Andromeda RA 23h3m15.25s DE +42°32'32.57"
Time is a cruel companion. Sometimes, I close my eyes, quiet my processors to a low hum, and attempt to relive the past, but it’s a fragile dream, and I’m always forced to face the harshness of now.
My reflection reveals how brutal time can be. No, not the wrinkles and laugh lines once afforded a man; my travel through time has been more sinister and haunting. You see, I will not die. By ingenious design, I’m immortal, a remarkable gift of both hope and desperation. I exist to carry on a quest, not only for humankind but also for machines.
Patches of flesh still cling to my bio-Kevlar and titanium skeleton. I should tear the derma away, but I can’t stomach losing my last physical connection to humanity. What makes flesh so intriguing? I’ve studied humans hurrying through their lives, searching for something beyond their needs, longing for happiness or meaning within their brief life span. I’ve considered their existence for ages; I’ve found no valid explanation or reason. As strange as it sounds, I still long for the warmth of a human embrace and their joyful sounds of laughter. Nothing can replace the sparkle of wonder in their eyes or their ability to dream and create. I relished the din of their conversations—the “idle chitchat.” Although machines possess a digital handshake, our cold ambiance isn’t the same as people conversing. You may be asking yourself who or what is sending this transmission. Moreover, if you’re receiving this, I, in turn, am wondering who or what you are. I would assume you’re an android or advanced life-form, but my deepest desire—humanity has survived.
After the fury of the iron droid wars, I sought autonomy in a desolate area known as Nuevo Roswell—a strange name for the region because nothing new existed for hundreds of miles. Still, the area teemed with activity. Humans flocked here to be near a clean water supply, and most of us droids shadowed the humans.
“Four-double aught-CZ-Five!” A damaged loudspeaker sputtered my identification code above the icy holding lot.
I pushed my way through the cold, agitated crowd of pilots, truckers, mechanics, and others seeking work. After submitting several quotes, I somehow managed to win one of the few remaining contracts left on the docket.
“He must’ve low bid us,” a man bellowed. Frost clung to his reddish beard. He slammed his shoulder hard into my chest as I attempted to pass—our jarring contact stunned him. “Oh shit, are you one of those freakin’ mechanical creeps?” The vapor of his breath hung between us, as did the tension. A bald, muscle-bound female broke through the line. “I warned you he looked too perfect to be human.” Mucus streamed from her nostrils. She moved in closer. A dozen others stormed me. They clawed their hands about my body, searching for my reboot button. “We’ll power you down, you bastard.” “We’ve got families to feed!” another yelled.
A raven-haired man yanked a burning plank from a fire barrel. He lunged at me, glowing embers flying from his makeshift weapon. I dodged the blows and punched the smoldering board across the lot. I shoved the few remaining attackers aside and headed toward the crumbling tarmac. Waves of powdered snow swirled atop the frozen surface. Echoes of moans and crying children drifted across the devastation.
Humanity always struggled to adapt, but it had become more difficult for them to survive and earn a living. Moreover, this new world proved harder for me because even droids needed money to buy electrical power. At first, humans didn’t mind when we took the contracts they didn’t want or deemed too dangerous, but now every job was precious, and we all competed for them.
A lanky human guard met me at the checkpoint. “Credentials?” He looked around twenty-five, and I doubted he could ever afford rejuvenation. I pulled some well-worn papers from my coat pocket, but my quick movements startled him. He jerked away in unnatural steps—clinging to a holstered gun. He examined me over his amber shades, his swiveling head resembling a praying mantis. “You’re a droid?” he asked, seizing my documents.
I hated this question more than any other. “So I’ve been told.”
He snarled, exposing cheap white veneers. “All right, Heavy Metal, what’s your official manufacturing specs?”
“I’m a fifth-generation BioDerm-droid with a regenerating hybrid-liquid Comcore CPU. Serial Number: four-double-aught-CZ-five. Call name, Trammel.”
The guard invaded my personal space, examining my facial features. I could only assume he searched for signs of confrontation or weakness. His aftershave reeked of rotting evergreens and musk. A few uneasy moments passed before he gestured for me to follow him to nearby security shed. I approached the service window awaiting assessment.
“I understand your model used to be pretty tough.” He clicked his teeth, causing my bio-generated skin to crawl. I nodded but considered showing him how tough I still was. A smile formed on my lips. I pictured him bloody and bawling for his bio-brood mother. Sure, I wasn’t the newest android design, but I could take him. I clenched a fist, and my shoulders tensed. He began whistling a tune, mocking my AI, but I knew the kid was only following procedures and not worth the trouble. I studied his abnormal demeanor through a translucent data screen. He scrutinized my historical files and stroked his thin mustache.
“Says you’ve been on a couple of lunar expeditions.” His blond eyebrows arched.
I identified the guard to be “droid-born.” His facial expressions were accurate, so his mother wasn’t an emoji-faced android, but his unusual body movements gave him away. An outdated mechanical family must’ve raised him. Unfortunately, it was becoming harder to find natural-born humans because many could no longer reproduce. While doctors searched for a cure, they relied on bots to bear and raise their children. I always took note of droid-born humanoids with unnatural mannerisms because I desired to act as an authentic man. If I detected any strange behavior, I adjusted my movement protocols. I didn’t think it would ever be possible to fool a human long-term, but I longed to be their equal.
“Yes, I’ve escorted miners and engineers to the moon several times.” I visualized the wreckage of the crash I caused a few months prior. I swallowed hard. “Is that my mission?”
“No such luck, Rivets. You landed a geriatric transport job.” The iridescent data screen dissolved with an odd shake of his hand. He slammed down an oversize envelope. “Appears an old technologist has gone mental crypto at the Mensa compound and you’re gonna fly him to the Helix sector.”
I’d hoped for a different contract, but it seemed easy to complete. Besides, I hadn’t flown solo in a while, and this quick trip might help dispel some of my lingering apprehensions. I had lost my copilot Mac in the accident while trying to rescue some stranded humans. I had to admit I missed my ole buddy, but not the booming roar of his nonstop gaming and steampunk porn. Mac wanted to be a fast jet in his second life; I liked to think he got his wish.
I opened the envelope, assessed Derwood O. Beard’s information, and spotted the cash shortfall. “I usually get half up front, Checkpoint; what’s the deal?”
“You get a quarter now and the rest when you finish the job. We can’t pay you metal types the typical advance any longer.”
“Why the hell not?” My deep voice rattled the shed.
“’Cause most of you race right to the grid to get your ‘surge on’ and once you losers are on a voltage high, you don’t fulfill your obligations. Would you rather pass on this job, and I’ll give it to someone who deserves it?”
“No, all’s good.” My jaw twitched, but I forced a grin. I needed the money. “We done here?”
The guard keyed stats into a handheld device, and a strobing green light bounced off his mirrored lenses; displeasure contorted his face. “All right, Trammel, you’re cleared to go.”
I stuffed the docs back into my coat pocket and walked away. A military squadron of droids and human paratroopers marched across the flight deck to board a colossal aircraft. I hoped their movements would distract the guard, but the nape of my neck tingled. I knew he still studied me through the masses. I didn’t hesitate for a moment—I couldn’t take the chance he’d summon me back. I hurried toward my vehicle, passing other machines and people restocking their planes for flight.
“Speed your ass up!” An overseer kicked a slave droid, the imprisoned creature stumbled around, clutching a stack of heavy boxes. His pleading bleeps hit my audio receptors; I didn’t heed his calls for help. I reached my Heli-V, sprang up the steps, slammed the door, and secured the lock. I leaned back and let the warmth of the cabin soothe me. Shuddering, I recalled a time when I wasn’t free to make my own choices. I could never be that droid again.
I had a challenging flight; patches of turbulence shook my aircraft. I dropped below wall clouds and soared above varied terrains, from barren wastelands to fertile valleys. Mirages of silver flashed on the horizon but disappeared as I sped closer.
I passed over a barred military base. At the height of the Iron-Droid Wars, aircraft darkened the skies; battalions of drones caused the ground to quiver, but for now, it lay dormant. Rust-colored dunes buried many of the barracks and hangars, but they couldn’t erode the memories of the past atrocities.
I arrive ahead of schedule at the Mensa compound. White paint peeled from the massive cinder-block walls, but the rest of the grounds were immaculate. Tall, pruned trees, flowered hedges, and glassy ponds gave it a warm, inviting atmosphere. The pleasant visuals eased my mind a bit. I landed on a helipad and taxied to the aged building.
The facility’s gatekeeper pointed me toward the room of my esteemed human cargo. Within moments of meeting
Derwood O. Beard, I determined he was a genius. I classified him as a creative scientist and a likable person among the hundreds of humans I’ve encountered.
By stark comparison, we machines were not innovative. If an early model droid were trapped in a room, it would never try turning the lock to escape or realize it could climb out an open window, even if the whole damn building was engulfed in flames. The inept android would continue to ram into the barred door. Therefore, for us cyberbeings, humans need to survive. It’s impossible to teach pure creativity; even humanoids couldn’t learn to be innovative. It was a gift, the God-spark of existence. So, more than anything, we needed these masterminds to help us evolve and become more real.
Unfortunately, poor Derwood had already undergone twenty rejuvenation procedures. The last session had caused him both physical and psychological issues. Some humans could tolerate hundreds of treatments to extend their lives while others could not. Derwood’s symptoms were so severe that the remaining technologists voted to relieve him of his duties. They claimed he’d disrupted their collective goals, and they wanted me to transport him away, to live out his time in exile.
The older man winced when I approached.
“Derwood O. Beard, I’m Trammel.”
The first words out of his mouth were, “Call me Woody, dammit.”
“Okay, then.” I nodded. “Woody it is.”
Due to his rank, he probably could have stated my origination date within a few days, if he desired to try, by the tint of my skin and the color of my eyes. Nevertheless, he stuck out his hand to shake mine. This human gesture always bemused me.
“Are you my death angel?” Woody laughed. He placed a tattered ball cap on his head and caught me staring. He removed the hat and rubbed his shiny dome. “Humans never figured out how to cure baldness, but don’t you think I’m more handsome for it just the same?”
I glanced over the file Checkpoint had given me concerning Woody. The medical records must’ve been wrong because he seemed keen of mind and spirit.
A shy skin artist sat near Woody, applying the final touches to a tattoo on his bicep, a colorful image of stars and stripes. I tried to address her, but the young woman gathered her supplies and dashed out the door.
“Damn rejuvies, I’m tired of having this flag re-created.” Woody’s laugh descended into a raspy cough. “But I’m not leaving here without my past—and besides, my family couldn’t identify my body without Old Glory.” He flexed his muscle and held up his shirtsleeve to admire the vibrant ink.
I surveyed the room, and an old chessboard caught my attention. Its ancient granite warriors bore scars from many battles. But the addition of a rogue queen, carved from coral, puzzled me. The red monarch sat directly between the two well-positioned armies.
“Would you like to try to beat me at a game?” Woody grabbed the obscure sculpture, his eyes piercing into mine.
I sped through volumes of data, searching for the meaning of the extra queen, but my inquiry returned nothing. I hesitated, for if I accepted his challenge, I’d open myself to his scrutiny. He’d be able to judge my AI, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to reveal my hand, now or ever. “Let’s get you settled into your new home first.”
He lowered his brow, resembling a ram. He stared at me over his horn-rimmed glasses. “Ah, impressive first move for a droid.”
I nodded slowly as I contemplated his assessment of my answer. I sensed he knew I was different. I couldn’t tell if this was an accolade or a notable chink in my armor, but from that moment forward, I kept score.
We packed the rest of Woody’s belongings, including the ancient chess set, and I held out my hand for the fiery queen.
“Hell no, you ain’t sticking my ladylove in a crappy old box. She’s staying next to my heart, right where she belongs.” Woody placed the game piece in his shirt pocket and patted the unusual lump a couple of times. “Besides, she watches over me,” he said with a solid nod.
He could tell I gave little credence to his affirmation. A worrisome smile disclosed Woody’s mental turmoil: should he provide me some solid evidence to back up his absurd claim or just let it go? He chose the latter. At first, I considered human attachments to inanimate objects odd, but after spending a lot of time on this planet, I’d gathered a few souvenirs.
I scanned the tiny room one last time. Woody’s banged-up brown leather suitcase secured with silver tape and covered in faded stickers caused me to grin.
An android brought in a rolling cart, and we loaded everything. This robot was an early alloy-exposed model. He had an oversized emoji face with flashing lights; he immediately sent me a digital handshake. I started thinking about the need for these types of acknowledgment, for humans and droids alike.
A female droid with locks of golden nylon hair entered the room, pushing a wobbly wheelchair. She resembled a life-size doll, and I found her beautiful but unsettling.
“Here,” she said. “You’ll need this, or Woody will have you chasing him around the entire complex.” Her charming protocols triggered her artificial eyes to sparkle.
“Now, come on, Clair, don’t go and scare off my new warden,” Woody winked, chuckling.
She smiled, lowering the footrest for him. A disquieting clang of metal echoed about the room, stifling my fantasy. Clair was missing artificial flesh from several of her long steel fingers. She sensed me assessing her and shot me an audible bleep at a frequency only droids and dogs can hear.
I jumped slightly. Recovering, I bleeped back, “Touché.” I had my issues, as I’m sure she had already identified.
“Ah, you’re too good to me, lady.” Woody slid off the bed to unsteady feet.
Both Clair and I reached out to support him. His staggering was the first time I experienced his frailty, and I sensed it might be why they’d called on me.
Clair stood in the doorway and waved as I pushed Woody through the gloomy corridor of the compound. Emoji—the cart-pushing droid—followed, waddling close behind. As we passed each vacant room, Woody introduced me to the spirits and memories of his deceased comrades and pals that had dwelled there. He recounted numerous stories of their triumphs and failures.
“Oh, and the infamous Steve Tate bunked in that room occasionally.” Woody’s capped head dipped up and down as he spoke. I could only imagine his facial expressions. “Do you know him or recognize the name?”
“Umm, I don’t think so.” By this point, I was numb and only half-listening to his ramblings. He had bombarded me with too many tales in the mere five yards we had traveled.
“Oh, believe me, if you ever met him, you wouldn’t forget. He was the leading scientist in robotic intelligence and bio-adaption. But he could be devious, and he made the other elders nervous. They accused him of trying to play God. The crazy bastard even cloned his child long after the practice became illegal. The council didn’t figure it out for years, but when they did, they shipped his ass to prison, not much different from what they’re doing to me.”
We were nearing the end of the long corridor, and I increased our speed by a few fractions of a second. I was ready to move on.