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Mechanical Butterfly (Q1240)
I don’t know why I’m telling you this...You probably know everything about it. But, I’m here to set the story straight: the main logistics of it is that I’m not a good person.
I’m not the hero you all portray me to be. I’m not. Don’t see me as one. I just happened to be there, that’s all. Don’t see it as anything otherwise.
Maybe it was my plain stupidity. Maybe it was pent-up anger. Maybe it was my innate desire to screw things over. Maybe it was just me being human because that’s what humans like to do—mess things up. Maybe that's why things happened the way they did.
This is what happened.
It was noon I remember and I came into the observatory because Uncle had told me to. And she was there—the weird girl who thought she knew me—hidden behind the mess of concoctions and test tubs bubbling. Her eyes were staring at me, orbiting around like distant planets, and is it weird that she smelled like strawberries? Like how do girls like her smell like strawberries? Anyways—yes, yes I’m getting to the point here—I didn’t know at first what she was and ignored her for a while. I mean, she didn’t look like a robot: black hair, blue eyes, she had the appearance of any human girl my age. Except she wasn’t. Her movement was too choppy, emotion too artificial, dialogue too stilted—and I knew right there and then that she was a robot.
And then, the rest of the kids come in, swarming inside like locus, and nobody pays attention. No one notices her. No one acknowledges her presence. Except me. But, not in the friendly way—no, no—I do it in the worst way possible.
You know, my actions were in a way justified. I mean, I don’t like women nor do I like robots, but freedom of speech right? It’s protected—technically, to me and others, it wasn’t harassment—and plus, robots aren’t considered humans anyways or guaranteed any rights, so ethically there’s no problem with it. And women were women and you know you can never trust women because in truth all they do is make promises they can’t keep. All they do is make promises and then leave you.
My mother used to allege, before she was gone, that I was just a “misogynist-in-the-making” and that I heed “my little problem and correct it before it morphs into a bigoted mindset.” But, really, it’s just that I don’t like people in general. They’re so flighty, mercurial, confusing—I just can’t get them. Especially girls. They expect you to do the right things, to know exactly what she’s craving, what she’s thinking. And they tell you to be honest, but when you do, they get offended.
But, she, she was different. I could do anything I wanted to do and she wouldn’t react. I would break graduated cylinders right in front of her and she wouldn’t even bat an eye. She didn’t react to me like most people did—she didn’t try to “correct” me like the others—and I guess because of that, I wanted to grab her attention.
I started with the petty things first—you know, the basic stuff when you want to piss people off—by calling out her name. Q1240, I repeated over and over, Q1240. But, she didn’t notice and if she did, she never made it appear so. She barely reacted, she barely moved, she hardly ever talked; by then I resorted to breaking pots, breaking pans, breaking butterflies—shattering precious items right in front of her face. But she made almost no reaction: her only response was to sweep up the pieces off the cobbled stone.
Then, I started “accidently” bumping into her shoulder, rapping her knuckles, and whispering cruel words in her ear. It was unwarranted, yes, but I saw it somehow as penance for what her kind had did. What they had done. And for that, it was justified. All this time, however, she barely moved, barely spoke, barely reacted. All she did was stare at me, wide-eyed, with this look that told me she didn’t understand. Until one time, she did.
She was outside in the greenhouse I remember, right beside the wall near the crumbling fountain, and was playing with the butterflies. In that bright sunlight, she held them in her hand, watching them with intense curiosity as they shivered against her palms, almost appearing human. Human. And something snapped inside me. It was like ice cracking from a pond, like bones shattering from bending too much.
All I could think about was Mother and robots and illness and sterilized walls. All I could think about was how her head was as bare as the blank walls beside her. How frail her hands looked as they shook. How her veins throbbed against her yellowing skin. All I could think about was how Q1240 got a choice, while Mom didn’t even have a chance. She could be fixed, be adjusted, be cured; my mom didn’t. And for that, while she lived, my mother suffered.
And I screamed at her. Screamed the most horrible things at her. But, she didn’t answer; she didn’t care. So, I did the worst thing possible: I ripped the butterflies from her palms and threw them into the fountain. But, she didn’t speak, she didn’t scream—all she was silently walk up to the gushing fountain to find her butterflies. And then, I realized something—something that Uncle reminded me over and over—that her prototype wasn’t built to be waterproof. Her circuits would short in the water. Her whole system would malfunction.
But, she didn’t know that—she didn’t know anything. She wasn’t programmed to. She didn’t know what to do when I dropped the plates—all she knew was to sweep the mess up. She didn’t understand my actions—to her, she was only meant to be obedient and obey, not to possess a free will of her own.
So, I stopped her. I stopped her and scooped up the butterflies myself and picked them. And then, I realized that they weren’t real, they weren’t even living. The butterflies were only mechanical, artificial insects meant to replace the beauty that was lost.
I remember you, she said, I remember you. And she stared at me, blue orbs rolling in black, gently touching my hand, the scent of strawberries washing over me.
I know, she said slowly, I know what happened. Her eyes play a movie I’ve known for years, the one I’ve always wanted to forget: Mother bent over a frothy soup, her hand clasped against the silver ladle, smiling her real smile for the last time; new clothes because the ones she had never seemed to fit; hands clutched across her stomach, doubling over in pain, spilled soup seeping into her skirts; staleness of the air, bitter and repugnant, when the ambulance took her away; and harsh florescent light against her face as I watched her fade away, leaving me pale, alone, and alive.
I’m sorry, she whispered, I’m sorry. Please don’t cry again. Please don’t cry.
And I wondered how she knew. I wondered how she cared. I thought about why she looked so familiar, why she knew me so much… I thought about Uncle and Professor, the discussions they always had about me, about the future... And then, I realized something. Her memories...her memories weren't even real; they weren’t hers. None of them at all.
But, she didn’t know that. She didn’t know that everything was fake. She didn’t know that everything wasn’t real. She didn’t know, she didn’t know anything. She wasn’t supposed to.
And then tears were forming in her eyes, but she didn’t what they were. Never knew how it felt like. Didn’t know what she was feeling, thinking, doing. She was crying, I remember, but I couldn’t help her. I couldn’t help her.
She didn’t even know me and yet her tears were for me. Her sadness was for me. Everything for me. I didn’t know how; I didn’t know why. But, she was just there, crying for me. She was crying because she added color to something that was gray. Because she added greatness to something that was just average. Because she saw something in me that everyone else claimed to see but I didn’t.
I’m not a hero. I’m not a savior. I’m not a good person.
Don’t see me as one.
I was just there.
I was cruel. I was relentless. But mostly, I was afraid. Afraid of getting my feelings stepped on. Afraid of getting hurt and hurt over again. Afraid of being left alone.
Because in truth, all people do is leave me. Especially the people I want the most. The people I love the most. All people do is make promises they can’t keep. They tell you they love you and then they leave. That’s what I thought; that’s what sometimes I still think.
I was afraid of pain, afraid of loss, afraid of life. Like my father who left me. Like my mother who died. And she saw that. The girl who wasn’t human, who couldn’t feel, she saw that somehow. She saw through my words, she saw through my actions, my contradictions, my lies, everything—she saw my pain.
Go away, I told her.
But, unlike the others who left, unlike the others who lied, she stayed.
She was like the butterflies: a machine impossibly beautiful and almost human.