The speed at which Michiko’s roboto folded the origami crane was breathtaking. She would have her thousand orizuru in mere minutes and then her prayer must be answered. She knelt on the tatami resting her weary arms delicately on the edge of the kotatsu as the low table began to fill with the multi-colored cranes. With pride and relief, Michiko watched her roboto’s sleek beryllium digits deftly fold, crease and fan each paper square into an ancient symbol of hope—her only hope.
She’d already died once and was near death again. The cancer that gnawed at her bones would not be put off again. Men and medicine had saved her before, but it turned out to be only a two-year respite. Her fellow beings had tried and now could offer no salvation, so she turned to her own deus ex machina. Machinations of the divine.
An orphan and solitary being for thirty-six years, Michiko had almost refused the medidroid prescribed for her cancer care. At first, the droid’s presence in her flat, her refuge, had unnerved her. But she had no one and she could not care for herself.
Roboto did. It shopped, cooked, cleaned, obeying her silently after she had disabled its vocal features. Day after day in silent communion, roboto helped medicate, feed, bathe and dress her. Michiko had been grudging, then hesitant, then surprisingly curious, and one morning after a night of tortured dreams and anguish, she’d awakened with a strange sense of comfort, of peace, her wizened fingers clasping roboto’s cool digits.
Michiko began to use the honorific robot-sama when addressing her companion. When her condition allowed, she would walk among the cherry trees in Nishi Koen with roboto at her side. She began to play the shamisen again. She had always spoken sparingly and that did not change, but she spoke gently to roboto when asking for help. She simply lived. At one point with her strength regaining, she dared to dream of freedom, and yet the heaviness returned, deep in her marrow. She knew. Men and medicine soon knew.
She wondered if roboto knew.
Weaker every day, Michiko mourned for herself. It was a new feeling. Though a solitary being, she was not the self-pitying sort. Yet, as she watched roboto care for her, she realized that she would miss the steadfastness, the complete presence, of her companion.
And so she began to pray. Why not call upon a greatness of spirit, something beyond her kind? A thousand cranes, the most perfect prayer. But she could not manage the delicate work. Roboto. It took the rest of her waning strength to teach the technique, but roboto soon mastered it.
Now, minutes from completion, she knelt revelling in the necessity of being.
Roboto finished folding the thousandth crane and began to link them into one long chain. Michiko, now supine on the tatami, reached out, one hand close enough to touch roboto, but not touching. Through a gathering dizziness, she whispered aloud her last thought, “What would you say to me, roboto-sama? What would you say?”
Roboto, as ever, gave immediate presence to her voice, though unfamiliar with the mortally soft inflection of the query. The anticipation of a thousand cranes ready to soar stilled the room.
“I am Michiko,” roboto answered, releasing the delicate creatures of its creation and reaching, naturally, for the shamisen.