a story by Dot

You’d think that it would be easy finding a seven-foot-tall robot with a Mohawk; in actuality, it turned out to be even harder than finding a needle in a haystack.  My elusive target—the Man-Made Artificial Life-Form Designation Number Sixteen—had an annoying tendency of going from place to place, stopping just long enough so that people would remember him.  I heard story after story of the gentle-hearted giant who rescued kittens, baby birds, and occasionally small children, then disappeared, leaving behind legends and mysteries.

This time, I was again following a trail that would in all probability end up in disappointment.  I can almost imagine what they would say:

“The robot man? He passed through here a few days ago.  I think he’s heading out towards—”

I was starting to get tired of looking.  Not in the physical sense, of course: we Artificial Humans have an almost infinite supply of energy.  No, I wanted to give up my search because I was beginning to doubt Sixteen’s existence.  Someone once said that despair was being in a deep pit and not being able to see the light trickling in from the top.  Well, I was getting pretty damn close to hitting bottom.

As I scaled the mountain towards the small village in the distance, I wondered for the umpteenth time why I was so determined to find Sixteen.  Perhaps it was because he might have some of the answers to the questions that kept me awake at night; perhaps it gave me a purpose; or perhaps I considered him my kinsman.  Whatever it was, something drove me to keep going, keep asking questions, and keep looking in unexpected places.  So far, I’ve been chased by a mob of townspeople who have been living in the 12th century for Dende knows how long; nearly buried in an avalanche set off by careless hikers; and gotten lost for weeks in the Mountains of Death, named so because no one before me had made it out of there alive.

All of this trouble had better be worth it, I thought, gritting my teeth against the freezing winds.  (When it’s around forty below, with a wind chill factor of at least thirty, even an an Artificial Life Form with almost no neuron sensors can feel the cold.)

I finally made it into the village.  A few of its inhabitants gave me puzzled looks: visitors are not a frequent occasion here.  Some kind soul extended his hospitality; I declined, and popped the Ten Thousand Dollar Question.

“Did you happen to see—”

The man’s eyes lit up at my description of Sixteen.  “Yeah! He was here an hour ago!”

Damn.  I missed him again.

“He went out to the far side of town,” the man continued, seeing the look on my face.  “I saw him standing there.”

“You think he’s still there?” I asked.

“Probably.  Just head out that way.”

I ran so fast that I could have left a trail of fire.

[ 16 ]

At last, I saw him: a grim, unmoving statue.  I approached him with care, fearing that this was all an illusion, and that he would melt away into the blinding white background.  He didn’t.

“Hello, Sixteen,” I said when I got within speaking range.  “Long time no see.”

“Hello,” was the quiet response.  “Why have you been following me?”

I did a double take.  “You knew?”

He nodded.  “Dr. Gero implanted me with a device that can sense other Artificial Humans.”

Lucky bastard, I thought.  “Why didn’t you wait for me, then? I’ve been wanting to talk to you.”

“About our lack of a prime directive?”

“That’s part of it.” I fiddled at my scarf.  “I’ve been having these—” I probed for the right word.  “Visions, I guess.  Vague snatches of things and people, but I can never get a handle on what they are.”

“You should ask Eighteen about that, then.  She is more like you than I am.”

I shook my head.  “She won’t talk about those kinds of things.  It’s like she doesn’t want to have anything to do with her past.”

“Do you?”

I blinked.  What kind of question was that? “I—I don’t know.  I guess I’m a bit curious as to who I was before I was changed by Gero.” The name still generates a great amount of bile whenever I think about that madman, and I let that bitterness show through.  “Maybe I had family, friends.” I snickered, remembering an earlier talk with Eighteen.  “Or some chick I used to date.”

“And if you do find out, do you intend to return to that life?”

I was starting to get annoyed.  “What is this, Twenty Questions?”

Sixteen looked back at me with his ever blank expression, causing me to shiver a bit.  He then looked back over the mountains.  “I don’t have a past to go back to.”

It was a simple, plain statement without any intonation or inflection.  But somehow, it almost sounded as if he was regretful of this fact.

I thought of something.  “Actually, Sixteen, you do.”

One eyebrow raised imperceptibly.  “Oh?”

“Yeah.” I smirked at him.  “You’ve had quite an impression on the people you’ve met.”

“That is true,” he admitted.  Then he smiled as well.  “It seems that you have answered your own question.”

I blinked again.  “I don’t quite follow you.”

“Anyone who knew you before you became Dr. Gero’s creation probably consider you to be dead,” the large robot explained.  “But you still have your twin sister.” He smiled even wider.  “And, apparently, you think very highly of me as well.”

I scowled, but I felt a smile tugging at my lips.  “Well, don’t let that get to your head.”

Sixteen let out a deep, hearty chuckle.  Switching back to his serious mode, he continued: “You want a past for yourself? Make one.  Start a business, for example.” He looked distant again.  “Or a family.”

I shook my head again to clear it.  All of this deep philosophizing was too much for me to handle in such a short time.  “I’ll—think about it.”

Sixteen smiled again.  “You do that.”