“I don’t give a damn,” Joe said. “It was your type that killed my Peg. If I only kill one of you before I eat dirt I’ll die happy.”

The man scrambled backwards to bring his weapon up. Joe fired and a bullet slammed into the man’s chest. I whipped my rifle into position as the other men charged. Some had firearms while others carried swords, knives, and clubs.

I stepped out of the vehicle and aimed at the most threatening, fired, cocked, aimed, fired, and cocked. Two men fell. This stopped the charge. Joe exited the truck and shot the only other man with a firearm. He shot him in the back as he was running away. The man fell with a thud.

The rest of the men had enough time to take cover. I didn’t pursue. “Let’s go,” I said. “We can take another route.”

“Not until they’re all dead,” Joe said.

I had to reason with him to secure his cooperation. “If your objective is to kill raiders,” I said, “we can kill more if we move swiftly ahead to where their main company is.”

He was shaking madly. He waved a hand at me, acquiescing. He wanted to be convinced, it seemed, to live for something other than vengeance. He pulled a cross from his front shirt pocket, gripped it in a fist and kissed his knuckles. “I’ll see you soon Peg,” he whispered.

I turned the truck around and backtracked to a SouthEast bound road. My power levels were decreasing. After driving an hour more, as the sun was obtaining optimal height, I requested Joe drive. He was well rested and agreed. I climbed into the bed of the tuck and soaked in the sun while in sleep mode.

The presence of raiders became dense as we traveled towards Auburn. Joe did all he could to avoid them, often taking back roads, having me stand guard when he siphoned gas. I knew he was doing it for my sake. I think he wanted to see how my endeavor would play out.

Joe never did have a destination of his own. He was seeking revenge. His change of heart came somewhere on that journey as I told him more about Jamie and Tom. He began regarding me with appreciation for saving his life. “I want to help you save Jamie,” he said at a gas stop now long past. It was as if a huge weight

had lifted from him and he no longer lived to die.

“This is it,” Joe said through the back window as I was catching rays, “Auburn University.”

I re-engaged reality as familiar roads informed my present. The truck was stationary. I jumped to the ground and walked forward. There was gunfire on campus grounds, and smoke clouds rising, and men killing men.

I heard the truck door slam behind me and Joe say, “You’re going to need this.” He had a rifle in one hand and a box of ammunition in another. He approached my left side, handed me the munitions, and placed a hand on my shoulder. “You gonna invite me along or do I have to beg?”

“I’ll drive,” I said. Quickly we entered the vehicle and charged onto Auburn University campus proper. The vehicle was nothing, disposable, and I treated it as such. I knew exactly where Jamie Dobson would be.

Before the collapse, MIT ventured into a joint operation with Auburn

Universities’ agriculture department to explore the possibility of colonizing the moon. Five robots were the result. I was number five. Upon seeing Auburn University

the memories became salient, racking me, initiating a sub-routine Tom had programmed so tediously.

I found the building I was looking for. The once strong steel doors were flailing in the wind. “Ready?” I asked Joe.

He was sublime. At peace. Armed. “Let’s go,” he said.

I ran my processors hard. I calculated every move with precision and care.

Quickly. I led.

I entered the building, Joe straight behind, and was flooded with darkness. I shifted to partial night-vision. Joe used me to guide himself in the darkness.

“There are men three floors above,” I said. “They’re hostile.” I was running at the highest sensitivity level possible, touching walls, measuring acute vibrations and integrating the information.

I ran a sub-routine called stealth, limiting my decibel level, admonishing Joe to attempt the same. We climbed the stairs. On landing three I motioned for silence using universally understood pantomime to countdown our attack.

I slammed into the door. It shattered. I was in. The men didn’t expect us. They were drunk in celebration of their victory. This was Jamie’s apartment. Jamie lay, motionless, on a bed near the door. I engaged the men.

Three men stood shocked, weapons close but not ready. I took out the first while Joe shot at another, missing. I took out the second while Joe hit his first on his second try. As I was cocking my weapon a man came bounding out of the bathroom with an automatic, spraying us. Joe went down as I shot the man dead. It was quick by any absolute standard but for me took forever.

I reduced my processor load slowing to a semblance of real-time. Joe was dead at my feat. I crouched down and gently closed his eyes. His grizzled face looked content. I tried to cry but Robots don’t cry. I couldn’t wallow, or pretend to wallow, I had to fix Jamie.

There she was, on the bed, a bloody sheet wrapped around her body. I stooped at her side. Her eyes were open.

“Number Five,” she said, grimacing. “Am I dreaming? Am I dead?”

“No,” I said. “You’re not dreaming. You’re not dead.”

She was in pain. “I’m afraid you’re too late to save me,” she said. “Is Tom here?”

“No,” I said. “He’s been gone awhile.”

She closed her eyes as her body convulsed. She gasped in pain. “Then it’s going to have to be you Number Five.”

I used my tools to start cutting the sheet off of her. “What will have to be me?” I asked. The blood had coagulated to the sheet. If I removed it she would bleed freely. She was already faint.

“Seventy-three, twenty-one, sixteen, forty-two,” she said. She was fading fast. “Right three, Left two, Right four, Left one.”

“Close your eyes,” I said. But her eyes were already closed.

Jamie smiled, “Tom sent you. She belongs to Tom.”

I peeled the sheet off of what I determined to be a knife wound and cauterized it the best I could. She moaned weakly. I sewed her wounds shut. She slept. I was too late. I tried to cry. I wanted to cry. Robots never cry. I arranged her in a dignified manner, setting Joe beside her, and covered them with a sheet.

Joe’s hand fell from the bed. He was gripping his cross when he died. I repositioned him. I searched the apartment for a flammable substance. I was going to dispose of the bodies with finality.

As I walked past the bathroom I observed a large vault built into the structure of the building. It had burn marks and other superficial scars on its surface, as if the raiders had been working to get into it. There was something valuable inside, so valuable that Jamie kept the combination secret even while tortured to death. I knew the combination.

I spun the wheel Right three revolutions to seventy-three, left two

revolutions to twenty-one, right four revolutions to sixteen, and left one revolution to forty-two. It clicked and I cranked the shaft.

The door swung open and a soft voice cried out, “Mommy, can I come out now?”

I extended my hand and said, “I am Number Five, come with me.”

A nine-year old girl slowly appeared from the shadows of the vault. She wore a gown and clutched a stuffed bear. Her face was stained with tears. She took my hand, threw herself against me, and hugged. I wrapped my arms around her and I cried.

About the Author

George Edwards

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George owns a smartphone repair shop in Tipton, Indiana and says he earns working capital by writing papers for college students. He’s an anarcho-capitalist in the tradition of economist Murray Rothbard, who’s known for playing a key role in developing the underpinnings of modern libertarianism. George’s influences include Orwell, Rand and Huxley. He’s also a former political blogger, but decided that illustrating tyranny through fiction is more his style.

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About the Narrator

Pete Milan

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Pete Milan is a writer and voice actor. He has recorded several audiobooks and has worked extensively with Pendant Productions on their audio dramas. For more information, visit his website or follow him on Twitter.

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About the Artist

Barry J. Northern

Barry is a game developer based in Bournemouth, England making freemium games for clients such LEGO and the BBC. His latest game is breaking all records on iOS, not surprising with a title like L”. It’s for younger kids, but if you fancy blasting alien brains check out LEGO Hero Factory Brain Attack.

All this game developing has meant that Barry hasn’t been as active in the podcasting and fiction world as he used to be. He still does the occasional narration for other shows, such as The Drabblecast, and appears on Cast of Wonders from time to time.

Find more by Barry J. Northern