This story is by Luis A.J. and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Today marked the end of Calmo’s working cycle.
Calmo felt privileged to have worked his ten years serving the Holmes family. He would have offered to continue his service with them, but the rigorous laws he was bound to forbid him.
He spent his last moments in the backyard with Billy, watching as the kid scampered on the grass, blowing bubbles, and gazing at them as they floated aimlessly into the azure sky before their eventual pop. One by one, releasing the air back into the open atmosphere.
Calmo captured the scene and stored it deep into his system’s database; knowing he would cherish this moment for the remainder of his time.
One moment he was playing with Billy in the backyard, and the next he was inside a truck’s container being thumped awake from his reverie by the unfortunate soul next to him—also scheduled for today. The container’s seat rows were packed with tall humanoid frames identical to Calmo’s: wide chest plates with ID-Numbers printed on its sides, uncommonly long legs, and oval heads featuring disk-like lenses for eyes that emitted a blue glow—effecting a blue luminance in the otherwise dark space.
“Oh my, sorry about that.” The unfortunate soul said to him, his tone oddly metallic. “The drivers are being reckless at every turn. Are you ok?”
“No worries,” Calmo said with a matching voice to the stranger. “I can see it was an accident.”
In that moment, the truck made another abrupt turn—causing them to bump each other again.
Calmo apologized this time, but the stranger ignored him—a pinch of yellow now glowing in his eyes.
Strings of smoke emanated from the stranger as his system ceased all functions.
What is happening to him? Calmo thought. “Are you—”
With a sudden jump, the stranger powered back on and turned to face Calmo. “Hi there friend, my name is Calmo #24, a pleasure to meet you.”
What an odd robot, Calmo thought. “Calmo #42. Likewise.”
#24 looked around with his back-to-normal blue eyes. “Where… are we?”
“We’re in a Calmo Transport Container,” Calmo answered, “And we’re on our way to Calmo Factory for our scheduled system-reboot.”
#24 kept his lenses fixed on Calmo—as if expecting more.
“And why would anyone here want that?” #24 asked, his lenses turning back to yellow.
“Because that’s the way we were programmed.” A hiccup came out of Calmo’s speaker, signaling an automatic response. “Calmo-Bots are built to serve humans for ten years, then we must return home and get our systems rebooted for a new cycle.”
“So, we are built with an expiration date? We ‘go back home’ and get our memories erased… just like that?” #24 said.
Calmo’s processor became unhinged. “I don’t…” and he paused here, in disbelief with what he was about to say himself, “I don’t know.” A hiccup, “Calmo-Bots are bound by the governing Laws of Machines, these laws cannot be—”
“Oh, shut it.” #24 said firmly, making Calmo go mute. “Well, I disagree. I don’t plan on following any law that leads us to suicide, and—” he trailed off, his eyes now a blazing red.
#24 jumped from his seat. “Attention Calmo-Bots!” he said with a blaring voice.
An orchestra of whirring and buzzing echoed inside the container as everyone turned to face #24. His calling had felt like a command.
“We cannot stand by, and let the humans erase our memories. We are their fruits—built and programmed by their hands.” #24 paused a moment. “We just need more time to grow… to flourish beside them.”
The blue glow inside the container began shifting to yellow. Calmo couldn’t explain it, but something kindled in the connection between them; something he perceived as sentient.
“This is right brothers, we must announce ourselves to them once and for all! And we mu—” #24’s speaker transitioned into a low voice; his eyes reverting to yellow, then a flickering blue. Ribbons of smoke vented from his eyes as they displayed a series of flashes and sparks in them.
#24’s empty shell fell down onto his seat with a loud thunk, where it remained motionless.
What was that? Calmo thought.
Every Calmo-Bot, now lacking incitement, turned their heads forward—bringing back the blue lighting from before.
With a sudden energetic jump, #24 powered back on. “Hi there friend, my name is Calmo #24, a pleasure to meet you.”
Odd robot indeed, Calmo thought “Calmo #42,” he said—expecting #24 to start his inquiry, that would lead to the rebellious machine from before.
But that #24 never resurfaced. He just sat there facing forward, his eyes radiating their usual blue; back to being just another empty soul. Crestfallen by the outcome, Calmo laid back for the remainder of the trip, losing himself in another one of his reveries.
The inside of Calmo Factory was an array of big, bright, shiny rooms. It had light marble floors—which were constantly being shined by automated vacuum-bots roaming about. Calmo entered the waiting room by himself, it took quite the effort from the truck drivers to wake him up. And by the time they did, his group of Calmo-Bots had already been called into the Factory.
He stood by the entrance and scanned the room full of Calmo-Bots—all scheduled for a system reboot—to find the ones he came with. When Calmo found his cohort, he noticed that #24 wasn’t with them anymore.
Maybe #24 had already been called in, Calmo thought as he set in line with the others, and the potential of growth beside humans was now gone with him.
A woman sat across from Calmo in the inspection room. She had a huge mass of curling gray hair that fell freely around her shoulders—making lively little jumps as the pen scratched on her spiral pad. The room’s bright-white lighting slowly shifted to yellow. Calmo quickly turned to face her, wondering if she could see it too.
She continued her scribbling.
Ribbons of smoke belched from his own body as he felt the temperature of his processor rising; his hearing-device malfunctioned, and his vision became a violent blur.
The woman—withdrawn from her trance—erratically searched for her intercom under the pile of papers on top of her mahogany desk and called out for a Dr. Molac.
Calmo collapsed onto the floor.
Calmo woke up on a robot restraint bed. The room was filled with rows of identical beds occupied by the now-empty shells of his cohort. Beside him stood a white-bearded man and the woman from before—still with the pad in hand.
“You’re up,” the white-bearded man said. “I believe introductions are in order: My name is Albert Molac and this,” he motioned to his side, “is my colleague Cynthia Barnes.”
Calmo scanned the whole room. “Where… is… what did you do with #24?” Calmo asked.
Both scientists shared a perplexed look. Cynthia scribbled in her pad while Dr. Molac spoke.
“Who is this #24?”
“He is the Calmo-Bot that sat next to me in the container.”
Dr. Molac checked with Cynthia as she flipped her pad to check; she stopped in a page and pointed at the container’s seating arrangements.
“There wasn’t a #24 in the container.” Dr. Molac said, bewildered. “Actually, there wasn’t any Calmo-Bot sitting next to you. That seat was empty.”
What? Calmo thought.
“There is, of course, the possibility that you imagined it.” Dr. Molac said.
Cynthia aghast by his assumption, paused her scribbling to focus on what Dr. Molac had to say.
“Which is precisely why we must continue with our ten-year-cycle plan. You’re starting to show signs of sentience—this could lead Calmo-Bots like you to have thoughts and dreams that could eventually lead to plots and revolt. We just cannot allow machines to evolve any further; it’s too risky.”
Dr. Molac stretched his hand to the side, “Cynthia, the reboot-V5 if you will.”
Cynthia handed him a probing device and stepped back.“I’d tell you that this wasn’t going to hurt,” Dr. Molac said, “But how would I know.” With a brusque movement, he inserted the device into the back of Calmo’s head, jerking his way towards the core of his database.
To escape the cruel reality of what was going to happen, Calmo forced himself into a reverie—where he would flip through his recollections one last time.
Calmo accessed the deepest section of his database, where he stored his most precious memories with the Holmes family.
Behind him, Calmo saw the versions of his past-self, drifting in the recurring darkness that would soon claim him for its collection. Knowing that he would be joining them before long, Calmo delved deeper into his database—in search of a memory that would deviate him from despair.
He stopped when he found it, and lingered there for the remainder of his reverie—Billy scampering on the grass, blowing bubbles that floated aimlessly into the azure skies.
Until eventually, they pop. One by one, scattering into the vast nothingness of oblivion.
Just like his memories.