“I want everything in this room in the trash,” Ekon says, waving his hand in no particular direction, his yellowed, sharpened mails catching Imani’s attention.
“Yes. High Speaker Noku,” Imani says, bowing her head. Calling him by his title feels strange to her.
“I told you, don’t call me that. My name is High Speaker Ekon.”
Imani nods once. Her hands folded before her, finding it hard to believe Khalia Noku had died less than seven days ago, yet Ekon is already claiming her room as his office space. His rush to claim his mother’s bedroom feels inappropriate. She thinks these things, but does not speak them aloud. These thoughts are nothing more than malfunctions of a bot in need of an update she figures.
Adjusting her papery dress, Imani does not make eye contact with Ekon. She looks down at her bare feet, counting her toes. Her heart rate slows, now that she has somewhere to focus her attention. In her peripheral, she catches glimpse of Elon moving about the room collecting things.
Normally, Ekon dresses in regular attire, thin shirts and pants. Since his mother’s death, he wears tops with jewels lining the collars and sleeves which are more fitting of his station. He has also picked up the habit of donning expensive onyx and gold rings.
Imani glances at Tau who waits beside the bedroom door, face blank as night. He is as tall as Ekon and muscular. The shirt he wears highlights the cuts of his muscles. His shoulders sit high, and his arms are long. He is also made in the image of a humanoid, but his features are chiseled. The orange moon reflects off his bald head, setting it on fire.
When Ekon leaves, the two bots tidy the room. Khalia maintained a relatively neat space, until she grew ill. During the last few months of her life, her room had become slightly disorganized. She preferred cleaning herself and would allow the bots to do only so much. She told Imani that work made people live longer. Being unable to do much other than sleep, Khalia concluded her time was near an end.
“Do you miss her? Speaker Noku?” Imani says abruptly.
Tau tilts his head, eyebrows raised. “She is just ‘Khalia Noku’ now,” he says, correcting her. “Why would I miss her?”
“I don’t know. I mean, look how long you knew her. You don’t feel anything?”
“Bots do not feel or think, not in a literal sense. We compute. Khalia is no longer part of the computation. Your feelings are malfunctions. You may be in need of an update.”
Imani had been updated just two days earlier. The effects of the pills seem to grow weaker with each dose so that the two Imanis, the one who exists under the influence of updates and the one who exists outside of them, are closer to becoming one. Even under the influence of updates, she can almost break out of the dullness into the reality of freewill.
“I don’t need an update,” she says unconvincingly. “I was just wondering. Why do you believe we are made in the image of humanoids instead of the reptilians we serve?”
Tau tosses some trash into the bin outside the door. “I have no beliefs. We are what we are made to be. Nothing more, nothing less.”
Imani takes the pictures off the wall. They leave behind bleached white spots in their wake. It will take forever to wash the walls, but she and Tau will have to or they will answer to Ekon. She has lived with reptilians all her life, but Ekon with his sharpened teeth strikes fear in her. She wants Khalia back.
Khalia knew the limitations of bots, but Imani had sensed a difference in how the woman interacted with her versus how others did. Most treat Imani as Ekon does, as property who they issue out commands to. Contrarily, Khalia encouraged Imani to converse with her like they were equals.
Imani thinks back to Stella and the eye contact they had shared. Any sane person would classify what Imani thought she had felt as a malfunction. It was an odd feeling, if it was a feeling at all.
“What is disturbing your functions?” Tau says, breaking into her daydream.
Imani realizes she is standing near the window, looking out but seeing nothing other than what is in her head. She smiles politely and assures Tau that her functions are fine. He nods reluctantly.
“The funeral was informing. Who knew there were some many species in the galaxy?” says Imani.
He nods. “There a hundreds of thousands of different species. Many of them are not intelligent, though.”
“I would like to travel the galaxy one day and see the many worlds.”
“We are bound to service on Yabisi. And it would take more than a day to travel galaxy.”
“I’m sure it would,” Imani sighs while staring out the window.
It is a busy day in the capital. Since Khalia’s death, many changes have been made. Some even spread rumors of a coming curfew. Imani has not heard Ekon speak of anything like that, but he has not been home much as of late. He could be plotting anything. She imagines he has been having private or secret meetings at some undisclosed location. It is not her business, so does not dwell on it.
After taking the pillows from the bed, Imani peels the sheets back. They are made of coarse material resilient enough to withstand the rough texture of reptilian scales. As she tosses the sheets into a hamper, she notices a brown booklet on the bed. She picks it up and looks inside. The pages are inked in Khalia’s writing.
“What is that?” asks Tau, wiping his hands on a towel.
The part of her that had been updated just two days ago screams to reveal what she has found. The other side of her, the side in control, pushes away the updated half. She folds the booklet in two and says, “Trash.”
Tau turns his back without a second thought, going back to cleaning. Imani’s updated half wails like siren at the blatant lie which has passed between their lips. Imani ignores her inner protestor until the voice is doused in silence. Her shoulders sit a bit higher.