Author : Suzanne Borchers
Arnold, a four-foot bot, wiped disinfectant rags over the chairs and tables while the residents of Ever Pleasant Retirement Home slept. The night duty was routine and Arnold moved easily around the recreation room. Quiet. As always, he was alone.
A shadow glided past a window. It paused at the next one to gently touch it three times.
Arnold moved to the window and looked toward the lawn.
A bot looked back at him. The bot whispered, “Arnold, help me?”
It was one of the Stephen models that had gotten a party invite for him only to borrow a prototype part for their presentation. Waiting for him to come back was a nightmare. Alone: not needed, not wanted, and deliberately not seen by the other bots. Much better to be alone wiping disinfectant rags over the furniture. Better get back to work. Arnold moved away from the window.
The touch became a tap. Three taps. “Arnold, help me?”
Arnold swabbed down the 3D chess board and lifted each piece to meticulously wipe it.
Three raps sounded. “Arnold?”
Arnold moved again to the window to see Stephen’s face. It was no longer shiny and clean, but dented, streaked with black, with one eye pushed in.
Stephen said, “Repair me and I’ll be your friend.”
“What happened to you?” Stephen was squeaky fresh off the line just three weeks ago. Was there a bot uprising?
“Laboratory blew up because of a sloppy Theodore. I’m the last Stephen. I can’t work, I can’t communicate with my brothers, and I’m all alone.” Stephen beeped quietly three times. “Do you know how that feels?”
“No, I have friends here.” Arnold moved away from the window to vacuum the miscellaneous orts and filings.
Three bangs and a piercing whistle filled the room.
Arnold went to the window again. “Be quiet. The guard is coming.” He kept vacuuming while he watched the guard survey the room from the doorway.
Arnold beeped and whistled.
“Well, keep it down, buddy.” The guard turned and left.
Arnold moved to the window where Stephen waited.
“Look, Arnold. We’re not like them. We’re the same. We’re metal. We have to look out for us.”
Was this the Stephen who had used him for parts?
Arnold motioned Stephen toward the door and opened it for him. He glanced at the clock on the wall. Gertrude would be rolling over and off the bed if he didn’t hurry to her room. He left Stephen and moved down the hallway. He caught Gertrude before she landed and settled her on the bed. He tucked the blanket up under her chin. She smiled at him then rolled over toward the wall.
Were he and Stephen “us?” He touched his gray metal top where Esther liked to rest her hand while she watched 3DTelly. He moved down the hall checking on his residents with their wrinkled skin. Did his metal covering matter? Did alone mean lonely? Arnold wished he could smile. He’d fix Stephen all right.
When Arnold reached the guard’s desk, he beeped and pointed to the recreation room. They found Stephen still at the door.
Arnold beeped softly.
Stephen whispered, “Traitor.”
“Thanks, Arnold.” The guard clasped a holding ring around Stephen’s appendage. “We’ll fix him up to work in the kitchen with the other Stephen.”
Stephen beeped softly as he passed Arnold.
Arnold spent the following week helping residents out of beds and into beds. He caught Gertrude seven times. He enjoyed watching 3DTelly with Esther. Was this happiness?
“Arnold,” the head manager came over to where Arnold was wiping up a spill. Two shiny Stephens followed him in silence. “These bots can do your job in half the time, so we’re sending you to the kitchen. You’re on garbage.”
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