Thursday, 20 August 2009

The Unduly Perturbed Robotic Child

When he woke up just after noon it was still raining. The sky was white. He clambered out of bed and fired up the computer. He sat down at the desk. The dog plodded into the room and licked his bare knee. Oh, a wee kiss he exclaimed and petted the dog affectionately. Then the dog plodded away again, its paws clicking on the wooden floor. He was alone again, as he had become accustomed to being.
He clicked open a website and began looking at some artistic photographs of curtains in South America. He decided he liked them. He set one of them as his desktop background.
He looked out the window. The rain had ceased. He got up and dressed in jeans, a sweater and tennis shoes. He seized a jacket from a hook on the back of his bedroom door.
It was a cold wintry afternoon. He walked past a derelict factory and followed a pot-holed road into woodland. The dog galloped ahead of him, stopping every so often to ensure that he was following. He waved reassuringly at the dog and turned and dashed onwards.
They emerged from the woodland and followed a path through fields past a shale bing. The path led to a tunnel which passed under a motorway. Graffiti on the walls, the din of passing traffic. They emerged from the tunnel and walked onwards through a woodland path. A cold sun hung motionless in the sky.
All of a sudden the dog scrambled through some shrubs, presumably to chase rabbits. Rabbits that eternally evaded him.
But on this occasion the dog wasn't chasing rabbits.

The man pushed through the shrubbery, holding his arms in front of his face to shield it from scratching. He walked uphill then at the summit emerged from the bushes and shrubs to come across an abandoned construction site beside some railway tracks. The dog was trotting around the site, investigating various discarded items. Then it stopped, squatted, and strained as it expelled a thick turd. A grotesque spectacle for sure. The man wandered down into the site. It seemed to be a half-finished train station. A blue plastic shed sat nearby, once a lookout for a night watchman more than likely. It would be abandoned now as most projects, businesses, endeavours had been.

A slight breeze picked up as man and dog stood amongst the embryonic constructions. The man ventured towards the plastic blue shack and nudged open the door. A small window covered with a metal grille admitted a paltry amount of sunlight. A table, a couple of chairs. Diagrams taped to the walls, likely architectural. The man pulled a lighter out from his coat pocket. He sparked it and cast a frail, flickering light over the interior of the shack. Empty food canisters. The ashy remains of a fire. The dog plodded inside and stood behind him.
Something caught his attention in the corner. A small metal machine, cubic in dimension. He crouched and held the flame toward it. Hmmmm, what a curious piece of shit he murmured to himself. It had a panel and LCD lights that were turned off. It had eyes and a face, a metallic grille of a face.
The man replaced the lighter in his pocket and lifted the thing outside. It was fairly heavy. The dog sniffed at it. It had tufts of artificial hair on its head and a small cubic body. It had a tripod of wheels for feet and small prosthetic hands welded to its body, no arms. It seemed to be an extremely makeshift robot. But where would someone obtain such small prosthetic hands, hands as if made for a baby. Were such items once widely manufactured?
The man turned the thing over and examined its ass for a switch. No dice.
"Leave him alone," a female voice chided him.
The man turned round and came face to face with a weathered looking middle aged woman dressed in a blue jacket, a skirt, grey leggings and wellington boots. She wore a cautious, defiant expression.

The man stood up and stepped back slightly, away from the device.
"I was trying to figure out how to activate it," he said and tried to smile reassuringly. His voice wavered as he spoke. The woman kept her eyes on him as she moved towards the device.
"That's none of your fucking concern," she told him. She slowly descended to her knees and embraced the small thing, petting its hair and murmuring against its cold metallic face. The man wasn't sure whether to be amused or appalled. The dog sniffed at the woman as she cuddled the wee robot.
“Keep that fucking animal away from us,” the woman groaned, sounding genuinely pained. The man was so unsettled he grasped the dog by the collar and pulled it away the weird spectacle of human/machine tenderness he was witnessing. He held the dog but was too mesmerized to move away. The woman moved her hands all over the machine, making bizarre keening noises as she did so. Her hand must have moved over a switch or some sort of activation trigger. The wee thing whirred into sentience. Lights lit up. The wee hands flopped ineffectually. It made a sound like recorded gurgling.
“Shhhh…” the woman murmured, continuing to pet it and nuzzle against it.
The man turned and began to run. The dog galloped with him, baring its teeth in a manic grin. The man dashed through the shrubs and back onto the woodland path. Here he stopped to regain his breath. The dog ran round him excitedly and sniffed at his knees.
They walked home, the man checking over his shoulder every couple of minutes. The sun was beginning to sink, dusk was approaching.
He got home and fed the dog. Then he hung up his jacket on the door. He sat down at his desk and fired up the computer. The photo of the curtains appeared on his desktop in tile formation. He opened the word processer function and began typing up an account of what he had just witnessed. The dog settled in its basket and quickly fell asleep. It began to dream. Its legs jerked and it whispered half-formed barks. The man watched it and contemplated what it might be dreaming about.

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