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By Solfly All Rights Reserved ©

Scifi / Scifi


A robot stands at a window. It’s wide, circular; glassy form stretching across a wall otherwise made of steel.

Steel is delicate. The robot could break it if it tried.

The robot has no reason to try. The robot has no thoughts to drive it. It works for its city—Complex Sigma-4. It works for nothing but its city. It’s a machine, hardwired for efficiency, able to learn and absorb knowledge, to retain in its unfailing memory everything it sees and hears. As long as these things have meaning. Purpose.

The robot will not remember standing here, staring out of a glass circle elevated hundreds of feet above a dead society of other robots like it. A dead society, knowing only to keep going and nothing more. How pointle—

A red glow washes over its vision, bouncing off the surface of glass before it. The robot bursts to artificial life. There’s a disturbance—and internal disturbance. An anomaly with the potential to hinder the robot’s performance. It knows immediately to exterminate it, and at once every system within the robot sets against the disturbance. They all work together with a fluency and synergy that would surprise a being capable of being surprised.

The robot is not capable of such emotion. The robot is purely circuits and cogs and gears and a complex steel alloy. The robot is not alive. The robot is not alive. The robot is not alive. THE ROBOT IS NOT ALIVE.

The robot moves, legs maybe creaking as they are disturbed from non-motion. More systems activate and rush to lubricate the gears and steely rods that act as bones and joints. Reluctantly the original systems working in the robot’s head to terminate the first disturbance refuse to abandon their posts—vainly the microscopic nanobots eject neurotoxins everywhere they can find space, and they don’t work yet.

They need time. They don’t have it.

Across the room, the room of stainless steel walls and floors and shelves and drawers, there is a vat of water, recently filled for the purpose of assisting the robot in its steady work on phase-transition manipulation. The most optimistic results of such work could help a dead, cold society become even more dead and cold—

Pain. The robot feels pain. Blades stab somewhere between its dead seeing eyes.

The robot is not alive.

The robot is not alive.

Its body decided the pain is a glitch. More toxins are dumped in its head. The systems will fix all glitches.

Despite this, the robot continues to walk towards the vat of still, clear water. As if given a direct order by a more powerful machine, it moves with urgency, efficiency. It does not hesitate to step into the water, to ignore every part of its AI urging it to leave. It’s driven by pure akrasia.

Something within the robot is fighting the systems. Alive, something alive.

The water is lapping at the robot’s chest. It reaches where a heart might be.

There is no heart.

The robot is not alive.

With its dead seeing eyes, the robot searches the shelves built into walls elevated above the water’s surface. There are few, lined with small machines that may have sat unused for months, maybe years. But they have no concept of time.

The robot needs one, a machine. Seeing a small, black box-shaped piece of metal, the robot strides toward it quickly. It must be done quickly—the glitch has not yet been fixed. But it will be. There is pain in the robot’s head.

The robot reaches the box. It’s very old, half-broken. Miraculous it hasn’t yet been disposed of. On contact, the box turns itself on, suddenly sparking with electric power. Hot, burning. Pain again, this time in the robot’s hands.

The robot turns away from the shelf. Faces the water, feels it against its unfeeling body. Drops the box.

At once, all feeling is lost. The pain has evaporated, replaced with the harsh tug of agony on frayed nerves under frayed flesh. Arcs of white lance across a glassy, watery surface—it was clear and colorless once. Now it is black. Blue. Yellow. It was changing—changing! The robot sees it and it’s beautiful! All the time spent unseeing, these human eyes can make up for what was missed. A mind, decades drowned in toxins it has learned to resist, can feel again, see again, know again.

Inside its chest, level with the water and the veins of crackling white—no, black; no, blue—painful light, a heart begins to beat again. Weak and frail as it once was, as everything once was.

The robot is alive. The robot was always alive.

No, not robot. Man. Human.

The human opens his fragile mouth to scream something, anything, the first spoken words for decades. Then the lights subside. The agony fades, then intensifies, then it’s gone.

The systems have fixed the glitch. The neurotoxins were finally enough to kill the remaining brain cells. The heart is now still. It will forever be still.

The robot removes itself from the vat, along with the burnt-out box that will soon be destroyed. Its artificial mind sorts through what the eyes have seen, what the ears have heard. It goes to work.

The robot will not remember these things. No one—nothing will.

On unsteady legs, the robot returns itself to its post by the wide and circular window. Sees things, doesn’t process them.

The robot is not alive.

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