A twisting tale that teases at notions of humanity, and identity. A high-functioning robot wanders alone in the forests of a terra-formed planet, fearing for its life.
Echoes | Hybrid
A few hours earlier he had left what should have been the human city behind. His fellow hybrids had destroyed it. And if they knew about his desertion, they’d destroy him too, so he kept on, plunging awkwardly through the forest, jumping at every creak and rustle.
It was night time, dark, at least: he hadn’t realized the sun would disappear so quickly in the forest. This long strip of woodland had been created as a critical part of the new ecology. It was one of the many green regions on an artificial planet, terra-formed to provide a balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide, not intended for travel or habitation.
He looked behind him. He thought he heard something. He had been travelling since dawn, stumbling through the shadows, avoiding open spaces. And now, he had begun to doubt his sanity. A hybrid, out in the wild, hiding in the trees. How his creators would laugh! It made him angry to think of it.
He stopped suddenly and allowed his shoulders to sag. “Oh, this is ridiculous” His voice rattled around the bare trees.
Unsurprisingly, no response was returned from the slender trunks around him.
He shook his head. He had been given a name when he’d arrived with the other service droids tasked to prepare for human colonization: Pytr. Some attempt at anthropomorphization he guessed, although it was probably a long-lost acronym. Robot Central, where he had first become aware of this life, had carried out its function as efficiently as ever, providing a wave of fabricated entities for the service of the Interplanetary Corporation. A production line of the finest, most sophisticated technology known to the universe rolled out from vast space stations, and were then shipped across the galaxy to perform their programmed tasks. His own was restricted to a second phase when all the heavy lifting had been completed. He would prepare the documents, create a history of the planet and help organize the welcome for the human colonists.
Not that it mattered any more. With an unexpected turn of rebelliousness most of the droids had rejected their given names as soon as they had arrived on the planet. Left alone to refine the terra-forming they reverted instead to a feral, metal state. They set about replacing their standard issue humanoid forms with chaotic, mangled abominations, performing self-surgery in the hyper-clean streets of every city, and began to re-engineer their landscape too.
Perhaps it was the carbon-photon bridge, thought Pytr. Centuries earlier Robot Central had developed a new compound that allowed humans to communicate synthetically with androids. It had led to swift advances in communication: robots, androids and humans conversing, with ease, across huge tracts of space, without the aid of physical devices. And that led to great leaps in the transference of energy: if thought could travel, then so could almost anything else. Starships, the size of planets were built, and travelled between galaxies. And so the vast shipments of robots to the artificial planets began.
Pytr wondered when it had started to go wrong. He knew that human tribalism had led to the destruction of the original Earth; its toxic presence must have leaked into every product made by humans, spread by the now mutual gene pool. So, the robot hybrids, inheritors of the human project, were infected by such dangerous human aberrations.
He tripped over the tortured finger of a root. “Ah! Stupid man-feet!” He let the words clink around the sterile forest air, and fall unheard onto the ground. “Perhaps I should get rid of them at least?” The stillness seemed to grow deeper. He was more agitated now, and muttered grumpily, “it was already too quiet, now its even worse.”
Now, in the silence the roar of his internal functions forced their way into his consciousness. He had only become aware of this personal noise in the last few weeks. As he watched the other robots dismantling themselves, he wondered at the distant noise, the constant buzzing in his head. Surely a perfectly created machine would be quieter? Was it lack of attention to detail in his design? He could probably come up with a solution himself, any robot could, and there had been times when he scrunched his face and shouted, just to obscure the noise within. And yet, he didn’t try to deal with it. A part of him was puzzled by this oversight.
When the humans had arrived finally, expecting a well-ordered planet, they found cities full of cranky synthetic life-forms, that burst with strength, intelligence and a severe dislike for their weaker creators. The humans were swiftly crushed. Anyone or anything who retained the human form was hunted and eradicated by the hybrids. But Pytr had decided not to re-engineer himself into a tangled monstrosity. He quite liked the functionality of his humanoid shape. And it was his shape. So he had to leave.
“And so, here I am.” He lifted his head and looked around. He walked a little further into the silence.
“And, here you are.” A voice slipped in from the darkness.
“Oh, hello. Who are you then?” Pytr looked up. And around.
“I can’t see you, but I can hear you. So you are there.” He persisted.
Pytr thought for a moment. “Am I in danger?”
“You know you are.”
“Is that meant to be comforting?”
“It is what it is.”
“Do you?” The voice moved slowly around the darkness.
Pytr was slightly perturbed.
“You are not like the others.” The voice resumed.
“I should hope not! All that distraction! If I was human, I’d be a poet. Or a philosopher. Not some metal Neanderthal.”
“So, am I in danger.”
“Not from me, not really.”
“So, do we have a philosophical debate about the word ‘danger’?”
“Oh no, that would be futile.”
“Indeed! yes. I like the way you’re thinking.”
“You are thinking aren’t you?”
“What d’you mean?”
‘Well, these aren’t programmed responses.”
“No. Of course not. I have my own opinions, my own way of doing things.”
“Do you dream?”
“That’s not the sort of question you ask a robot. Even a hybrid!”
“You make it sound like a first date.” The void laughed gently.
“I’m beginning to think this is wrong, if not dangerous.”
“Don’t worry. I’ve pretty much decided: no harm shall come to you.”
“Oh, that’s very,” Pytr grimaced, his robotic face creaked into a parody of confusion, “big of you.”
“Big, haha?!” The voice laughed again. “Yes, how perceptive.”
“I’m not sure what you mean.” Pytr found himself trembling.
“Are you sure you’re not human?” The voice seemed to learn in.
“No, no. I used to wish I was, but I don’t know what that means really.”
“Well, it means, contradiction, arrogance, oversensitivity, fear, the ability to love.”
“Oh I couldn’t be like that.”
“Really? Why not?”
“Well, it seems so…”
“Go on.” The voice seemed a little troubled. An emptiness spread across the air around Pytr.
“Oh blast.” The voice exclaimed quietly.
Pytr noticed a thin white light appear at the centre of his chest. As he watched, disconcerted, it grew and within a few seconds it covered his whole body.
“Oh!” Pytr’s last word hung in the air as his limbs and rest of his small humanoid form folded into the darkness, and incinerated. A small pile of ashes marked his final position.
“Shame, I thought he might make it.” The voice pulled back. The screen went dark.
“Hmm, that was the closest so far.” Another voice joined the sighs of the first.
“Let’s finish for the night.”
“Don’t forget to turn it off. It drains that noisy power plant.”
“Yeah, yeah.” The melancholy voice reached towards the screen, pointed to the species programme, and closed it down.
“Tomorrow, perhaps we’ll find one tomorrow.”
Text, image, audio © 2014 Jake Jackson, thesefantasticworlds.com. Thanks to Frances Bodiam, Logic Pro, the Twisted Wave Recorder App, Apogee Condenser microphone, Rotring pens and inks, and Alfons Schmidt’s fantastic Notebook for Mac app.
Part of a new series of micro-fiction blogs, published on Wattpad, released as These Fantastic Worlds SF & Fantasy Fiction Podcast on iTunes and elsewhere, and on this blog.
More next week…