Jeff awoke. It took several seconds to fully come online, but as always, he was content to listen to the rhythmic ticking of his heart. He stepped out of the small hollow in which he had been sleeping and absentmindedly ran his fingers over his name, as he shone brightly in the sun. The child he had belonged to had been so eager to name his pride and joy that he had scratched the words “Jeff” on the top right section of his torso. Being a clockwork model, Jeff didn’t remember the child’s name. He didn’t have enough memory to do so after such a long time, but at the very least, he had chosen to remember his own name. It may have seemed heartless but Jeff had been functioning long outside of his intended lifespan. He remembered the bombs falling. He remembered the wastelands. He remembered discovering the first new forest and seeing the first birds soar in the sky. He may not remember the child’s name, but he remembered his face.
His hand dropped down beside him with a slight creak, causing him to look at his shoulder joint with wide, diamond shaped eyes. He heaved in what would have been a sigh, but his voice box had broken some thirty-five years ago. Deciding not to focus on his problems, he had a proper inspection of his surroundings. He stood now in a clearing surrounded by towering brown oaks which blotted out most of the sunlight. Knobbly green vines and creepers covered the bottoms of the trunks while a lush carpet of moss bedded the whole clearing. The single beam of sunlight in which Jeff now stood cast a soft light on everything, while a group of delicate blue butterflies flew lazily around his bronze coloured head. At five feet high, Jeff had been dwarfed by most things in the old world, but now he took a little irrational joy in knowing he was a giant compared to these tiny creatures. A metallic clunk pulled Jeff’s vision to a nearby oak as a squat, spherical droid came lumbering out from behind it. His eyes glowed a steady green as he peered back at Jeff. His mouth was a thin, unmoving line that ran the circumference of his head, a design feature to make him look more human than actually to serve any physical purpose, and his once highly polished chrome body was now scuffed and buffeted from several unkind years. This was Apple. Unlike Jeff, he had never been given a name and had never really wanted one, but when Jeff had reactivated him he insisted on calling the little droid something. He had once been one of many on an assembly line, a purely manufacturing droid. He was eminently practical but far less sentimental than Jeff and it often took long days of explaining and re-explaining for Apple to understand things like the importance of names, or poems or why they should remember people. The rewriting of Jeff’s memory banks had already begun when he had first met Apple and the sections on paintings and films had been half deleted. It was the unfortunate progression of utility, as Jeff needed the memory space to apply to the new Apple. He had chosen his name thanks to the logo that was emblazoned on the back of his head and on his torso. Jeff liked to think that some of his lessons had paid off and that Apple’s acceptance of his name was his private and humble way of remembering humanity.
No matter how lifelike they become, robots do not have dreams. When Jeff deactivated, most of his senses dulled but he did not ever fully shut down. Recalled memory would usually take place at this stage, originally used to help process information that had been acquired during the day, only now it spanned almost two centuries of assembled, jumbled and fragmented memories. A song’s tune and its lyrics swam through Jeff’s head before he abruptly deleted it. Jeff was in the process now of deleting more and more songs from his memory banks to make room for more relevant (or at least immediate) data. The routes they had taken in the forest, the location of junk piles and the still smouldering thermoneuclear wreckages. Each time something like this was added, something else had to be deleted. First it had been movies and films, as they were far too space consuming. Then works of art, paintings, sculptures, drawings. They were just too unnecessary. Finally, now songs and their lyrics had to be destroyed to make way for new information.
Jeff waved at Apple, the only morning greeting he could give, and the droid responded in kind. The silence to most would have been awkward, but these two had been companions for over a thousand years. Most of what they needed to say didn’t need to be said. It had made their lessons harder though. After their first year together, both robots realised they derived some form of pleasure from imparting their own intrinsic knowledge to the other, and so they had formed the habit of holding of daily lessons, with Apple teaching the practicalities and Jeff the humanities. Jeff’s voice had gone first. Apple’s had followed several months afterwards. While Jeff found it easy to write things in the dirt for Apple to read, the smaller droid had never been programmed to write things down himself. It had taken almost thirty years of trial, error and deleting certain aspects of his memory for Apple to finally be able to write as well as practically teach his lessons again. Jeff never had been able to understand how both robots were able to so go against their original purpose but he supposed Time had allowed random sequences within their brains to develop. After all, no human could have predicted that a robot would continue functioning 5,000 years after its original creation. The pair were far from being fully developed. While Jeff had a good sized memory for arts and humanities, he did not have the capacity to actually create a work of art or literature, just as Apple could not create any item he did not have a pre-knowledge of. Even their friendship could be seen as artificial. Jeff was designed to be somewhere between a companion and a tutor and Apple was built to listen to higher intelligence machines. Eventually they would learn. After all, they had all the time in the world.
Apple clomped forward into the shaft of sunlight, his eyes changing from a green to a bright orange as he hummed a little. This was just another part of their daily ritual. Jeff was a clockwork Classic model, which meant he literally ran by winding himself up at the end of day with a small key he kept inside a compartment in his chest. Apple, however, was a top of the range droid, and required a different method to replenish his batteries. When Jeff had first found him, dead and covered in leaves, resting up against a birch in the blackness of the forest, he had tried awakening the droid by smacking him on the head. In a sense it worked, as briefly Apple’s eyes had flashed a pixelated symbol of the sun conveying what was wrong with the fellow. Four laborious days dragging him through dirt and over branches had finally paid off when the trees cleared and gave way to the beauty of a large, crystal clear lake. It was there Apple had reactivated and they had had their first conversation. Naturally, Apple had wanted to know what was going on and why they were in such a large wood. Jeff had filled him in as best he could, telling him of the ninety minute war, the aftermath, the block out of the sun and the death of the last of the humans. Apple had listened in silence. Jeff did not know whether that was because he needed to recharge or because he found the tale genuinely interesting. When finished, Apple asked, “Is there anyone left?” No. Not a soul. A few seconds had passed before Apple had simply said “Okay”. That had been the end of the matter.
Apple piped in an almost cheerful tone to signify he was fully charged and both robots headed off further into the wood, leaving the sanctuary of the clearing behind them. This week was a travel week, and lessons would be halted while they explored more of the earth’s surface. So far, they had seen grey deserts then mighty, seemingly never-ending forests. Sometimes there were lakes or rivers, sometimes mountains. To Apple, both were equally annoying to traverse. The walk was slow but steady. It was only when Jeff was flat on his torso, lowering Apple down from the trunk of a fallen tree that a grating electronic voice sounded through the woods. KILL. All other sounds died at that point, as even the birds stopped their constant singing and both robots froze. KILL. Jeff hopped down, landing next to Apple and they stared around for the source of the chilling voice. Jeff had never really felt fear, it hadn’t been programmed into him, but he was sure now that some sort of intrinsic self-preservation made him cautious of whatever was shouting that one word into the air. Apple began to clunk towards the source of the sound, but Jeff’s arm shot up and grabbed the little droid by the wrist. Apple looked back into Jeff’s eyes and the bronze robot slowly shook his head. In response, Apple merely took Jeff by the hand and led him forward. KILL.
It was a head. Quite simply a head. Everything about it appeared sleek and sinister with a sharp angular form that offered no aesthetic comfort. The eyes were slitted triangles and glowed with an ominous red pulse. The mouth was a grated black speaker that reminded Jeff of bared teeth from a human skull. The ears were in the shape of two blackened lightning bolts and every minute or so its voice would rumble KILL again. Trailing out of the bottom of the head was a selection of frayed wires and what looked like a metallic spinal column. Jeff and Apple knew this was something from the war even if they could not remember encountering these monsters before. Jeff could only bring himself to stare, so once again it was Apple who clunked forward, approaching the head with a renewed fascination and curiosity. KILL. Apple knelt and inspected the head, almost instantly deeming it beyond proper repair. He deduced that the sensors on the droid had probably reactivated with some minor auxiliary power when the duo had filed past but the main brain appeared far too damaged to really do anything other than repeat its single primary function. Apple looked back at Jeff, tapped the mouth of the head, and then tapped his own throat. The meaning was obvious. Salvage the voice box. Nonetheless, Apple seemed a little hesitant over the matter. True, they often took parts that they found scattered across the world to repair and maintain bits of themselves, but never before had they taken anything from a machine that was still active. Even in its crippled, hopeless state, the head was alive. Jeff understood Apple’s rationale for taking the voice box. The head was doomed no matter what, and with a functioning voice between them they could continue lessons at a far greater pace. Both remained hesitant. They had not been programmed to kill.
Silently, Jeff walked over to Apple and the head, picking up a large rock as he did so. He did this not out of malice, but necessity, he thought. Jeff gave Apple a glance and the little droid grimly nodded. Jeff raised the sharper edge of the rock over the top of the head. All he needed to do was smash open the casing. The head gave one more KILL before Jeff brought the stone swiftly down into the area between the droid’s eyes. CRACK. KILL. The first attack only put a dent into the casing. CRACK. KILL. The second put a small scratch in that dent. CRACK. KILL. The third began to open the wound a little more. CRACK. KILL. Apple did not move or help his friend, he merely remained kneeling, watching. CRACK. KILL. This was taking longer than Jeff thought.
It took five hours to break through enough of the casing to retrieve the voice box. The head hadn’t stopped speaking once in that time. The voice box worked perfectly, but it was a long while before the robots broke their silence. At the very least, the day had been productive. After all, the companions had learnt a new skill.
Tom Clues asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work
The Apocalypse with surviving robots; it doesn’t get any more sci-fi than that. I really enjoyed it.