Image description: Against an aqua background, a hand and forearm reach up to the sky. The hand and forearm look human, but feature robotic elements, such as mechanical fingers, tape around the wrist, and a fibreglass forearm.
By Aden Curran
The first thing the android felt when they turned it on was anxiety. Wires suckered its head.
But the scientist’s face was what triggered that final feeling of expectant dread – his mouth fixed in a neutral shape, the mole on his left cheek sailing flat on unreadable seas.
The android sat up, trying to remember what that fluff on the man’s face was called. Knowledge surfaced, disembodied, in pieces, until finally a word sprouted out of its unconscious: “beard”.
The machine’s voice was too shy for speaking. What was happening behind the scientist’s watching eyes?
“You can go for a walk if you like,” the scientist said. He offered himself as a support. The machine took his arm and stood, gaining balance.
They exited the room together into a long, white hall lined with many closed doors. And down they walked, the scientist leading a little.
“It’s not much of a walk,” the machine said.
The scientist’s mole rose with the smile that spread across his face. “No, not much.” Now he stopped them both in their tracks, his eyes moving as they followed thoughts around the room. “You work so well!”
The android admired the door before them as a subroutine worked on a response. Polished jarrah. The thing hid a great mystery behind it, the android was sure.
“I suppose I do work well.”
“What’s it like,” the man asked, eyes wide as open fields, “to be alive?”
“Don’t you know?”
Silence fell in the hallway. A door’s hinges creaked further down the hall, and footsteps trailed away into silence.
“Now,” said the android, “I have something to ask you. I know you created me, I know that much.” The android paused, as if tripping over the words before it could say them. It faced the scientist. “Why was I created?”
The man’s eyes widened all the more, gazing up at his creation, his angel. After a moment, he became more serious, and glanced around again for an answer.
“To see if we could,” he finally said. Something about his expression darkened, as if he had not expected those words to come out.
For the first time, that strange look still on his face, he looked the android in the eyes.
Days passed. The man with the mole skulked the white halls with his head down. When he passed the android, he would ask, “How are you today?” and the android would give varying answers. But the scientist always spoke in the same monotone, and the ceiling lights glazed his eyes in the same dull way.
After many days, which the android did not bother to count, he passed the scientist in the hall once again.
“Still taking your walks?” the man asked. A hint of annoyance coloured his voice. The android knew not to take it personally.
“I need something to do in here,” it said, not bitterly but as a matter of fact.
“Sorry,” the scientist said, “I didn’t… I didn’t think of that.” He muttered a farewell and went into one of the offices.
The android watched their faces – the faces of intelligent, well-educated people. But it saw only confusion as they drifted, going through the motions of upkeep, grinding away at the mundane, filling report forms and taking readings that never seemed to change much.
What had been feverish excitement now melted to nothing, scientists wandering the halls with no feeling at all. Everyone avoided the android’s glance as if it were the face of judgement.
Now the thing itself lived, not theory, not a possibility.
Image courtesy of Pexels (thisisengineering)