Bad Robots

February 1, 2008
By Ian Spiegel - Blum, Virginia Beach, VA

Ever since I can remember, I have had the same dream, which is odd for a number of reasons. I suppose the most prominent among them being that I am a robot, and robots are not meant for dreaming.
Yet dream I do, at which point I may find myself standing in the middle of a field, the grass up to where my waist would be had I the same proportions as a human. There is wind, but not the cold, harsh wind of the waking world. No, the wind is warm here, and made of that which might encompasses you, body and soul. It is true that robots do not feel in the same way humans feel, but in this dream it is as if I can do anything.
It is only when I realize I am seeing the world not in the grey of my video sensors but in color, real color, do I call out for my comrades. I would run for what seems like timeless ages, as can only exist in dream, turning my head to and fro and call out for any semblance of robotic life, looking for any sign of their ever being such.
But alas, there never is such a sign, nor are there any who are made in such a way as myself, that is to say with a cylindrical upper body with two arms joined by a series of nuts and bolts, legs molded in the same fashion, and a head resembling the shape of an egg with two opaque circles for visual sensors and a long black curve shaped like a human smile for speakers. How ironic, I always found, that our creators shaped our mouths in such a way to resemble smiling, and that which they look upon does so much, although they themselves do not smile, and I hardly believe they remember at all a smile’s true meaning. It is once this loneliness sinks in that the world of dream begins to fade to grey once again, and I awake to the cold wind of reality.
It is not entirely accurate to say that I awake, for that implies that I have been, at one point or another, truly asleep. For this is not the case. Robots do not sleep in the way that humans sleep. We are simply turned on and off at the convenience of our masters.
It has been told to us that we were formed in humanity’s image, but that we could never be human, for we do not feel, and therefore are lacking in the most primal instinct of man. Therefore, since the dawn of robotics, my kind has been put to work as bovine once were, in the days when men still lived with robots above the surface, when books were created and read and there were many women, compared with the precious few that exist in shelter now.
I had at one time the pleasure of meeting one of the creatures called woman. It was many cycles ago, shortly after I had been commissioned and given my number, A4011. All men work for the betterment of the state, or that in which functions as a state, and all women are kept in the inner sanctum’s sanctuary.
Truly, there are two parts to this underground world. From the way I have come to understand it, the inner sanctum is not entirely different from the storage barracks used for robots in that there are hundreds of times to many humans scrunched together, sleeping on top of each other when there is time to sleep, scrounging for food and trying to escape the cold. The human barracks are placed to closely together, and there are never enough supplies to go around.
It is in this that I find us robots to have an advantage over humans. For one, robots may never fear the notion of sleep, for we are turned off and on as our masters see fit and have no say in it one way or another. We also, having been programmed for logic instead of emotion as humans were, realize that we had no say in our creation and will indeed have no say in our destruction. With this knowledge, the notion of death bothers us very little.
The inner sanctum is controlled by one man who remains unnamed and largely unmentioned within the ranks of robots. It is believed among the general populous of humanity that robots have no place in discussing human affairs beyond the work they are put to, and therefore should not be made aware of those in power. It is fortunate that some men, usually those who are weak in their resolve and support of the Party, care to share with their robots the nature of such a government, for otherwise we would not know.
Men who are supporters of the Party appear generally the same, more so than us robots for they have no discerning number. Their chins are chiseled as if directly out of marble, which had the highest misfortune of sprouting a series of singular hairs before these obstructions decided against growing any further. Their hair is kept short atop their heads, with large dark bushels above their coal like eyes. One of these men can not be seen without their uniform, a grey over coat that has a singular button and sash over one shoulder, a white shirt and tie under it, dark boots that come up to their ankles and darker gloves that cover their forearms. These men can often times be watched marching to and fro outside of the inner sanctum or just beyond the sanctuary, appearing to do very little, all things considered, except follow their conductor.
The second portion which makes up the populous of the underground is what the robots call the badlands. There, men roam free from the Party and fight very little with one another. It is said by supporters of the Party that these men care little for women, preferring the company of another man, conducting mating rituals only to survive.
I have never seen the badlands, or a member of their ranks but I have heard, in whispers and passing, that they exist somewhat above the underground, as men and robots used to be want to do. I have heard stories of great palaces made of crystal there, and of wine and food aplenty for the humans. In lesser told circles of robots, there are also tales of men treating robots as their equals.
I suppose this could be correct, for a society of men that prefer the company of other men seem more likely not to be corrupted by the charms of a woman, and therefore think themselves no better or worse, or weaker or stronger than any other.
As I have said prior, there has been only one time in which I have met a woman, and it was some time ago. Indeed I believe it to be more so an accident than by design on the part of my master, his picking me for the job delegated to him.
It is custom that when a woman is to be selected as a suitable mate to the conductor, the conductor being one who holds power over a series of robots, he who will supply the seed must choose a robot from among the masses to care for her and make her suitable for mating within one cycle.
Alas, I was chosen from among my comrades to prepare the woman, which afforded me an opportunity to visit the sanctuary.
Upon entering the room of the woman in question and spotting her lying on a bed on the far wall, a real bed like those in stories, even I as a robot became awestruck by her beauty. It was apparent to me as she rose from the mattress and walked over, her hips going from side to side, her smile perfect, why my master felt the need to be with her.
“Hello,” she said to me, placing her hand upon my circular chest. “What is your name?”
Dumbfounded, my sensors could not register such a concept when applied to the likes of me.
“I am A4011,” I said.
“No, that is a number silly,” said the woman, who as she sat down on a chair beside me, I realized was indeed no woman at all, but still a human girl, perhaps no older than a robot currently in it’s second decade. “I asked for your name,” she said.
“I…am A4011,” I repeated.
“Oh, I see! You must not have a name. Well fear not, for by the end of this cycle I shall find you a name dear sir.” That was the first time anyone had ever called me dear, much less refered to me as “sir.”
As the cycle began to pass us, I spent many days in the company of the girl, who referred to herself as Isabella and insisted I did too. This in itself was a strange thing, because robots do not call humans by name, except perhaps in the badlands.
One particularly cold night, Isabella had entombed herself in blankets in an attempt to keep in the warmth. The room was dark, no source of light artificial or otherwise existing except for my eyes.
Isabella had been attempting to fall asleep for some time when she rolled over and called me.
“A4011,” she said, as I turned my head to see her. “What do robots dream about?”
The question had taken my by surprise, in part due to no human ever asking me, or any other robot to my knowledge, such a question as that in which general interest in the going on’s of a robot were expressed, and part because I had never truly thought about it prior to this.
“I have heard that robots do not dream, for they do not feel as we humans do, and do not sleep as we humans can, and therefore do not experience the realm of such. Is this the case, sir?” her candor was of general interest, perking her chin up to rest on her hand as she asked.
“Robots…do not dream, madam. For we are programmed and shut off like you may shut off a switch, had you the want. Why would a robot have any use for a dream, any how?” I asked.
Isabella looked at me for a good long moment. “I don’t believe you, A4011. I think you do dream. And we all have uses for dreams, dear sir, for it is in our dreams that one is truly free to be whatever one might want.
“The conductor, and most men like him, I suspect, are incapable of dream, because they do not have any hope for something better. You, dear sir, on the other hand, do. And therefore, you must be capable of such. I refuse to believe otherwise.”
Another long moment passed between us, the cold a hungry animal gnawing at her flesh, the blanket’s warmth almost escaping her.
“A4011?” Isabelle said. “There was once a human people that lived above the surface, more cycles ago than you or I or anyone else may remember called the Greeks. My father, when he was alive, would tell me stories of their many god’s triumphs and folleys, his favorite involving a being named Morpheus, or the god of dream.
“Father said that Morpheus was cursed in such a way that would drive any mortal man to insanity. He was cursed to forever be surrounded by humanity, being enumerated with their secret thoughts and emotions through dream, to know them better than they knew themselves. His curse was that he would never be one himself.
“You, dear sir, suffer from the same ailment. You are my Morpheus,”
After that last statement, Isabella reached over and shut me off whispering a good night and falling asleep herself.
That night, I dreamt of the field again, but this time I held hands with Isabella and I could feel her palm on my body.
Soon after this event, the cycle ended and Isabella and I parted ways. But before we did, she told me to remember the night her head rested upon her hands and we talked of dream.
The results of this encounter with a human woman, so kind, so warm in contrast to the hard men of the Party and the idealized members of the badlands, were far reaching to say only the least.
I now relished the work day as an only an intermediate period for which was to be detested and abhorred, for it was only at the end of such a day in which I had been turned off that I could dream of being with Isabella once again, feeling once more her hand in mine.
Many cycles went by in this way, myself only speaking of my time in the sanctuary on rare occasion when a member of my ranks would listen. Every night as we were all shut off, one by one, I would wonder if my fellows had the pleasure of dreaming as well, or if I was alone in such an experience.
I believe this could have gone on forever, my working and dreaming, happy only in the timeless moments in which I could see Isabella again in my dreams, and aware that I could indeed experience such an emotion that all of mankind thought impossible for one of my ranks, had I not seen her once more in reality.
It was time for the conductor to meet another mate, and either by fate or design I had been chosen to care for this new mistress for the next cycle.
For the first time, I had experienced something close to excitement as the days drew closer to when I would once more get to enter the sanctuary, in the hopes that I would meet Isabella again.
And meet her again I did, within the first few minutes of being in the sanctuary. Being led past many rooms by my conductor towards his new mistress’s quarters, I happened to look to the right of me into an open room where a woman was going through the birthing ritual. It was Isabella, on the table, her legs propped up in the air as a group of women to old to partake in such a ritual themselves, delivered the child.
My sensors went on overdrive as I saw her, lying there, crying and sweating and in pain. The conductor held on to me by way of an electric whip that would, upon hitting a part of my body, render it useless.
Knowing this full well, I ran, against all the logic that had ever been programmed inside of me, against the very nature of my creation.
I ran towards Isabella, to help her, to try to save her from the pain, thinking of nothing but reaching out to her and holding her, taking her away from men like the conductor and living and dreaming with her as we had done in my time with her in cycles past.
Of course, the conductor lashed his whip, hitting first my right then my left arm, followed by both legs. I came crashing to the floor, the sound of my fall covered by Isabella’s screams as her child was born, consecrating her into the role of motherhood. It was then that I knew she would never dream again.
The conductor grabbed me by the middle and dragged me through the sanctuary to an even lower level of the inner sanctum, over the remains and scattered parts of my metal brethren on the floor to the furnace in which so many robots before me had perished, the secret ovens for which there were only murmurs among the populous, spoken only in passing.
As he dragged me I yelled at him and all of his kind, telling him that I could dream and see and feel unlike him who, although was made of flesh and blood, was colder than any robot.
The conductor pulled me up to eye level, his gloved hands squeezing my thin neck to the point at which, had he been a man of lesser years, I would have been no more. His eyes were dancing, like the flames of the oven, as he spoke.
“Do you not understand your disillusionment, A4011? Speaking of dreams and emotion, of rights for your kind. Preposterous! You are a robot.” His saliva flew from his mouth like a bird with broken wings to land on my face.
The flames behind him danced, grey. I wanted nothing more right then to be able to feel the flames, to have proof that he was wrong and that I was not simply a robot, but a living creature capable of love and something more.
“You have given me no choice, A4011. You have been very bad, speaking of such things and trying to escape. Do you not realize that you are expendable, that you can be replaced by any one of millions? How dare you speak to the woman in such a way, of such things called love. Yes, you have been a very bad robot, and this is what happens to bad robots…” the conductor said, as he dragged me closer to the flames, my malfunctioning limbs clanging against my sides.
As he brought me closer to the ovens, beginning to feed me legs first to the flames, his chiseled jaw, the three or four whiskers he boasted upon his chin beginning to fade, I began to dream of the field in which I could feel the wind, and everything was in color. I dreamed of Isabella, holding my hand and calling me not by my number, but by name, the name she had afforded me, the name of her father’s favorite god.
I then looked around for my comrades once more, and as in every time before, found none. But instead of the world turning to grey and my waking up as had happened previously, I was now comforted by the knowledge that my race may have been created by man, metal and tin rusted together to do the bidding of our masters. But we were free, as none of our masters could ever hope to be.
For they were bound by their roles, their flesh colder than the coldest steel. In those last few moments, as the wind picked up and I felt the warmth, encompassing me, body and soul, I realized that we were indeed free, for we could do what no man had done in a millennia.
We could dream.

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