Authors: Suzanne Van Rooyen
Tags: #science fiction, #space, #dystopian, #young adult, #teen, #robots, #love and romance
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The author makes no claims to, but instead acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of the word marks mentioned in this work of fiction.
Copyright © 2014 by Suzanne van Rooyen
I HEART ROBOT by Suzanne van Rooyen
All rights reserved. Published in the United States of America by Month9Books, LLC.
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Published by Month9Books
Cover Design by Terrie Conje
Cover Copyright © 2014 Month9Books, LLC
To my grandfather – thank you for the music.
And to Mark, with love always.
If today were a song, it’d be a dirge in b-flat minor. The androids cluster around the coffin, their false eyes brimming with mimetic tears. They were made to protect and serve their human masters, to entertain and care for us. Now, just one generation later, we toss them in the trash like nothing more than broken toasters.
The androids huddle in a semicircle, four adults and a child droid with synthetic curls. They all look so human; their grief real even if their tears aren’t. The two male-droids are even good looking in that chiseled, adboard model kind of way. They’re a little too perfect. With their machine strength, they lower the cardboard box into the dirt and the child droid begins to sing. His exquisite voice shatters like crystal in my ears, heartbreaking.
Asrid and I shouldn’t be here—the only two humans amongst the machines—but I loved Nana. I loved her before I knew better than to feel anything for a robot. It doesn’t matter how attached you get. A robot can never love you back, regardless of how human their advanced AI might make them seem.
“Why’re they burying it anyway
?” Asrid mutters beside me. My friend doesn’t wear black to the funeral, refusing to acknowledge the passing of my nanamaton, an android that always seemed more like a mom and less like an automated child-minder.
“Should be sending it to the scrap heap. Isn’t this against regulation?” Asrid’s face scrunches up in a frown, marring her impeccable makeup. She’s a peacock amongst ravens, and I’m a scruffy crow.
“Nana was like a mother to me. I’ll miss her.” Tears prick the corners of my eyes as the coffin disappears into the earth, and the droid keens a eulogy.
“I know you will, T.” Asrid gives me a one-armed hug.
Svartkyrka Cemetery is losing the battle to weeds. Human tombstones from back when there was real estate for corpses lie in crumbling ruin covered in pigeon poop. No one gets buried anymore—there’s no space and, anyway, it’s unsanitary.
“Can we go now?” Asrid hops between feet to fight off the chill. Autumn has shuffled closer to winter, the copper and russet leaves crunching beneath our shoes. The leaves look like scabs, a carpet of dried blood spilling into the open earth. Fitting for my nanamaton’s funeral, but robots can’t bleed.
“Sure, we can go.”
Asrid wends her way toward the parking lot as I approach the grave. Nana loved yellow anemones, said they were like sunshine on a stick.
“Hope there’s sunshine where you are now, Nana.” I drop a single flower into the ground and wipe away the tear snailing down my cheek. Why Nana chose to permanently shut down and scramble her acuitron brain, I can only guess. Perhaps living in a world controlled by groups like the People Against Robot Autonomy, PARA for short, became too much for her.
“Sorry for your loss,” the child droid says in a tinkling voice.
“Thank you for letting me know,” I say.
“She would’ve wanted you to be here.” The other nanamaton, gray haired and huddled in a trench coat, doesn’t meet my gaze.
I stuff my mitten-covered hands into the pockets of my jacket and hunch my shoulders against the chill. You’d think the universe might have had the courtesy to rain given the sullen occasion, but the sun perches in an acid blue sky.
“Tyri, you coming?” Asrid shouts from the gate, remembering too late that we’re supposed to be stealthy. Government regulation stipulates cremation for humans and scrap heaps for robots. If the authorities discover us committing metal and electronics to the earth instead of recycling, Asrid and I will be fined. The robots will be decommissioned on the spot.
“I’m so sorry,” I whisper to the androids before turning away. Their artificial gaze follows me, boring into my back sharp as a laser.
“Botspit, I’m hungry. I could gnaw on a droid. Where’re we going to lunch?” Asrid ignores the dead and grieving as if none of it exists.
“I think I’ll just go home.”
“Come on, T. I know she was your Nana but she was just a robot, you know.”
Just a robot! Nana changed my diapers. My first day of kindergarten, Nana held my hand. When I came home from school, Nana made me cocoa and sat helping me with homework. Nana cooked my favourite dumpling dinner every Wednesday and made me double-chocolate birthday cake. Nana taught me how to tie my shoelaces and braid my hair. The day I turned sixteen, Mom decided we didn’t need Nana anymore. She should’ve been decommissioned then, but Nana disappeared the day before Mom’s M-Tech buddies came to kill her core and reprocess her parts.
“She was more than that to me,” I say.
“Ah, you’re adorable.” Asrid casts nervous glances across the lot. Satisfied no policemen lurk behind the bushes, she slips her arm through mine and drags me through the gate. The wrought iron is warped and daubed with rust. Marble angels stand sentinel, broken and stained by time. One misses a nose, and the other has lost a wing.
“You didn’t say anything about my new bug.” Asrid pouts when we reach her vehicle. The hoverbug is neon pink, matching her shoes, handbag, and the ribbons holding up her blond hair. The ‘E’ badge that stands for Engel Motors looks more like a spastic frog than the angel it’s supposed to represent.
“Is it meant to smell like cherries?” Even the plush interior is unicorn puke pink. I put on my sunglasses in case all that color stains my eyes.
“Yes, in fact.” Asrid flicks a switch and the engine purrs. “Slipstream Waffles.” She assumes that monotone voice she always uses when addressing machines.
The last thing I want is to sit on sticky vinyl in a noisy waffle house, indulging in sugar and calories served by permanently smiling droids on roller-skates.
“Take me home to Vinterberg.”
“Tyri, don’t annoy me.”
“Sassa, Don’t patronize me.” I give her the glare she knows better than to argue with.
“Vinterberg,” I say again and Asrid heaves a melodramatic sigh.
“Be boring. Going home to make love to your violin?”
“Why ask when you know the answer?” Nana’s coffin lowering into the ground replays in my mind to a soundtrack in b-flat minor.
“How does Rurik put up with being the other love of your life?”
It’s my turn to sigh. Rurik doesn’t really put up with it or even understand why I love music so much. But then, I don’t understand why he gets so hung up on politics, and I definitely don’t understand why he didn’t show up for Nana’s funeral when he knows how much she meant to me.
“We manage.” I stare out the tinted windows at the darkened scenery whipping past.
The hoverbug takes the quickest route, zipping along the street ways that skirt the chaotic center of Baldur. The jungle of concrete and steel thins out into a tree-shrouded suburb studded with modest brick homes. Rurik calls my redbrick bungalow quaint, and it is, complete with flower boxes and a patch of green lawn out back. It’s nothing at all like his dad’s slick penthouse, all glass and chrome with a panoramic view of the city. The funny thing is, Rurik used to live right next-door till his mom had the affair and his dad became a workaholic, transforming the family business into an automotive empire.
The hoverbug slows and lands in my driveway.
“I’ll call you later,” I say before disembarking.
“You heard anything yet?”
“No, but tomorrow is the last day so I’ll hear soon.” I’m trying not to think about why it’s taking so long to hear back after my audition for the Baldur Junior Philharmonic Orchestra.
“You’ll get in T. I’m sure of it. You’re brilliant.”
Asrid’s words make me smile despite the morbidity of the day. She waves and the hoverbug zooms off, leaving me in the rustling-leave calm of Vinterberg.
I press my thumb to the access pad and the front door hisses open. Mom’s at work like always. Taking off my coat and shoes, I whistle for Glitch. She pads into the hallway, her face lopsided from sleep. She stretches and sits down with a decisive humph as if to say, ‘Well, human, I’m here. Now, worship me.’ And I do.
“Hey my Glitchy girl.” I fold my cyborg Shiba Inu into my arms and sweep her off the floor. Her mechatronic back leg sticks out straight and stiff, the rest of her soft and warm. She licks my ear, one paw on my forehead.