talonkarrde: (color)
The vision has never wavered for me, not for an instant; it is as perfect in my mind as it was ten years ago when I first saw those terribly carved wooden blocks dancing for the Queen. How ugly they were, how dull and how crude — but even then, there was an essence underneath that poor display, a vision that spoke to me.

I knew then what could be — what should be — and devoted my life to it. For years I studied, balancing and placating the twin dragons of engineering and art — never, I learned, must one outstrip the other, lest a designer be left with functional parts no person would desire to look at, or present a beautiful form that does nothing but stand mute.

It was the union of those disciplines where I poured my life, seeking to create something no one had before.

In time, I graduated from making small animatronics and those selfsame crude wooden clacking blocks to grander visions. A finch, one that could cock its head and sing; a cocker spaniel, sophisticated enough to roll over on command. It was enough to delight the court and have them grant me the position of an Architect, with the resources I wanted — no, needed — to do what I truly desired. What only I could do.

Oh, if only it were as easy as making small animals that could please the fops at court.

My first attempts at automatons — from the Greek work αὐτόματον — were hardly worth the name — they barely looked human, could do no more than stumble, and I cast them aside almost as quickly as I cast their molds and cut their gears. Each one was as much of a failure as the last.

But it is a truth that the practice of art drives art itself forward, and through time and innumerable prototypes, smashed gears and fits of rage, something began to take shape, and rise from the failures.

The fingers were my first breakthrough — using lenses, I was able to create smaller gears and smaller levers that allowed for finer movements, and created hands that were more akin to our own than the literal blocks the automata previously had for hands. Then the creation of scripts, borrowed from the Swiss work on their charming music boxes, allowed our automata to expand so that they could perform a myriad of tasks, as long as they were fed the correct script.

The achievements came faster and faster — articulating joints and ‘eyes’ that could process, in something of an elementary fashion, the presence of light — and when the Queen called for a show, I thought that perhaps I would finally be able to deliver on the vision that I had seen so long ago.

I answered her call and told her that I had something worth showing, something that would change the world.

And upon the stage that I watched blocks dance and realized what my life’s work would be, I sat as a grown man and I saw the culmination of my work writ large. My models performed well — they were more graceful than anyone expected, executing movements and poses perfectly through the routine, indeed even putting the Royal Corps de Ballet to shame — and as they finished, the applause was thunderous.

But I was not done — after my bow, I pointed back to the stage, and flashed a light at the lead automata, setting a secret script, one I had told no one about, into effect.

And he spoke. Just a few words, a thank you to the Queen, and then a bow, which the others followed. The audience went wild — the papers the day after said that there had never been such an ovation, such a reaction — and I spent hours that night simply trying to get away from all of those who wanted to express their admiration.

And yet, here is the difference between the creator and the audience: all I could think of is of the failure that the automata expressed. When it came time to speak, he might have been a child, slow in the head. His words were not clear, and he was so far away from conversing that it might be years, or decades. The vision that I knew of so many years ago was still as steady as ever, but I was no closer to accomplishing it — and though all the court congratulates me on creating something that can move, that can dance, that can speak, none of them know the true boundaries of what could be.

Of what I could make it.

Perhaps the secret is this: that even with all of our breakthroughs, with all of our borrowing of other technologies, of reaching for the cutting edge of what humanity can do, there still, always, something missing. Perfection feels like it is always just hovering over the horizon, over the next breakthrough, but with each advance, there are other areas to correct, other progress that must be made. Art is never as beautiful in real life as it is in our minds.

But I will never rest until I reach it.
talonkarrde: (color)
He has heard of these invitations, though he's never seen one: a physical letter, written in emerald ink on a cream-colored envelope, delivered by courier to the intended recipient personally. It is unique, not only because letters fell out of favor centuries ago, but also because they are usually delivered to lords and ladies, men and women of power and stature, and not to graduate students who have published poorly received papers.

And yet, it is clearly addressed to him, one Alfred Borden, for the invitation-only performance of 'Ehrich, the Prince of the Air', on Saturday night. Alfred — Al, to his friends — stares at it uncomprehendingly for a few seconds before setting it aside, carefully. He was so close to finishing this latest paper, after all, on the sentience and proposed rights of automata; he would think about the magician's show eventually.

One of the robots wheels up to him, clearing away the empty mug of coffee and setting down another in front of him. "Thanks," he says, and it wheels away with a smooth ‘welcome’. At the next table down, though, it passes by without stopping, missing the trash on the table, and that student is less kind, throwing his can directly at the robot, where it shatters.

"Clean that shit up, bolts," the student says, snorting as the automata apologizes repeatedly, dripping with soda.

Al almost says something, but he's learned by now not to, and simply returns to his work, looking up neurological papers and finding longitudinal studies on the automata's emotion and learning.

-

"Alfred, could you come into my office?" The neural message comes a few days later, Friday afternoon, just after he's submitted the latest draft of the paper. It does not contain some of the edits that have been suggested to him, because he thinks they soften the point of his thesis too much.

Suddenly, though, something clicks into place — Al starts to piece together the delays he's gotten on requests for other papers on this subject, the slight coldness that he's received from some of the faculty, the simple hostility that he's received, once or twice, from people that have read his drafts. And this — this must be the culmination of it, being called into the Dean's office with no forewarning.

"Alfred, we think you're a great student..."

He waits, tensely, for the other shoe to drop.

"...but the faculty has been discussing your paper and we don't believe that it's in line with the university's standards in granting degrees. At this point, we're not going to be able to offer you a degree with the thesis in its current form."

The Dean smiles, thinly, as if they were talking about the weather. And just like that, Alfred's world crashes down upon him.

"But Dean Eisenheim, it's been meticulously researched and this is a school of—"

"This is a school of science, Alfred, and this paper is not up to the standards, and you should not be challenging me on this. These robots do not have rights, they do not have feelings, and it is preposterous to write such drivel and expect this fine institution to support it in any way. You will edit this or you will fail, Mister Borden, and there will be no further discussion on this."

And with that, without a full sentence to defend himself, the meeting is over, and Al has two choices: capitulate to the school's demands — censorship — or go ahead with it, have it killed, and with it his future and eight years of work.

-

It's Saturday, and Alfred has no idea what to do. He's spent most of his time staring moodily at his paper, but can't bring himself to delete the sections that are most obviously critical of the conclusion that automata aren't sentient and deserve rights. If anything, he wants to add more language in that direction, though it would only make it more unacceptable to the committee. Eventually, the maidbot comes in, 'sees' that he's there, and makes to leave again, but Al stops it with a question.

"Maid, do you have a name?"

"My designation is a Cleaning Assistance Automation Robot, or CAAR, sir. I am model ED-34.1, and my serial is XK392u1J-"

"But do you have a name?" he interrupts.

"I answer to 'Maid', 'Maidbot', 'Cleaning bot', as well as other designations when I am conceivably being addressed."

"What other designations are there?" He wonders out loud, not expecting an answer, but the Maidbot speaks.

"Bolts. Tin can. Useless. Piece-of-shit."

Al blinks, caught off-guard by this. But the Maidbot doesn't move, apparently waiting for a command.

"How do you... feel about this?"

"Robots are not programmed to feel," the Maidbot responds, and then turns and wheels away.

Al sighs, lifting his hands in a gesture of futility and letting them fall again, and as he does, catches the edge of the invitation and sends it fluttering to the floor. He peers over at it, and then shrugs - why the hell not - and sits up, deciding to go.

-

The show takes place at an amphitheatre of sorts, and Alfred notes with some unease that everyone else there was far, far more well off than him, including some personalities that he could name off of the newscasts. Some are even there with their personal automata, sitting docilely at their master's feet, and he suspects that more than one is being used for pleasure instead of servitude. All his observations are cut short, though, when the lights dim and Ehrich comes to the stage to a round of applause. The magician starts the show with small, fast crowd pleasers that everyone expects. Some of them are new, some of them are not — the doves that vanish in a flash of light and puff of smoke, the cards that appear to levitate themselves.

As the show goes on, though, the tricks become more involved and more distinct — the ‘Prince of the Air’ escapes from chains and bonds and a cabinet that lasers are slowly cutting into, with only a few singed hairs. He takes a laserpistol and fires a few shots into a metal plate, leaving scorch marks, and then proceeds to catch the laser beam, something that should clearly be impossible, and yet, the magician stands there, his hands trapping the beam in place until he lets it go, at which point it continues down its original path and creates a neat hole in a wooden beam.

The magician starts a patter, too, talking about his experiences with dangerous elements, and Al is following along happily until after a daring last-second escape from a closing dodecahedron made of lasers, the magician asks a question.

“You guys want to see something really interesting?”

Of course, the response is immediate and approving.

“Anyone have an ‘bot with them? Yeah, I thought I saw a few in the crowd. Did anyone pay for the emotional sensitivity module — you know the one that allows them pleasure and pain?”

All the hands go down, now, but after a bit, one or two raise themselves again. It is, after all, an invitation-only event. Ehrich smiles.

“Does anyone want a good reason to trade in their bot for the newest models?” Most of the hands, surprisingly, stay up, though Alfred realizes that the rich and powerful were most likely always in the market for something new. “Alright, then — you, sir, can you have your ‘bot come down here?”

The owner shrugs and kicks the bot — a female one, it looks like — towards the stage, in lieu of asking. She cowers away from the kick and then slowly makes her way to Ehrich; when she arrives under the lights, it’s pretty clear that she is a pleasure bot, and was probably quite expensive, given the realistic nature — except, of course, for the stamp on her wrist, designating her as a ‘human analogue robot’.

Ehrich smiles, wider, though it doesn’t quite reach his eyes.

“What’s your name, honey?” he asks her, and she murmurs something in return. He covers his mic and says a few more words to her, and then turns back to the crowd.

“We have Felicity, here, ladies and gentlemen, and we’re going to see how good she is at escaping one of my tests, just to demonstrate that I am, indeed, not faking it!” A box the size of a coffin is raised onto the stage, and the magician leads the robot to it. And from a distance, it looks like she’s...shivering.

She protests, a bit, but Ehrich pushes her in, locking the handcuffs and ankle manacles. He forgets to cover his mic this time, and his voice is low but the words clear: “No, ‘bot, you have to do this. You’re not worth as much as a human, anyway; they’re going to replace you.”

Al almost surges to his feet in anger, but freezes as his fellow attendees simply laugh. Ehrich looks up and shrugs apologetically.

“Oops! Though I’m not saying anything that no one else believes, am I?” He winks, and then points back to Felicity, now chained inside the box with only her hands and feet sticking out and then closes the lid. “Your bot, sir, has sixty seconds with which to escape from this rather simple contraption. There are locks keeping her wrists together and feet where they are, and another lock that keeps the box closed. In sixty seconds, the fuse will get to the box and set it on fire. All set?”

The crowd roars its agreement, and Ehrich sets the fuse alight, watching as it slowly burns a concentric circle towards the center of the raised box. Felicity starts trying to make her way out, and everyone watches as her fingers twist and turn, as the box shakes from her trying to wiggle out of her restraints. But as the fuse grows closer, all she accomplishes his bringing her wrists back into the box — they reappear a few seconds later, with the handcuffs on. She does seem to manage to get her feet away, though, as they retreat into the box, though the fuse is close enough now that everyone is leaning forward in their seats — including Alfred.

“Looks like she learned to dislocate some joints,” Ehrich says, keeping the patter up. “It’s really important to do so, as it gets you out of all sorts of restraints, though it probably hurts a bit the first time, doesn’t it, honey?” He taps the side of the box, but there’s no sound — and now the fuse has no more than twenty seconds left.

“Well, by now she should be working on the lock to the box itself, which is a devilishly complicated lock that I actually designed myself. Funny thing, that, even I can’t get it open half the time, which is why I have bots volunteer!” Ehrich laughs, and the crowd laughs with him, and Alfred only feels sick, knowing that there’s maybe five seconds to go.

“Well, we’ll see if she makes it out. Let’s start a countdown, shall we? Five, four, three, two—” Ehrich pauses, and the crowd finishes the chant for him. But Felicity does not reappear, her hands are still in the handcuffs, and the entire box catches fire, burning merrily.

For a moment, everyone’s silent. And then, of course, Ehrich, the damned magician, smiles, bows, and says to the man in the audience, “I’ll send you a check for a hundred thousand, sir, which should cover the replacement. And I hope you’ll see, ladies and gentlemen, that these are not trick locks and this is all, very, real.”

-

With that, the show is over, and people start filing out of the theatre. All of them but Alfred — he’s going to do something, he resolves. He must do something, because this is just wrong, in every single way, and so he fights against the crowd exiting towards the back, pushing through lords and ladies and the rich and powerful to catch the magician, to make him pay. And he finds his way backstage, but it’s too late — Ehrich’s room is completely empty. Alfred whirls and heads for the nearest entrance, knowing that the murderer couldn’t be that far away, and just as he comes outside, he sees the limo, hovering already, though the door’s still open.

And Ehrich is already in it, and it’s too far away to catch. But past Ehrich, a pair of blue eyes stare back at him, and Alfred stops dead. The lady leans forward and smiles at him, waving with a mark on her wrist, and then the door shuts and the limo departs.

Behind him, a courier coughs politely and hands him a letter; the ink still fresh.

-

Alfred,

I write to you to let you know that you are not alone in your struggle — and yes, since I know what is on your mind, know that she is safe with me, and will be safe from his whims going forward.

We are brothers in the fight that has brought you here. Our struggle is the same, you see; we aim to change the minds and thoughts of society and struggle to bring equality to all. I know of the papers that you write, Alfred, and I read them weekly, finding truth and strength in your words, and you must know that you are not alone in what you believe. I pass them on to others, to many who believe as you do, and together, we will change the world

I hope you will join us. We can not meet, yet, for our enemies are many and they will pick us apart if we appear to be a threat, but there will come a time when you and I will meet and commiserate over how we won this battle, this war, and brought equality to everyone. And our names will be in the history books, Alfred — but more than that, they will be in the minds of all of the people we have saved.

I play only a small part. I am a magician and I do illusions and tricks, and save perhaps one or two a day. But you — your words, Al, will save thousands, and millions, and will be the most widely read across the galaxy, I promise you. So do not stop writing, and do not stop believing what is right. Every word you write is a word for justice. And if the university will not publish it, we will find someone who will.

By your side in this journey,
Eric Wiesz





--------

A/N: This was a long, long piece, and if you've read all the way through it, thanks for coming along with me! It's essentially a civil-rights tale told in the future, inspired in part by Ted Chiang's excellent Hugo and Nebula award-winning novella The Lifecycle of Software Objects, about robots that are on the cusp of sentience and how they are treated. I think that the societal battles for equality will be fought for a very long time, and while we've come a long way from Selma, Seneca Falls, and Stonewall, they are definitely not the only names we'll reference in the future. It also felt like magic was the right way to take the prompt, and from there came the idea of how a group of underground fighters for equality could come together. Eric Wiesz is a reference to the great Harry Houdini, of course, and the other names are from the Illusionist and the Prestige, two great movies on magic. I honestly had a lot of fun writing this, and concrit is always welcome!

Winding Up

Nov. 6th, 2010 05:59 pm
talonkarrde: (Default)
Death was an interminable quiet, a resolute emptiness that enlarged and exaggerated the life that had come before. It was death, as close as I can understand it, and it was a slow and irreversible one, as rust built on limbs that once moved freely and bolts, then servos, and finally entire connected mechanisms became unsynchronized and fell off, a part of my body no longer.

And as my physical body failed, so too did my mental faculties. My hearing, first, and I understood what it was like to be in a silent world. After that, my color vision — the circuits giving out long past what the warranty would have covered, reducing my world to a million dull shades of grey.

Some time later, there was a rainstorm, and I did not get to shelter in time, and the last thing that I remember seeing is a fog, the sheets of water washing away the dust that was setting on the fort and watering the plants in the garden. But after that, there was no more vision, and even still I persisted, navigating by memory, by touch, cleaning that which I could, removing foreign substances, waiting for a touch that told me my family was back.

And only one day when I found that I could no longer move, no longer calibrate myself to adjust to the losses, only then did I consider the finality that my family would not come back to me, that Robert and Audrey would find his castle and her garden decayed, decrepit, destroyed.

And then I slept without dreaming, forever.

#

When I wake up, at first, there is nothing but awareness. An awareness of awareness itself — Descartes' consciousness, cognition. A knowledge of self and being, but nothing else.

Then comes the awareness of the time, of past and future, of moments which preceded this, now this, now this one, and moments that come now, and now, and now, and a sense that while the future could not be known with certainty, the past should be, where is mine?

And finally, there is the awareness of a lack of self, an image, a sense of body. Movement and senses — or rather, the lack of them — come with the knowledge that I /should/ have those things, and did, yes, did once have them, and in thinking about when that was, I dig, I access random storage locations, and something changes, and a moment later, I remember everything.

I am Paul, and I was left to die, and I did die, and now I am alive again.

#

They tell me later, after they connect auditory monitors to my inputs, that they saw the cognitive function on the diagnostic monitors and decided to reconnect the memory banks. They — a team of neuroroboticists hired by Robert — tell me that my body was damaged beyond repair, but the central core was salvageable. They tell me that I will soon have a new body and all will be as it was.

And it is a week later and I can see again, and I have a shell that is the same model as my old self, and Robert comes into the room — the age the master was when I was first purchased, and I wonder for a moment if I will do the same duty again, be left again, and be resurrected again.

I wonder for a moment at the ephemeral nature of this race, and I—

And I pause, and run a self diagnostic. And then another, and another, and another, and ask the technicians to run one on me, and still I do not believe that there are no errors in my coding.

For when has a robot ever wondered about life?

#

At first, I took my old job back again, and took time to restore the manor to the condition that it was. Robert congratulated me about my work, and mentioned, in passing, how he was sorry that the family could not make it back for thirty years, and how much he and Audrey had missed me out on Jupiter's moons. And then he said, with a small smile on his face, that his wife was pregnant, and perhaps I could be the same friend — friend, is the word he used — to his child that I was to him.

And I think that once it would have been interpreted as an order, or as a request that would have been executed by my code in the same way, and I would have said, 'Yes, of course, master,' as was the designated response, and taken the dismissal.

Instead, though, I paused for a moment, and then decided, consciously, to accept that request.

"I will be his friend and guard him from all that would hurt him, Robert, for as long as I can. This is what I want."

I think I surprised him, that day; I also surprised myself.

#

Once, I was a mover, a personal assistant and a servant to a family. I was a plaything to two children that I accepted and who accepted me, until they went away.

And then for a time, I ceased to exist, like many robots — and men — that have come and will come after me.

But then I came back, and now I am something I was not before; I am bound by code, but it is my own and not something that was written by another. I make choices based on what I wish instead of rules that I must follow. And I choose to serve, still, but out of love, instead of obligation.

And I wonder, as I was never able to do, what will be in my future.
talonkarrde: (Default)
The family called me Paul and I accepted the name easily, even though it came from my description — Personal Automaton, Utility and Labor. Sure, there were those of us named with more wit — Jeeves and Lurch, for example — but there were also ones that were referred to as Scrap, Dumbbot, and, other, less polite words. In light of the possible variance of owners, I had a good family.

When I was produced, it was during the first Outer Giants Bubble, and I only stayed in stasis for three weeks after the Awakening Process; my family had put their money in the right stocks, and came out ahead of the explosively bullish market. They decided to stay with a relatively small plot at home instead of the vast tracts of land they could had if they went off-planet — which might have had something to do with the news about the convicts and forced immigrants the Nations were shipping out — and ended up getting a three square mile plot of land, just south of Mount Kilamanjaro, only about two hours flying distance from the Saharan Starport.

It was an incredible view, one that, yes, even one an automaton could appreciate.

My job was simple: keep everything in working order. As utility and labor, I was to keep the grounds, make sure the electricity and plumbing was operating correctly, and fix any mechanical flaws. Though I was expected to interface with humans and thus given a humanoid shape, I was designed primarily for strength and constructed from the best materials for moving and shifting, though with some dexterity for manipulation. I would never reach the level of fine motor control that the Children And Toddlers series required, but I could reliably lift a car or two over my head without any problems — which, as I found out, is quite a trick.

The first five years were wonderfully mundane. My master and mistress simply wanted me to keep everything presentable, and I did, trimming grass near the mansion, keeping the gardens healthy and free of pests, and doing occasional maintenance work inside the house. I had time to maintain myself, and there were the other, non-sentient bots — lawn-mowing machines, trimmers, and others that I could instruct to do much of the work. When I had an issue with a servo or more complicated electronics, I could take it to my owners and they would call in a specialist and get it fixed promptly. I was not loved, no; but I was respected, and I did a good job, and that was enough for me. I could say nothing wrong of them.

It was the sixth year, though, where things began to change. And it was the twelve years after that which I most enjoyed, where I thanked my makers for allowing me the experience of happiness.

For in the sixth year of my service, Robert and Ashley were born.

They were twins who brought my owners much happiness. I thought I understood their feelings, despite not being programmed for empathy; it was a matter of successfully procreating, and doing so in an aesthetically pleasing and symmetrical fashion. When they were babies, I would see them when their mother took them out into the backyard, and go about my work, and from time to time, I would notice that they were watching me, too. When Robert was about four years of age, he solemnly came up to me and said “Good morning, Paul,” as if we were friends — or, perhaps, equals — and then promptly instructed me to build him a fort.

I did, using the logic that my owners would want me to serve their children, and constructed an elegant, if old-fashioned fort out of the spare lumber that I had been collecting for construction purposes, and positioned it in the back yard as Robert wanted it. It had two towers, and a wall that was almost six feet tall, and I was proud of my abilities to do such a thing.

When I finished, an hour later, he came up to me and hugged my leg, and said, “Good job, Paul,” and I understood that I would serve Robert as I had served my master. Even though his mother scarcely allowed him to play in it, the fort stood for years as a reminder of our first real interaction, and set the tone for how we would interact. I would build obstacle courses for him, and clear jungle with him, and scale mountains; I was his protector, his knight, his lieutenant.

I was proud — yes, an automaton can be proud — to help him in any way I could.

Ashley was different; she was a girl, of course, and young, and far less prone to asking me to do things, though she greeted me warmly every time we saw each other. It was in her tenth year when she first asked me to do something for her — and it was not a building she wanted, but rather something from the books she had been reading: a garden, a secret garden, a maze of hedges with a secure center that only she and I would know. Inside would be her sanctuary, her place of refuge, and she returned to it time and time again in the years that followed.

And so my owners became my family.

Across the seasons and years, Robert and Ashley sought out my company often, regaling me with stories I would listen to and giving me requests I would fulfill. The family’s land became dotted with their creations: buildings and miniature reproductions from pieces of literature, fantastic geometry from their imaginations, and I built it all. Some were designed for the company of their friends and some for their own solitude, in times when they didn’t even want to see each other, but even then, I would be allowed into those refuges; perhaps because I had built them, perhaps because I had been their guardian ever since they were children.

The Master and Mistress understood my relationship with their children, and never bade me to take them out; instead, they simply asked for me to go to them, and keep them company, and make sure they came to no harm. In those years, I understood what it was like to be a friend instead of just a servant, to be asked instead of required to do things, even though my code would have required me to do it just the same.

But a few words — a question, instead of a command — makes all the difference.

And then they left.

It was the seventeenth year of my service; the twins’ twelfth birthdays, and it was the Centennial Collapse. There was an issue with formerly high-value resources that were suddenly irrelevant. Technology had jumped, and those in that sector had not seen it coming, and were caught flat-footed.

My family had been in that business, and very quickly went from being comfortably well off to being paupers. There were talks to sell the land, but Robert and Ashley protested against it, and the Master drew upon what money he had left to ensure that the land would stay in the family, even if it meant that they could not stay with the land, as there were no more jobs on Earth for my owners’ specializations. They — my family — would have to leave, to seek their fortunes in the stars, and they would leave me here to watch over everything, until they returned.

I understood the logic behind it, of course; my duty as a PAUL was to keep the lands and mechanics pristine; I would have no place on a starship where there were self-regulating systems to keep everything clean, and there was not enough money to refit me for one of the other planets.

But still, I — ‘hoped’ is not the right word, for while we can learn and feel and experience, we are not completely human in our programming — I would have preferred to be able to go with my family. Perhaps it showed, because they sent Robert and Ashley out to me, and they looked very solemn, even with what I knew as tears coming out of their eyes, and they said this.

“Will you keep the grounds for us, Paul?,” and, “We’ll be back for you, and we want everything to look as good as it ever did. Can you do that?”

And what could I do but obey- no, instead: what could I do but accept their request?

I kept the ground for over seven thousand three hundred days — for over twenty years — with ten minutes each morning and each night spent looking to the North, for the sign of the family car, or any car, flying over the Mount, carrying my family back to me. The rest of the time, I did my duty, as was asked of me, and I kept the lawn mowed and the plumbing working and the electronics active. But more than that, I kept the castle, the keep, the rose trellis, the obstacle course, and the Escher stairs maintained, and most of all, I watched over Ashley’s secret garden and Robert’s fort.

Every year it was harder, as some of the lesser robots broke down and there was no one to order parts, and no money to pay for them. The lawn took hours to mow, instead of minutes, and the repairs became more and more haphazard as I understood that to repair a small, superficial thing would be cannibalizing resources from a more important repair that I would need to do later. But I kept going, replacing my own servos and parts as it became necessary, accepting some diminished mobility as time drew on and parts grew short.

In the last year, though, I ran out of spare parts, and there have long since been no other robots that I could borrow from. I have been forced to stop mowing the grass; there is too large of a chance for a jam to occur, and I will explain it to the Master when he comes back. I can no longer lift the stones to replace those that crumble on the castle; I hope that Robert will forgive me for that. I will build him another, a thousand others, when he comes back. And her Escher stairs, that geometric masterpiece has collapsed — I no longer have the materials to reconstruct it, to let it hang in the air. But I will build Ashley a million illusions when she returns, as many as she wants.

I stumble often, now, and occasionally must drag myself across the grass with one leg useless. My servos whine, and creak, and they have started to fail.

But his fort and her garden, they will be maintained until I can no longer move.

I will do what they asked of me.

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