Her forehead was so hot. I could feel the warmth radiating off of her before I even touched my hand to her head. She reached her hand up to touch my face, and her joints creaked reluctantly. I winced and took her hand, rubbing it gently, letting my fingers travel over the ridges and valleys of cracked skin graft, bare metal shining through the gaps. I rubbed the serial number engraved on forearm. 0244186.
The doctor’s eyes brimmed with fake pity, but from the way he shifted from foot to foot and fiddled with the pockets of his lab coat, I could tell he was impatient.
“I’m very sorry, Ms. Bennett. But she’s an old model, and after a while they can go haywire. We’ll be doing a quick check-up, just a necessary precaution. Not to worry. It is very, very rare that we will need to have it discerped.” I didn’t respond, just stared down into my mother’s eyes. Devoid of emotion to the end.
She turned her head slowly to the doctor, and rust flakes sprinkled the white sheets below her. “Thank you, Doctor. I will accept any input commands necessary to complete the procedure.” I could hear her old speaker rattle in her chest with every fake-breath she took, and it made her voice sound tinny, metallic, artificial.
I knew that she was a robot. I had known it since before the skin grafts began to fall off, before her cooling fan started to sputter loudly, erratically, before the water-resistant joints in her fingers, arms and legs squealed in protest with every small movement, screaming about the lack of oil. But it still hurt. There were little spaces in my heart, spaces that needed to be filled by a mother with warm blood running through real veins, instead of oil through wires and metal. Every time her blank eyes turned to me, every time cool metal brushed my forehead, I knew that it wasn’t the same. That it never would be. But immediately, a spear of guilt and shame coursed through me, and I buried the thoughts beneath every layer of my heart, bundling them up and putting them in the corner.
She is still my mother, no matter how much metal separates us.
She will always be my mother.
She is here.
She is dying.
I could see the internal conflict in the girl’s eyes. The struggle of living your whole life with a robot for a mother. But I musn’t let the pity get to me. Pity is weakness. My back straightened and I hardened my expression. The weak, the old, the mechanical. The lesser! Yes. These are the ones we must exterminate from our society, to make us all equals. These are the ones who will do nothing but mar the beauty of our civilization. The genius of the Superior’s speeches always left me in awe. I stifled a laugh. No, there was nothing wrong with this robot. Just a simple bug. I could easily fix it. But why fix what is better eradicated?
“Who are you waiting for?” A man asked next to me. I stared wordlessly at him for a few seconds. His eyes were weary, his shoulders tight and drawn, but his smile offered kindness, sympathy, understanding. I let out a breath. “My mother. What about you?” His gaze grew unfocused. “My wife of 62 years. Our anniversary is in three days, but…. They’re saying she might not be with us still by then.”
“I’m so sorry.” I said, wrapping my arms around my shoulders. “No, it’s all right. What’s your mother’s name?” He asked. I tilted my head to one side. “Well, I’m not entirely sure. I always just called her Mom. She’s a Mater4.0.”
It was like a flip had been switched.
The old man recoiled, and his shoulders lifted up to his ears. A new coldness radiated from his body. There was no sign of his previously kind demeanor anymore. “A robot?” He hissed. I frowned and opened my mouth to speak, but hesitated. He stared at me, furious. “Those foul mechanical beasts. They are the scum of the society. They do nothing but plague us, infect our country with their wires, and metal, and- and-” He shook his head and stood up before fixing me with one last glare. “You betray your country, tolerating those things.”
The moment I turned the corner and was out of the young woman’s line of view, my shoulders dropped, all the fight draining out of me. I dropped down onto a rickety bench and remembered. I remembered the night she was attacked by the haywire robot. I remember the how the blinding lights of the ambulance were too harsh, the chemical scent of the hospital too severe, the pale white of her face too stark a contrast against the scarlet blood leaking from her cracked lips. Those memories brought forward a flood of emotions. Guilt. Fear. Pain. Grief. Before, I had felt nothing but numbness. But now, every feeling came at once. So I sat on the hard wooden bench, in a cold, unsympathetic hospital, waiting for my dying wife.
And I cried.
He walked out of the room, leaving me stunned and shaken. The hatred in his eyes scared me, made me see things I hadn’t seen before. A poster for an anti-robot protest. A woman wearing a t-shirt depicting a robot junkyard. A gurney full of half-melted robot parts, the serial number shining proudly on the arm. I stared.
It couldn’t be. They said it almost never happened.
The tears welled up in my eyes just as a man in a lab coat walked up to me.
“I’m so sorry, Ms. Bennett. She malfunctioned in the middle of the check-up, she attacked one of our doctors. We had to take her apart. She was a danger to the hospital, we did all we could.”
Never again would I believe their lies.