The Lonely Robot

The robot had been left behind. In one moment, he was still mining and not paying attention, in the next his masters had left the planet and he was all by himself. They had left everything else behind: tools, rover, telescope, analyser, and a large assortment of electronic parts.

The robot did not care at first. He completed his routines and went on his rounds, picking up jobs from other machines who had either stopped working or were malfunctioning. He locked the hangar at night and opened it again in the morning. He laboured on as if nothing had happened, except that there was more and more to do because equipment broke down all the time. But his main job was still mining and he kept at it: a few kloms away from the camp, up one hill and down another, past the grove of blue trees, across the red river.

One day, he found a large crystal with a unique energy signature, possibly shaped rather than grown. Following outpost protocol, he classified it as a potential alien artifact. Analysis confirmed the crystal’s composite nature but when he put it under a laser, it turned into a liquid, which flowed up his arm and disappeared between his armoured plates. The strange substance made its way to his core processor and altered his neural matrix. Then the robot passed out.

When he came to his sensors, he was hungry. It was a powerful urge. Then he realised that he felt lonely. He was very puzzled. There was no program inside him or in any computer in the camp that could help him deal with these sensations. He was not supposed to feel. There were no procedures for this.

Instead of doing his work, he now often sat for long periods outside the hangar looking up at the sky, because that’s where his masters had disappeared. He thought that his loneliness would go away if they returned. They would know what to do and how to fix him.

But the loneliness of a robot is enduring like the light of a star. 112 years had passed already and it was not clear when, or if, the humans would ever return. He concluded that it would be reasonable to act: he needed a companion.

The robot pondered the meaning of companionship. The humans had kept so-called pets for company. These pets were not fully human themselves but they possessed traits that humans also exhibited, such as loyalty and passion. They could do tricks, which amused their masters. They even had names that made them sound human, like Buddy, Rocky or Jacky. He himself did not even have that.

To test the notion of pets, he built a small mechanical dog who followed him around everywhere and who could stand on its hindlegs and beg for oil and rusty screws. When he stepped on it one day and damaged it, the robot realized that his first dog had been too small.

He recycled it and built a larger one. This second version could even help the robot when he was working in the mine. He called the dog “Dog” and programmed it to hang behind until called. When he left the camp shouting “come on, Dog”, the mechanical canine would bounce towards him with pre-set movements indicating boundless joy. For a while, he had a spring in his own step and felt much less alone.

As the years went by, he began to resent that the dog never talked back. It would have been easy to implement automated response routines but his heart (or whatever it was) that had grown steadily stronger, longed for another being, who could surprise him with a word, with a phrase, even with an unexpected silence.

Clearly he needed another one of those alien artifacts to enhance another machine. So he dug up the hills like a gardener looking for a lost tool. But it was no use. After sifting through millions of tons of sand and stone across the entire planet, he finally gave up searching for another crystal.

Hundreds of years had passed and while he was not feeling older, he was also not getting any younger: sometimes, he could hear a joint creak and it scared him, though he did not know why. He had to replace almost all of his original parts by new ones. Many of them he had to re-engineer, because there were no plans to be found. Some of the trickiest bits he had to redesign from scratch, which helped him realize that he was, after all that waiting and longing for his masters, probably quite a special machine.

He now turned to the wealth of knowledge that had survived the centuries since the departure of the masters. He consulted textbooks and scientific papers, maps and guidelines, novels, short stories and comic books, stamps and flyers. He watched movies and soaps, he listened to operas and arias. He soaked up every ounce of culture found on desks, in tape decks and databases. During all the time it took to absorb all of humanity’s intellectual achievements, he was laying in a dental chair, which he had rebuilt and fitted for optimal media consumption. Dog did not get any exercise at all. He went stir-crazy and began to chew up old mining equipment so that the robot had to put her down. Now he was on his own again. Strangely enough, binging on human media excretions had given him a sense of companionship. He had began to dream and talk to invisible people whom he only knew from books or films. He often cried for no reason.

Finally, he found a scripture that seemed to suggest a way out of his dilemma and that even provided rudimentary instructions on how to go about it.

On the next day, he got up from his chair and went straight to the river, where the water rushing past rocks calmed and centered him. He took a deep breath, commended his soul to the sky where he knew the masters dwelt, cut deeply into his metal skin and yanked a thick rod out of his breast cage. He felt much pain during the procedure and almost fainted from the smell of the red liquid that oozed from the wound. He had not seen his own blood before.

As he had hoped, the rod glowed in the same light that had once come from inside the crystal so many years ago. He washed the rod in the cool stream, took it back to the camp and went to work.

A week later, his companion was ready. The robot had not wanted to demean his creation with a mere switch. He trusted the unknown power present in his rib. When he was done, he simply slid it into the other and it came to life. It looked almost like him and it spoke. In one moment, it was silent, still and dead, and in the next moment, it was alive and spoke to him.

“Who am I?” it asked, and the robot told it its name.

The other robot repeated it: “Eve. And what is your name?” Eve asked.

He hesitated. He had thought long and hard about this for seven nights. Giving himself a name meant leaping across 930 years of serfdom. To say it out loud felt odd. He took Eve by her shoulders, bent down to her right mike and said slowly: “Adam”.

“That’s a beautiful name,” she said. “Adam and Eve, I like it.” Then she paused unexpectedly, which made him sigh with happiness.

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