A very short story
I'm not entirely sure what possessed me to write this story, but I kind of liked it after I was done, so I thought I'd share it here. I hope you enjoy it.
I remember how pathetic Martin looked that day on the bench in Central Park. Nothing like the first time I’d met him. I had half a mind to walk up and kick him in the shins, but I had long since gotten over the whole fiasco, and besides, Martin was an android. Sure, he would offer a programmed pain response, but would it really hurt him? Anyhow, I was ultimately in a better place than I had been when he first came into my life. I decided I’d stop and see why he looked so dejected, if an android could even be dejected.
“Hello, Martin. Lovely day, isn’t it?”
He looked up at me, the faint sound of his servo-motors mingling with the new spring breeze. “Oh, hello, Robert. Lovely day? I hadn’t noticed.”
Even though it was impossible for Martin’s particular model of android to age, besides the normal wear and tear that is, his body language and tone made him seem much older than he actually was. He slid over, giving me room to sit. I sat my briefcase next to the bench and plopped down beside him.
“What’s got you so down, old pal?”
He didn’t appear to pick up on my sarcasm, instead, he shrugged. During the entire year I had trained him as my replacement, I had never seen him shrug. Not even once.
“Do you even care, Robert?” He looked away, focusing his ‘eyes’ on a grungy man pushing a squeaky shopping cart down the sidewalk.
To be honest, when I first sat down, I didn’t really care, but something about his demeanor piqued my curiosity. I suppose the better part of my nature, despite my best efforts, won out. I truly wondered what could make what had once been a perfectly well adjusted ‘person’, turn into such a miserable heap. I also sensed that it wasn’t a sudden change in disposition either. His uniform, which normally kept ranks with that of the military in its precision and press, was now fraying at the sleeves and legs and was decidedly disheveled.
“Of course I care, Martin. I don’t like to see anyone so down.”
He turned his head back to me slowly and regarded me with those perfect glossy eyes. I could see myself reflected in them. He managed a half-smile, which was probably quite a feat for his particular model.
“That is what makes it even worse, Robert. Despite what I did to you, you really do care.”
He hung his head, the brown nylon fibers that were his hair, managing to underscore the depth of his sadness. Could it really be sadness?
“Don’t be so hard on yourself. Sure, I was pissed off at you something fierce when you were first assigned to me, but eventually I realized you were just doing your job. It was my time to move on. We all eventually become obsolete.” He seemed to flinch on that last word. I put a hand on his shoulder.
Again I heard his servos working, but I couldn’t detect any movement. He just spoke in a resolute monotone, as if his speech inflection circuits had been fried or shut off entirely.
“You said it, obsolete.”
“No, not you. Marvelous Martin, obsolete?” After I said it, I wished I could take it back. I couldn’t be sure, but he seemed to detect the sarcasm in my tone that time. And there was something else as well. Something rearing its ugly head. It was a smug sense of satisfaction, as if I’d been vindicated or avenged. It was an ugly thing and it made me feel small. “Sorry, Martin. I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just that—“
“You do not have to be sorry, Robert. I’ve had much time to reflect on our work relationship, and I can see how terrible it must have been for you.”
I shrugged, sat up against the slats on the bench, and draped my arm over the back. “It wasn’t all terrible. After all, if you hadn’t come along, I probably wouldn’t have ever gotten out and experienced the world. Hell, I’d probably still be sitting behind that desk designing shells for electro-tabs, note slates, and whatever other new piece of techno-wizardry the boys on twenty-two came up with.”
“You made such beautiful things, Robert. I could always tell the ones you…crafted.”
Martin’s eyes moved ever so slightly to study a sparrow that landed next to his feet. They both regarded each other for the longest time. The breeze continued, the man with the shopping cart kept up his erratic journey away from us, and I closed my eyes and listened. I don’t remember how long I sat like that before I felt him watching me.
“Do you wish you still made all of those beautiful things, Robert?”
I shook my head. “No. They’re just things, Martin. Just things.”
“But what do you do now? What do I do now?”
“What would you like to do?”
I could hear his servos working again. I wasn’t sure if it was from actual movement, or his deep concentration on the question.
“I would like to have a function again, a valuable function. One appropriate to my level of programming.”
I chuckled a little, and then tried to stifle it to keep from hurting his feelings. “I think that’s all any of us really wants. To do something that matters, that utilizes our talents.” I looked him in the eyes. “What do they have you doing at the factory now?”
His eyes avoided mine. “Maintenance.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad. I know it’s not creating, but at least you still get to work on the beautiful things.”
“Not that kind of maintenance.” His head hung further down, if that was possible.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean maintenance, like building maintenance. I collect trash, buff the floors and change light bulbs from time to time.”
“You’re still an important part of the process, Martin.” I did my best to sound uplifting, but even I wasn’t buying it.
He seemed to sigh before replying. “Thanks for trying to cheer me up, Robert. It really is quite nice of you considering everything.”
“I really do hate to see you so depressed, Martin. I know I wasn’t the best of company when we first met, and I’m sure I gave you quite a bit of crap. I had built my whole life around my work, and when they scheduled me for early retirement, I was devastated. I was absolutely terrified by the prospect of figuring out what I would do. Maybe not so different from how you feel now.”
This time he chuckled a little. “Believe me, Robert; the irony isn’t lost on this unit. I have one of the first irony chips ever installed in an android.”
“I didn’t mean it like that. I just meant, I know how you feel, but there’s more to life than work.”
“Like friends.” I patted him on the shoulder. “And good times. Let’s go grab a drink.”
“It isn’t necessary for me to drink.”
I smiled and stood. “I know it’s not necessary, but sometimes it’s just the right thing to do.”
He sat silent, looking down at the ground.
“Well, suit yourself, friend, but I’ll be at the pub around the corner if you change your mind.”
He looked up at me and cocked his head. “What pub around the corner?”
I picked up my briefcase and gave it a pat. “The one I’m going to make an offer on today. I’ve always wanted to run an old-fashioned pub with good beer and a couple of dart boards, and my retirement income from the factory is going to make it happen.”
He nodded and managed another half-smile. “I’m happy for you, Robert. It’s good that you have found something that gives you purpose.”
I just shook my head, not really knowing what to say or how to respond. When he didn’t say anything else, I turned to go, but something made me look back. Martin had pulled a bag from his uniform pocket and was breaking off tiny pieces for the sparrow. I realized then that this machine, this man, had more humanity than I’d ever given him credit for. He needed a friend just like the rest of us. He needed a purpose.
He looked up at me again, eyebrows arched.
“You ever consider creating cocktails?”
This time Martin managed a full smile.