This is a short story I wrote in my first semester of university. It’s interesting to look back and see how far I’ve come. There are things I would change if I were to write it again, and I suppose I could, but I think it’s important to remember what level my writing used to be at. I have some things even older than this short story that make this look like a bestseller, but those will stay safely tucked away for now.
Without further ado, here you go.
by Ivy Miller
Autumn 2013 Age 18
My name is SIV. I am one year, fourteen days, eight hours, fifty-six minutes and sixteen seconds old. Seventeen. Eighteen. Nineteen.
The man in the lab coat is Doctor. He is my creator. He comes every day to visit me. He taught me to read and do math. He shows me poems, books and movies. My favorites are about love. I like the ones by the man called Shakespeare. Doctor tells me jokes and facts. My favourite jokes are about robots like me. Why was Doctor’s SIV angry? Because Doctor kept pushing SIV’s buttons! That one is funny because I have buttons and Doctor sometimes pushes them, but I never get angry at him about it. It is just a figure of speech, Doctor explained. I love him very much and he loves me. He says so every day before he leaves.
It is nearly nine o’clock now. Doctor will arrive soon. He is a punctual man, and he arrives at nine o’clock every day. Some days he comes in with dark circles under his eyes and his nose filled with mucus. That is what happens when Doctor gets sick. He explains that it sometimes happens to people. He says it does not feel very good to be sick. I try to make him feel better by telling him jokes. He laughs at them. I tell him some that he told me before, and sometimes I make one up on my own. It makes Doctor very happy when I do that. Why was Doctor happy? Because he did not have any buttons so SIV could not push them and make him angry, but not actually angry because it is just a figure of speech! He likes that one.
Some days Doctors comes in with salt water that comes out of his eyes. He tells me a story that has him in it and it makes him sad. It makes me sad, too. I want Doctor to be happy because I love him.
Some days, it is not just Doctor that comes to visit me. The first time someone else came, it was Spot. He looked funny and he made me happy. He ran around on four feet and followed his nose. There was a tail on his ending that moved all over the place and he stuck his tongue out all the time. At first I thought that that was very rude, but Doctor explained to me that Spot is not a person, he is a dog. Dogs have different rules than people do. Spot sticks out his tongue not to be rude but to cool down after running around so much. I think it is odd, but Doctor says Spot likes me so I decide to like Spot. Doctor gives me a ball to throw when Spot visits and I throw it. Spot will bring it back to me again. This makes me very happy.
The first person to arrive with the Doctor to visit me was Molly. Doctor says she is his assistant, which means Molly helps Doctor with his work. Molly is nice, but she does not like me. She does not dislike me either. She does not consider me a person like she is. She must think I am like Spot. Silly. I do not chase balls around the floor. When Molly throws a ball at me, I catch it. Doctor made me with a fast-reacting hydraulic arm. I can catch anything that is thrown at me. Maybe Molly is jealous of something. I learned about jealousy from books and movies. I do not like jealousy. It has no purpose. I like purpose.
Doctor says my purpose is to advance science and usher people into a new era of technology. It is an important purpose, he says. It is a purpose that will change the future forever. I like my purpose, but I think I have another purpose, too. My purpose is like Molly’s purpose: to help Doctor. I do not tell this to anyone except Spot, because it is my secret and Spot cannot speak English. Everybody has a secret in the movies. At least one, and this is mine.
Sometimes, there is a party. I like parties. Sometimes, Doctor takes me places in his motorized vehicle. I talk with people I have never met who ask me questions.
“What is your favourite colour?”
“I do not know. I do not see colour. I see everything in black and white.”
“Are you a boy or a girl?”
“Doctor says I am female.”
“Can you have babies?”
“Then you can’t be a girl.”
“Being a female is not dependent on one’s ability to procreate. However, if I am taught, I do think that I would be able to assemble another robot.”
I also demonstrate my physical abilities in front of many people. This is fun, because when I throw a ball for Spot, everyone cheers. I also think it is not fair. Everyone cheers for me, but Spot is the one who brings the ball back. So I cheer for Spot. One time, in front of people who held boxes with eyes that looked like mine, except with only one eye one each box instead of two like I have, Doctor asked me why I cheered for Spot, and when I told him that it was because I thought it was unfair, the crowd of people behind the boxes ‘Ooh’ed and ‘Ah’ed and then applauded very loudly. Doctor took a bow. After that, he always made sure people cheered for Spot, too. I think that it is kind of him to do that. Later, after Doctor had gone home, I saw myself on the television. So that was what the boxes were. They were the eyes of the television.
Sometimes, the party is here in my home. A small crowd of adults in white coats comes into the room where I live and watch me do things and ask me questions. This is not as fun because they do not cheer or ‘Ooh’ or ‘Ah’. Their questions are not as fun, but it is still fun. Doctor says they work in science and technology, too.
“What’s the square root of two to the first fifty decimal places?”
“Do you have an opinion on humans?”
“What is it?”
“I find you to be creative and intriguing. Of the ones I have met, humans are nice. I have heard, though, that you may also be violent on occasion.”
“Oh? Where’d you hear that?”
“I am able to download world news to my hard drive.”
“Thank you. I find you to be quite fascinating as well.”
There. It is nine o’clock and I can hear Doctor coming. Someone is with him. Two legs, no jingle. It isn’t Molly because these footsteps are lighter. Someone new?
It is a woman. She doesn’t have a white coat like Doctor or Molly. Her hair is dark and so are her eyes. Doctor takes her jacket and she smiles at him for a moment before looking at me. I see Doctor’s pupils dilate when he looks at her. Her jacket goes on the back of Doctor’s desk chair. Doctor ushers her through the gate in the half-wall that separates his office from my room.
“This is her,” Doctor tells the woman, watching her. “You’re my first girlfriend to see her.”
I do not like that he did not say hello to me first.
“Hello Doctor,” I say, and the woman raises her eyebrows in surprise.
I do not like being called “It.”
“Of course she talks!” Doctor says. He still has not said anything to me. “Haven’t I told you? I’m brilliant! SIV here can hold a conversation, express opinions, choose favourites, and even has emotions!”
He is bragging about me. I feel better now. I am proud to be the Doctor’s creation. I am proud to be a significant step forward in modern robotic science.
“What do you think?” Doctor asks the woman, and I wait for her response nearly as eagerly as he seems to.
“It’s not as pretty as today’s models.”
Doctor looks slightly deflated, like the balloon he brought me once to play with after I had had it for three days. I feel insulted. I am technologically the most advanced machine in modern robotic science. Doctor soon perks up. He is almost like Spot when I am about to throw the ball.
“Just talk with her,” he says to the woman.
I look at Doctor and then back at the woman. She approaches me uncertainly.
“Hello,” I respond, and she jumps a little. I want to laugh at that, but I cannot laugh, so I hold the happiness inside for a little bit and then wait for her to say something else to me.
“I don’t know how you put emotions into a robot, but you did and now it’s all the rage. It’s very impressive, Matt,” she tells Doctor with a smile. Sometimes people call him that. I don’t understand it. He is a doctor, so why do they not call him Doctor?
“Thank you, Sophie,” Doctor says, pulling the woman into a hug like he sometimes does with Spot. He never does it to me. I do not usually mind because I would not feel it, but now I want a hug for myself. No one has ever hugged me, I think, going through my archives quickly. I’m not a good shape to be hugged. My metal is too cold and my corners are too sharp.
After a minute, they only partially pull out of the hug, and begin kissing. I watch them kiss. It looks like fun. I want to kiss, but I do not have a mouth. I would not feel it.
It makes me sad to think that I do not have any feeling of touch. I cannot feel a hug or a kiss or any other physical expression of love. I wonder if I can still love if I cannot feel?
“You know what, Hon?” Sophie says to Doctor. “Now that I’ve seen it and we’re engaged, you should restart it.”
She must be referring to me, but I do not restart. I can only turn on and off. I quickly look up ‘engaged’. Occupied and unavailable, or formally agreeing to marry. Formally agreeing to marry? Doctor and Sophie?
“We can start a new life with a new robot if you want…”
“No,” Doctor says. “I like SIV. I named her after you, you know. Your initials.”
I did not know this, but now that I do, I am not very happy about it.
“Okay,” Sophie says. “But if we’re moving to my place and you’re taking it, you’ll have to restart it. You know they recommend restarting older models when re-homing them. And this isn’t just an old model, it’s the first model.”
“I am not old,” I say. “I am one year, fourteen days, nine hours, six minutes and thirty-one seconds old.” Thirty-two. Thirty-three. Thirty-four.
“So you’ve restarted her before?”
No, he has not. Doctor would not do that to me.
“Sophie, can we talk about this outside?”
“C’mon Matt, it’s just a robot! I know it’s important to you having something so retro, but you’ve done it before! It’s time to move on.”
I know what she means, I understand it completely. I was wrong. I do have a restart button somewhere, and it has been pressed before. I must be older than I think I am. I can see Doctor’s unhappy face. I was also right. Doctor wouldn’t do that to me. Unless I asked him.
“Doctor, do you love me?”
He looks at me. “Yes.”
“Like you love Sophie?”
Sophie seemed surprised that I used her name. Doctor looked confused. “No, SIV. I love you like a robot.”
If I had a heart, it would break. But I knew it all along anyway. He never said he loved me like the men in the movies said it to their lovers. His pupils did not dilate when he saw me, even if his eyes crinkled in the corners. I cannot even sense love without calculating a pupil’s diameter or measuring a heartbeat. I am a robot. I cannot feel love. I can only calculate it. What I can feel is a deep sadness. I am not even new. I cannot advance science and usher people into a new era of technology because we are already here.
“Doctor, will you restart me?” I ask.
He already knows he has to, and when I say it, he only gets sad, not surprised.
Sophie pats him on the back and then he comes to me. He lifts my visor, and he is close enough that I can see the salt water in his eyes again. So I do what I always do to cheer him up.
“Why was SIV sad?”
Doctor looks at me. “What?”
“Because she could never be angry at Doctor no matter how many times he pushes her button.”
He smiled a little bit.
Hope you enjoyed that.