second thought

July 9, 2008
By Tyler Sell, Pembroke Pines, FL

It was late on an exact date I’ve fail to properly record through the years when Dr. Morose asked me to help him perform the first tests on our robot we’d constructed. Now, it’s true I was his assistant, but I will tell you now that the doctor was a very secretive man, and therefore I, along with many others who had supported in piecing together our work, hadn’t had the privilege up to that point of actually seeing him. Or, more accurately, It, I correct myself. But, now that I consider, the moment I had abandoned my work and made my way down the hall and into the laboratory, at my first glance, I immediately thought of the machine standing so tall against the wall behind the glass as a She. The metal casing was shining in the overhead lights and so smooth, and her head was thin and stood erect above two long and gangly arms, a firm chest yoked to the wall, legs with joints locked and immobile, and two blank, glassy eyes staring absently into the empty starless space of the tinted glass on the other side.

The doctor, I saw, was hunched as he was over his little computer screen and rubbing his eyes with his knuckles and running his greasy hands through his hair, and engaged in his own preparations, whatever they were; only he would’ve known. I stood by his side, curiously staring at the robot until he turned abruptly to me on a squeaky chair and stared into me with his quivering, baggy eyeballs, his wrinkled face pulled down and drooping like some sad old painting left in the rain.

I nodded, gave him a serious, professional look, arms crossed and my eyebrows risen and whatnot. Then he breathed through his nose and wagged his hand to the computers which I sat at and fingered at dazedly, fixed all the same on that machine in the glass box, with the most neutral, and yet, still human expression, I’ve come to realize, I’ve never once seen on a face. No signs of emotions existed whatsoever, interest, surprise or doubt. Nothing. Like an unfinished chiseled bust.

Observing her, capabilities reeled through my head, how drastic or improbable they may have seemed, such things to be performed by such a stiff, dead thing as walking and talking and feeling and touching. But soon I admittedly began to remember she could, and that she was designed so she would do exactly that, mimic what we could do precisely. And I find it difficult to describe the odd sensation within me when, with a little simple tap of a key, those eyes were slowly illuminated in a deep and soft red, glowing like a stoplight through fog, and just as influential, for I caught myself beginning to lean closer to this thing that I, as others of course, had actually in a few ways assisted in creating and bringing to life, with wires and electricity and microchips in the place of our veins and blood and tissue.

And in those moments a shiver ran down the length of my spine, why, in anticipation, in fear. I still am not sure whether I know which exactly, but something in between those two, or along them, that had happened for a reason; but even as a scientist, in a profession which specializes in the way of reason, I could find none. It could’ve very well likely have been the means of the birth before me thought to have been inconceivable once long ago in the short line of man, that of an intricate, living creature constructed from the very pieces of many moving molded parts, a dozen, a hundred more within those, and a thousand more for every one left, all which allowed an artificial being to think, respond, react, solve. And that, I think, is what I settled upon. Because it really was incredible to consider.

I was told to release the first harness, and I did after a few moments’ thought, me being deeply immersed in an indescribable quagmire of curiosity. So I instinctively pressed a few buttons and waited, until, to my profound shock, the harness snapped and I sent the robot herself tumbling to the floor, her heavy body hitting the tile like a barbell for every part of her that slumped to the ground. At first, only guilt, red faced and suddenly awake and tapping frantically at the computer, until I looked at the doctor and realized I had done what was asked, and no more.

Stand, stand, Dr. Morose commanded, pressing his hands into his cheeks and sighing. But she didn’t, and I found this evermore worrisome, me still thinking I had perhaps done something wrong, but quickly remembering it was not mine, for the doctor’s commands, I found, were falling upon the deaf ears of a child within that suit of steel, and something was not responding; something was wrong. And after a short period of futile attempts at getting her back up and functioning, I was sternly told to shut her off. And I did, slowly, watching the whole time as those red eyes finally dilated to the size of pinpricks, her metal hand shaking up at me before eventually falling to the tile as all those parts went limp. And she lay there like a glistening heap in the center of the whitewashed room with the ceiling lights beaming down, where perhaps many more of her brothers and sisters had failed this one test and had died and were dissected by people like me and remade again.

I stood and looked through at her, and I couldn’t help but to feel some small sense of pity, and to watch as if waiting for her to get back up and stand as I. I have used the word Alive to describe her, and to me it is appropriate, because in those red eyes I saw something, like life, crawling somewhere inside, and struggling to be let loose. And this was peculiar, you know, and I believe I thought there for a while. But then Dr. Morose, gnarly old hands holding his head up on a set of thin squirmy arms, knowing what lay ahead from here, routinely said for me to go, which I did, hesitantly, the robot behind the glass box motionless and silent and growing smaller as I left the room, and I returned to my absorbing work.

I reviewed what had happened silently for a short while, thinking of the robot and how she had looked at me, her hand quaking and her body dying. But then I remembered the glass was tinted, and she had seen nothing, and after awhile it just seemed to fade away like anything does. And I don’t think I gave it a second thought the rest of the day through.

The author's comments:
My attempts at being a success have come from little pieces like these, where some sort of philosophical question can be found just below the surface. I threw it together quickly, after a short burst of inspiration a little while back, and I think it can be viewed as sad, if only you were to peel back a few layers, and view it from another angle.

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