The day they told him he was a robot was a strange day indeed.
“It’s exciting, right?” they said. “This is very exciting for us. We hope it’s exciting for you, too.”
They opened up his head. They held up a mirror so he could see for himself. This didn’t seem entirely necessary to him. They took a slender metal poker and poked inside and said, “See?” and said, “Watch this,” and then made his arm move, made his foot stomp, made his eyes blink and blink and blink. “Pretty cool, right?”
He said, But what about my parents, and they said, “Actors, and damn fine ones, wouldn’t you say,” but that hadn’t been what he had meant. What he had meant had been, But what am I going to tell my parents, how am I going to explain this to my parents?
He already got the sense from his parents that they harbored a soft, lingering disappointment in the choices he had made for his life. You can do anything you want to so long as you put your mind to it, Son, they had told him. They supported him and encouraged him, no matter what he’d done, of course, and he felt glad about this—if glad was a thing he could actually feel—but he had always gotten the sense that he had failed to live up to their expectations. And now this. Now he would have to explain to them this new way in which he failed to live up to even the basic expectations of being a son, except of course the this made the point of his concern pointless.
They had seemed so earnest, he thought to himself.
“Of course they seemed earnest,” they said. “They were very well paid actors.” Then, on his look of confusion, they smiled and apologized and said, “We’re getting a readout. See, right here?”
They showed him the readout on a computer screen. The screen was filled with his thoughts. He thought about thinking about thoughts, and a new line appeared at the bottom of the screen. He thought, Oh my God, and the line, Oh my God, appeared on the screen. He thought, without wanting to think it, But I’m not even plugged into anything, and that line appeared, too, and they read the line, and they said, as if he was slow, as if he was a rather mediocre robot, “Wireless.”
He thought, Can you shut that off please, just before he said, Can you shut that off, please, and they said, “Sure, sure. We will.” But they didn’t.
Then they ran tests. He was afraid—why was he afraid?—the tests would be invasive, would center around painful probes, the removal of limbs, the drawing of blood—if there was any blood—but they were not those sorts of tests. In a way they were worse. They had him run as fast as he could on a treadmill. It was not very fast. They made him work on mathematical equations and word problems and pattern recognition, and after two hours, they asked him to stop taking the test, even though he still hadn’t finished it. They gave him a box of wires and circuits and boards and asked him to build something out of these, preferably a computer of some kind but really whatever he wanted to build. He had no idea what to do with any of it and as he ran out of time began connecting things at random. The thing that he built, which wasn’t a thing at all, really, didn’t work, or, he thought to himself and they read on the screen, or so he assumed, the thing that he built did exactly what it was supposed to do, which was nothing.
When he asked them how he had done, they smiled at him and said, “Great, great. You’re doing just fine, don’t worry.”
The tests continued. On some of them, he thought he had done okay, had done fine, but for the most part, by the end of it all, he felt winded and unhappy. He wanted to leave. He had only taken the morning off from his temp job for what he had thought was going to be just a physical, something his insurance company had requested, and he was worried—in spite of himself, in spite of all of this—that the agency was going to fire him or reassign him for missing, now, almost the entire day.
He mentioned this to them and they smiled kindly at him and said, “Don’t worry, we’ll let them know.”
Then they wheeled a television set into the room. He thought it was for more testing but they told him that he could get practically any station, not Showtime, but all the other channels, and that also if he wanted, they had movies he could watch, too, while they were gone. Gone? he asked.
“We have a meeting to go to, about you, about the test results. Don’t worry. It won’t take more than an hour, and then we’ll be back, and we can talk more about it, okay?” They handed him the remote control. Then they said, “Now don’t you go on any kind of murderous, death to humans, rampage while we’re gone,” and they laughed, as if this were a really funny joke, and he laughed, too, because he didn’t want to feel left out, and then they were gone.
Story by Manuel Gonzales
Photo by Emily Raw
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