HELLO, NIKOLA. IT IS OCTOBER 19th, 2027. THE SKY IS OVERCAST. IT IS 60 DEGREES FAHRENHEIT.
PLEASE STANDBY FOR SOFTWARE DIAGNOSTIC ... CENTRAL PROCESSING UNIT—GREEN MAJOR MOTOR FUNCTIONS—GREEN FINE MOTOR FUNCTIONS—GREEN COMMUNICATIONS—YELLOW AURAL PROCESSORS—GREEN VISUAL PROCESSORS—GREEN NEURAL COMPONENTS—YELLOW MENTAL PROCESSORS—RED DIAGNOSTICS COMPLETE. CRITICAL SYSTEM MALFUNCTION. PLEASE SEE CERTIFIED TECHNICIAN FOR MAINTENANCE.
REBOOTING... REBOOTING... RE
Nikola blinked. He was in a Room. The room was Small. The room was Warm. The room had Blue Walls and Red Furniture. He sat on a Red Chair. On the wall across from him hung a Painting of Yellow Flowers. Beneath that, a Red Couch and—
“Hello, Nikola.” A Woman, sitting on the couch. She wore a gray pantsuit and balanced a notebook and pen on her lap.
“Good morning, Dr. Marisol.” command/smile/shy “Sorry it took so long to reboot, I had to run a diagnostic before my systems would activate.”
“That’s fine. How did it go?”
“All systems are at optimal working conditions, except m-my mental processors, but. That’s why I’m here. For maintenance.”
“That’s right,” said Dr. Marisol, gently. Everything about her was gentle. Her brown hair was pulled into a gentle knot at the back of her head, her brown eyes were gentle, her grip on her pen was gentle. “Did your diagnostics tell you what was wrong with your mental processors?”
“N...no,” said Nikola, shaping the word carefully. Though he was designed to look, speak, and interact with people/objects in a way that simulated human activity, the actual motion of it often felt stunted, forced, like it wasn’t him acting but someone else through him. “My diagnostics simply reported an issue. But. I can make an educated guess, based on self- observation, if that would aid your work.”
“That would help me a lot,” said Dr. Marisol.
“Thank you.” subroutine/command/fidget “I’ve noticed my ability to apply myself to one task for more than a short length of time has lately been l-lacking. I find myself being... d-istracted by inconsequential phenomena around me.”
“What kind of things distract you?”
command/look/down “It’s embarrassing.”
Dr. Marisol leaned forward. “Why?”
“I’m not supposed to be distracted by things. I’m s-supposed to complete my tasks.”
“And you’re embarrassed?” said Dr. Marisol, raising her eyebrows.
subroutine/command/blink ERROR ERROR ERR “No. No—yes—no. No, I-I’m not supposed to get embarrassed. That isn’t in my programming.”
“Everyone gets embarrassed, Nikola. Don’t feel bad. What distracts you?”
"It will really help if you tell me.”
“My neighbor Paul.”
“Paul. You mentioned him last time, I think. Tell me about him.”
“He l-ikes to garden.”
“Yes. He goes outside every morning at ten-fif-teen, and tends to the plants on his porch. He grows tomatoes, marigolds, and petunias—two tomato plants, two marigolds, and seventeen petunias, actually. He keeps them all in pots. A-nd he grows rose bushes in the front lawn. He has a blue watering can—it only holds one point five liters, though, so he sometimes has to go inside to refill it before he finishes.”
“You seem to know a lot about his garden. Do you help him?”
“N...no. No, I just watch. I-I can see him through the kitchen window, and the upstairs bedrooms.”
“And does he see you?”
WARNING: SYSTEM OVERHEATING.
“H-e waves s-ometimes.”
“Do you wave back?”
“I’m s-orry, Doctor, I don’t think we should keep talking ab-out this I k-keep getting error notifications.”
“Of course,” said Dr. Marisol, graciously, jotting down a few simple notes. “Let’s get back to the issues with your mental processors. Besides loss of focus, what have you noticed?”
“Somet-imes, the wiring in my abdomen short circuits, and my motor processors fail.”
“I get... errors, and the messages block my vision, and then my legs lose stability and I trip or fall.”
Dr. Marisol gave him her first hard look—not hard in a cruel way, in a caring way. “Have you been applying the solution packets I’ve given you?”
“Y-es—when I remember. That’s another thing. My memory bank malfunctions. I pin tasks like that to my checklist, but often, during my distractions, they somehow remove themselves.”
“If you don’t take the solutions, your central processing unit will fail again, Nikola. It’s very important that you remember. Write it down—stick it on the kitchen window. Doesn’t Julia remind you?”
“Yes, of course,” said Nikola. “When she’s home. She’s started school again.”
“That’s for the best, I believe. You need to start assuming responsibilities for yourself. You can’t expect to have a caretaker your whole life.”
“Yes. Your life.”
“I d-on’t have a life.”
“Y-ou do,” said Nikola, factual. “Just by sitting here. Y-you, and Julia, and the experimental lab. My purpose is not to have l-ife, it’s to... synthesize life. An experiment. Julia studies me, my habits, my abilities. You—fix me, so that she can study me.”
“And why do you think she studies you? Just to do it?”
“I never... a-asked.”
“She and I are here to help you now so that, one day, you can live—yes, Nikola, live—by yourself. Self-sustaining, man-made life.”
“But. How will I know what to do?”
Dr. Marisol laughed, then shrugged. “Good question. I’m afraid I don’t know, either. The closest answer I can give is to just keep living, and hope something comes along.”
Nikola tried to picture himself like that. Alive. The plants in Paul’s garden, they were Alive. What made them Alive? The blue watering can—the water, more so. Nikola did not require water, unless you counted the water Dr. Marisol’s powdered solution must be dissolved in before ingestion. Sunlight. Every leaf, every bud and flower leaned to the sun, reaching for warmth. Nikola liked the sun. He liked standing at the window and feeling the sun on his synthetic skin, warming through to the cool steel and tiny gears. He liked closing his eyes so all the alerts and pinned tasks disappeared for a moment, so all he had to focus on was that warmth. He liked—
No. No, he didn’t like anything. He wasn’t programmed to like things, he was programmed to do things.
What else, then? What else made Paul’s plants alive? Water. Sun.
WARNING: SYSTEM OVERHEATING
“We should really get on with my maintenance, Doctor. Julia will be home soon and she’ll worry if she arrives and I'm not there. Plus, it would impede her study.”
“You’re right, and don’t worry, we are. I know what I’m doing, Nikola,” smiled Dr. Marisol. Nikola trusted her. Trust. That was in his programming—that must be the feeling he’d confused with “liking.” He Trusted Dr. Marisol. He Trusted warmth.
“You talk a lot about your tasks,” said Dr. Marisol. “Remind me, are those self-assigned, or does Julia assign them for you?”
“It depends. Sometimes she has things for me, but sometimes she leaves without a list.”
“What do you do then?”
“I clean the house. Feed the fish, take the dog on walks. It helps me, to have things to do. My malfunctions happen most frequently during periods where I have nothing left to do—that’s when my processor forces stasis.”
“I thought stasis was necessary for your upkeep.”
“It... is, but not like this. My stasis is designed to imitate sleep, so I require at most a six hour cycle every night. My processors have been mistaking my inaction with stasis, and auto- executing stasis mode.”
“How often does that happen?”
“Too often. It’s unnecessary, a waste of my ability. There’s so much I could be doing during that time, but there’s nothing I can do to stop it, my o-override code fails every time and I get so tired and it isn’t fair, I’m a machine, I’m not supposed to get tired—“
WARNING: SHORT CIRCUIT IN SECTOR 37-B. PLEASE SEEK A CERTIFIED TECHNICIAN FOR MAINTENANCE.
“Nikola, it’s okay, we’re here to fix you. There’s nothing to worry about.”
“I-I know. I’m s-sorry.”
“Why are you upset?”
“I... oh. I didn’t know I could... I didn’t know my engineers programmed me to be able to do... that.”
Dr. Marisol reached to a small table by the red couch and plucked a tissue from a box, handed it to him. “Those engineers think of everything,” she said. Nikola puzzled over it while he dabbed his eyes.
“Can you fix me?” He felt his mouth form every plaintive syllable. He knew he couldn’t Want, but he did. He Wanted so badly it made his skin feel like it was melting off, made his throat feel thick like it did as Dr. Marisol’s solution went down, made his fingers twitch on their own like they did when Paul waved from his garden.
He wanted it gone, this awful cloud in his head, this haze of slowness, like a walking stasis—seeing things to do, but unable to do them because Something was stopping him, something he couldn’t even fend off because it was inside of him.
Dr. Marisol considered him, considered her notes, and said, “With time.”
“With time? But, with my central processing unit, the technicians just opened me up and replaced the faults in my—“
“I know, but that’s different. The mental processor takes more... fine replacements. There are no loose bolts to tighten, no fried wires to replace. It’s all.” She paused, thinking. “It’s all computer code. It has to be fixed one line at a time—“
“Oh,” said Nikola. This made sense, now. “How long will the operation take?”
“That depends on you.”
“I can guide you through it,” she said, “But, ultimately, this is something you’ll have to do yourself.”
WARNING: CRITICAL OVERHEAT IMMINENT.
“My-self? But th-that’s not f-air, that’s y-our job, why c-can’t—“
Dr. Marisol raised a gentle hand. “It isn’t fair,” she agreed. “And it will be hard. And it will hurt. But that’s the way it is. These things take time. Sometimes a lot of it.”
“But. I want to be fixed now.”
“Then start now.”
CRITICAL OVERHEAT. INTERNAL FANS ACTIVATED.
Cool air sunk through Nikola’s nose and mouth. “I don’t kn-ow how—“
“Shh, calm down, Nikola. You don’t have to do it alone. You never have to do anything alone.”
Dr. Marisol stood before him now, her hands resting on his shoulders until his fans powered off and he stabilized. Then she said, “I’ll prepare more solution for you, and have it delivered tomorrow. That will help. And here—“ She turned, tore her pages of notes out of her notebook, then handed Nikola the blank book and a pen. “I want you to write in this, when you feel a forced stasis coming on. It should help you keep focus.”
“What should I write in it?”
“Anything you like. It’s for you—no one else ever has to read it.”
Nikola clutched the notebook. “Okay.”
“And spend some time outside.”
WARNING: BLOCKAGE FOUND IN SECTOR 37-B STANDBY FOR OVERRIDE...
Nikola cleared his throat. “But. What if Paul waves at me?”
“Try waving back.” She went to the door, held it open. “I’m afraid that’s all our time, Nikola, but I’ll see you again next week. We’ll see how your systems have improved.”
“Okay,” said Nikola, hands tight around the spine of his new notebook. “Th-ank you, Dr. Marisol.” He shuffled through the door.
He looked back.
“We’ll fix you, okay?”
He paused. Nodded. Smiled. And left.
Dr. Marisol closed the door and pulled a black tape recorder out of her pocket, which she spoke into after she sat on her red couch.
“Case Study seven, ‘Nikola Meyer.’ After three sessions over the course of a month, Nikola’s health has improved substantially, despite the fact that he still believes he’s an android.”