Author : Casey Cooke

All robots had been programmed to fear the ocean. A few level fours, who had also been programmed with risk-taking protocols, would walk right to the edge of it. But even they, eventually, would succumb and back away. Level sixes – caregivers to infants programmed for additional caution – would routinely refuse to bathe their charges in the bathtub and opt for sinks instead, but this side-effect was deemed acceptable.

However, robots were expected to attend their charges on the beach regardless of fear. And, on this day, in the middle of high-summer, they flooded the sand. Some stood with umbrellas, some unfolded blankets, and some prepared drinks or light snacks. Others played with children: perfecting sandcastles, digging symmetrical holes, and smiling as they were partially buried in the sand. A careful few stood ready with a dry towel for their swimming charges. These robots were nearest the water, moving a few steps forward and a few steps back, always mindful of the tide.

At the top of the dunes, a young girl and her robot hopped off the transporter pad while their family surveyed the beach. Before they could be stopped, they both ran – as fast as their legs could go – to the water. The robot, a level four they’d named Sylveen, was far faster than the six-year-old; she hollered out to the child, “catch me if you can!”

Sylveen ran passed the drink-givers and the sandcastle-makers and the towel-holders until she was waist deep in the water.

As she turned to wave, her sensors warned her that her feet were slipping, so she tried to dig them deeper into the sand below the sea. But that wasn’t the cause. The electromagnetic currents that kept the molecules of the ocean from turning toxic once again now pulled at her circuits and plating. They were safe to biologics, but not her heavy-metals frame.

Still giving drinks and making castles and holding towels, all the robots on the beach watched as Sylveen’s body contorted, twisted and drifted away. And all the robots heard the girl, who had not yet learned that robots were replaceable, sob to her mother, “I… I didn’t know. I… just re-programmed her to be brave.”