Thursday, February 13, 2020

2/13/20

The Old Robot
By Daniel Purcell


They were seemingly the only Brits – though it wasn’t called Britain anymore - in the hotel. The hotel was a vast, metallic monolith, and their room seemed several miles high. They did not speak to anyone on the way to their room. A great, grey obelisk stood in the courtyard far below, overlooking the ocean. The rain streamed off it and the bronzed engravings of the fallen soldiers glistened. Marble benches surrounded it in a semi-circle, tables accompanying them, but it was otherwise bereft of cars or people.

The British wife looked out the window, forlorn. The tall augmented windows offered an artificial projection of the world outside: pollution-less skies, a paradise of normal climes, stylish people roaming about and old-fashioned cars. Instead, she deactivated it and ‘pinched’ the glass, zooming in on the courtyard below. Beneath one of the dripping benches was an old robot the size of a toddler – of the variety just before the android era, though uncannily human in appearance. It hunched itself and cowered, so as not to be dripped on.

“I’m going down to get that robot,” the British wife said.

Her husband lay on the undulating bed, spectacles illuminating as he scanned through his socials and current projects. “Don’t worry, dear, I’ll do it.”

“No, I’ll fetch it. The poor wee thing is trying to keep out the rain.”

“Be careful you don’t catch your death. It’s raining cats and dogs out there apparently,” her husband offered, unmoving.

She zipped downstairs in the elevator and at the front desk the concierge simulant stood up to greet her warmly. She had to pass the front desk to get to the entrance. This version was perhaps middle-aged, and she liked the dignity and attentiveness in this model.

“Good afternoon,” he said. “Not a day for venturing outside.”

“Aye, but I just need to do something.”

With gusto, she opened the main door of the entrance and looked out. It was raining heavier now. The robot was a good twenty yards away, diagonally to her left. As she stood in the doorway, there was a great fluttering behind and an umbrella was lofted over her. It was the maid that had tended to their room earlier.

“Please,” said the Hispanic maid simulant. “No get wet, very very bad weather.”

Outside, the polluted air was palpable. With the maid holding the umbrella over her, they went out under the thunderous rain and inspected under the marble bench. Water had pooled around it, but underneath the robot was gone. She suddenly felt deflated. The maid looked at her, brow furrowed.

“Sorry, there was an old robot there,” said the British wife. “I definitely saw it.”

“Viejo robot?” the maid giggled. “Out here in rain.”

“Si, under this table,” she said. Then, “Oh, I wanted it so badly. It looked so helpless and it reminded me of another time.”

The maid looked perplexed but ushered the British wife back towards the hotel. “Come on, we need to get back inside. No good out here.”

When they reached the entrance, she went ahead of the maid. The hotel concierge bowed as she passed the desk, but she could scarcely muster a response. She was dejected and even felt foolish to be returning empty-handed. Nonetheless, she went back up to their room. William was still on the bed as if nothing had happened.

“Find what you were looking for?” he asked, taking his spectacles off.

“No, it wasn’t there.”

“Maybe someone took it away to throw in the bin,” he said, massaging his eyes.

“I’m just so sad now,” she said. “It’s not nice for it to be sat out there, getting all wet and malfunctioning. It looked so lost and in need. I don’t know why I even care.”

She went over to the window and the image of the humanoid robot, so small and innocent was indelible in her mind. They had had problems trying to conceive in the past. She felt a lump in the back of her throat and hastened to change her thoughts. She reconfigured the window to ‘mirror mode’ and studied herself.

“It was just an old robot,” William said. “Things are better now. Don’t get upset, please.”

“Do you think I’m still pretty?”

“Of course I do.”

“I was thinking perhaps I should change my face…maybe my shape, upgrade. I don’t know, I like the way I used to be. I just want to change something, you know?”

“Aye.”

“Oh, I just miss how things used to be. I miss antique games and toys and clean air. I really wish I could’ve saved that robot and brought it in.”

“Shut up and sync in like everyone else. You’re just acting silly now.”

His wife went back to the window and changed the view to the outside - the real outside. She muttered about being bored and hating ‘syncing in.’ William did not listen to her.

Someone knocked on the door.

“Probably that maid again,” he said.

It was. The maid stood in the doorway and just from the shadow behind her emerged the old, little robot. It buzzed and smiled and teetered towards the British wife – who knelt and welcomed it into her bosom, her mood suddenly elevated.

“Sorry to disturb,” the maid said. “The concierge asks to bring here.”


- - -
Daniel Purcell lives with his partner in Glasgow, Scotland. He studied English at the University of Liverpool and has traveled extensively around the world. When he’s not traveling, he enjoys writing and reading mainly horror and science fiction.

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