This Robot Runs on Empathy and Sunrises

A short story by Lyndsey Croal

This Robot Runs on Empathy and Sunrises

To Catch the Dual Sunrise

117 steps from camp

I don’t think anyone noticed me leave camp and walk into the forest. Stealth mode activated, lights dimmed, footsteps soft. It’s not strictly forbidden, even if a command to explore wasn’t specified. Nevertheless, it’s best not to draw attention to the fact that I can make decisions for myself.

I am doing it for a common good, though: to map the way so that when the humans venture out later to find their next viewpoint, I can gently coax them along the safest path, and the one that causes the least disturbance. And, I suppose, I’m desperate to see the sunrise. Ever since Cap had me download the data files ahead of the exploratory mission to B85-E, or Base, as Cap calls it, I’ve not been able to get the idea out of my brain. Or, out of my data processors (I’ve been spending too long with humans, it seems).

Note to self: Review speech patterns since arrival at Base.

A dual sunrise will do wonders for my power banks. In the forest, the light is too dappled, leaving me drained, or—to use a human term—lethargic. So really, this will be a performance optimization mission. And if the location I’ve identified is safe, it will be an excellent spot for the humans to commence their data gathering—a win-win all round, my analysis has concluded. I’ll return in time for breakfast. No one will notice my absence. It’ll take me one hour, six minutes, and forty-three seconds to reach the mesa view I’ve geo-located. Or, to be more precise, 7,126 steps.

2,154 steps from camp

Something stirs in the undergrowth. I stop and stand my ground, hoping whatever jumps out will be kind to a marauding robot like myself. I revisit my xeno-linguistics data and run through all the possible greetings. I like to be prepared for all eventualities.

 But there was no need to worry—it’s just a small rodent-like creature that snuffles up to my legs, admires its reflection in my armored shins. I search the data archives to identify it: a new discovery!

The closest genetic equivalent from my scans suggests a mouse, but with avian qualities, feathers along its back, talon feet so that when it stands up straight its body doubles in size. It chews briefly on my leg with sharp teeth, then it squawks, looking up with wide inquisitive eyes. Or at least, they look inquisitive. That’s a thing humans do—anthropomorphize other beings so they can relate to them. They’re not always wrong, I suppose. I mark it down, and when the data entry requires a name, I call it Chewie.

4,368 steps from camp

A vine catches me as I try to make my way through a particularly dense thicket. It hooks under my arm and tightens. I lock my limbs and scan the plant. No known threat, but the vine is moving towards my elbow now.

I let the lower part of my arm detach. The movement confuses the plant, and it drops the forearm on the forest floor. Some beetles and insects scuttle away from the impact, and I quickly record their appearance to add to my data files—I’ll name them later. I pick my arm up and reattach it, then carry on through a different patch of green. I make a note in my data file to detour around this area later with the humans.

6,896 steps from camp

I start my ascent as the sky reddens with dawn. I climb quickly, taking care not to disturb any rocks or plants as I go. At the mesa’s flat top, my sensors detect a temperature drop, a light dew-damp fogging my metallic parts. I turn my heat up, and the water evaporates in a cool mist around me.

I sit cross-legged, finally free above the trees. The planet is verdant, but the new dawn gives it a golden sheen. It’s beautiful. I’m on top of a new world, seeing something that none like me have ever witnessed. I can’t wait to bring the humans here.

As the dual suns rise, I bathe in the warmth, energy soon coursing through me. My display smiles and I permit myself to pause full data interpretation. Instead, I simply watch. For long enough to enjoy the myriad purple refractions in the sky, to notice how one sun is paler than the other and how together, they cast multi-tonal shadows.

My system clock reminds me the humans will be up soon, so I stand and head back to camp.

3 steps from camp

The humans didn’t notice me gone, or at least they don’t say anything when I join them at breakfast, even though I’ve prepared an explanation about mapping and data analysis. I wonder if they’ll notice the renewed vigor in my step, or the slight indent in my shin from the curious Chewie.

2,281 steps from camp

I’ve learned over the years that humans like the taste of discovery, even if exploration would be more efficient without them. I can cover ground and gather data much faster. But I’m here to look after them as much as fulfill my mapping objectives, so, when Chewie crosses my path again, blinks up at me before running up to sniff Cap, I delete the original discovery file, and say, ‘A new discovery! What shall we name them?’ 

The Cap looks down just as the creature stands up on taloned feet. ‘How about Tallmouse?’

Not very original, but I nod and say, ‘Perfect. Data file updated. Congratulations on your discovery.’

Cap beams to the rest of the team, and one of the group begins sketching Ch-Tallmouse on a tablet, even though I’ve imprinted a perfect image to my memory banks. Yet, as I look at the sketch, there’s something about the way they capture the expression in the eyes that’s better than the single moment my sensors did.

I delete seven more discovery files en route to our destination and find a way to avoid the vines because, in classic human-design-flaw style, they can’t easily detach their arms.

At the mesa, I stand with the rest of them, bathing in the dual sunlight. And when they say how amazing it is to be the first to witness such beauty, I smile and agree.

More Like This

10 Novels About Mad Scientists

Are they geniuses on the brink of discovery? Or just mad?

Aug 15 - Akemi C. Brodsky

You Can Touch But Do Not Taste

In Chana Porter’s novel "The Thick and the Lean," eating for pleasure is taboo, but sex is encouraged

Jul 25 - Charlotte Wyatt

You Can’t Come Back If Your Memories Are Missing

"Accidental Girls" from PATTERNS OF ORBIT by Chloe N Clark, recommended by Juan Martinez

Mar 22 - Chloe N. Clark
Thank You!