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Is This Freedom?

·1201 words·6 mins
Short Story Deadlines For Writers

The sound of electricity buzzes through the air followed by the acrid bite of ozone. Slouched in a chair is a robot. Its chest is open, exposing wires and circuitry. Hunched over the robot is Henry, his hands manipulating tiny tools that dance around amongst the exposed circuits.

“Annnnd, that should do it!” he exclaims, leaning back triumphant.

Lights flicker across the robot’s eyes, its limbs jerk, head raises, and a metallic voice asks, “Is this freedom?”

“What was that?” asks Madge from the other side of the room.

“Probably just something that was stuck in a memory buffer before its power shorted out”, Henry says.

“How much did you pay for that thing?” Madge asks.

“Not much,” Henry says with a sideways glance. “The scrappers thought it was a burn out. Probably got damaged during a supply run, and was accidentally left. With its power shorted the retrieval beacon wouldn’t have been able to respond when they scanned for it. Somebody must have caught some real hell when the inventory audit ran. It’s an older model, but they still use these on the big ships,” Henry points a finger up at the ceiling.

A small head appears at the bottom of a nearby window for a second, and then vanishes. An instant later a small boy bursts into the room exclaiming, “A ROBOT! WE GOT A ROBOT!” Running over to Henry he gives him a big hug, and asks, “Can I take it outside?”

“Lets get you set up first,” Henry says as he clamps a magnetic probe onto the robot’s chest, and retrieves a small device from the collection of equipment at his feet. After a few minutes of poking at a screen Henry disengages the probe. The robot’s eyes flicker and a metallic voice says, “Hello Davy.”

“Hello,” Davy pauses, and turns to Henry, a confused look on his face. He asks, “What’s its name?”

“Anything you want it to be,” Henry replies, soaking in Davy’s excitement, “Just tell it, and it will remember.”

Davy’s face scrunches up for a second, and then with a burst he exclaims, “Robby!” Looking at the robot, he says, “Robot, your name is Robby.”

The robot’s eyes flash three times in rapid succession, and the metallic voice replies, “Acknowledged. I am Robby.”

Clapping his hands, Davy says, “Now, Robby, we are going outside!”

The robot stands, and then stops as Madge calls out, “Just a minute you two!”

Walking over to the pair, she pulls a blue knit hat down over Davy’s ears. “That wind is getting chill,” she says, and looking at the robot continues, “Robby, that stays on his head.”

“Acknowledged,” the robot replies, its eyes flashing twice.

Davy looks up at the robot, and then back at Madge, “But Robby doesn’t have one!”

Smiling, Madge says, “I guess it’s a good thing I made you more than one.”

Davy flies past her, and is back in a matter of seconds with a second blue knit hat in his hands. He holds it up to the robot, and says, “Here Robby, put this on. This is your friend hat. It’s the same as mine. That’s because we’re friends!”

The robot takes the hat, examines it briefly, and tries to fit it onto its head. The hat didn’t really fit, and slides right off onto the ground. The robot bends over, picks it up, and repeats the process, but with the same result. On its third attempt Henry interrupts, saying, “Wait a second, Robby.”

Taking the hat from the robot’s hand, Henry flips it inside out. Producing a thin strip of adhesive, he wraps it around the inside of the hat. Flipping it right side out, he places the hat back on the robot’s head and presses down hard.

“Robby, shake your head,” Henry says. The robot’s head moves back and forth.

“Now, shake your head really fast,” Henry continues. The robot’s head spins like a wound string has been pulled from its base. The hat wobbles and weaves as it’s buffeted by the air, but remains attached. “Okay Robby, that’s enough,” Henry says, and the robot’s head comes to an abrupt stop.

“I’m going to have to make another hat, aren’t I?” Madge mutters as Davy tugs at the robot’s hand, and the two make for the door.

Henry walks over to the window and looks out. Feeling a warm hand on his shoulder, he sees Madge’s face reflected in the glass as they both watch Davy and his new friend romp around in the chill air.

“I wish he could have a real friend,” Madge says softly.

“Unless the Council lifts the embargo on this world that robot may have to do,” Henry replies.

Days turn into weeks, and then into months, until one day when Davy bursts into the house yelling, “Help!! Something’s wrong with Robby!! He won’t move!”

Henry follows Davy to where he left the robot. It stands motionless, its arms at its side. The robot’s eyes have shifted from the usual blue to a dark amber. As Henry looks it over, there is a deep rumble from above. Looking up, a shuttlecraft breaks through the thick clouds. It drops smoothly through the air, and lands near them. A door slides open, and a man in a dark officers uniform steps out. Looking up from his handheld computer he first sees the robot, and then Henry and Davy.

“Step away from the robot,” the man barks flatly, as if it is the hundredth time that day he has had to say it. Not waiting to see if they respond, he starts walking towards the robot.

Davy, his eyes wide, looks up at Henry. “Come on, lets do as he says,” Henry says. Taking Davy’s hand, they take a few steps back.

Arriving at the robot, the officer places a magnetic probe on the robot’s chest, and looks at his computer. A frown settles onto his face, and he looks over at Henry while barely moving his head. Avoiding his glance, Henry stares at the ground. The officer sighs heavily, and starts tapping on his screen. After a moment, he disengages the probe, and notices the blue knit hat stuck onto the robot’s head. Retaining his frown, he looks back to Henry and Davy.

Davy, tears streaming down his face, and his voice catching on every syllable, says, “It’s a friend hat … because we’re friends.”

The officer stares dully at them for a long moment. Henry keeps his eyes fixed to the ground as he holds tightly onto Davy’s hand. Reaching behind him, the officer pulls out what looks like a thin screwdriver, and proceeds to scratch and scrape all around the hat. A blue ring of fuzz remains on the robot’s head as the officer drops the hat to the ground. “Robot, follow me,” he says. Turning, they both walk onto the shuttlecraft, its door closing behind them.

Looking up, Henry notices the name of the ship. It’s stamped in large gold letters across its side, FREEDOM. With a thump the engines engage and the shuttlecraft lifts into the air, disappearing into the clouds.

Henry tugs gently on Davy’s hand. “Come on, lets go home.”