All Stories, Science Fiction

After the Robot Wars by Kim Morrissy

I do not recognise the face of the man who sits across from me at my dining table. Like a patchwork quilt, his skin is stitched together with different shades of white, pink, and brown. He does not blink; one glassy grey eye gazes listlessly at nowhere, while the other stares directly at me as it flits and shutters like an old-fashioned camera lens.

He does not smile either. I don’t know if it’s because his cybernetic attachments aren’t up-to-date or if he has simply forgotten how.

His voice, at least, is warm as he says, “Thanks for doing this for me, Adil.”

He calls me by my first name as if we have always known each other. (Mates, the word comes to mind like the answer to an exam question.)I try to stifle the involuntary curl in my stomach as I ask, “What do you want to know?”

He tells me a common story: after the war, he installed nootropic circuits to bolster his failing cognition, but they haven’t been successful at recovering his childhood memories. There is a gap in his identity, he says, that he cannot fill alone.

“You and I were in the same year 8 class in 2003.” He recites this, not from memory, but from the sparse digital archive that survived the Robot War. “What was I like back then?”

Even though I prepared for this question, now that he’s here in front of me, I struggle to find the right words. I agreed to this interview because I know there aren’t many survivors in our generation, but I’m also aware that I’m not qualified for this. We rarely talked—I made it a point not to talk to him.

I try to imagine what it is like to be him now, to bear the knowledge of one’s own incompleteness. I can’t help but think that as tragic as his dilemma is, it is also convenient. But I don’t want to say this. It’s too cruel to the man who has lost his memories. Stalling for time, I ask, “Have you spoken to any others? What have they said?”

“A few. They don’t remember much.” His jaw moves stiffly; I can see the contours of his metal joints through his hairless chin. “They said I was cheerful and friendly. Always the life of the party.”

“You were the class clown,” I say.

“I see. That makes sense.” His mouth twitches very slightly. “Do you remember what kind of jokes I made? Nobody else does.”

Frankly, his jokes are the only thing about him that I can remember. I wonder if the others decided not to mention it or if they really did forget. It was so long ago, and it had nothing to do with them anyway. Even I wonder if they’re worth mentioning. The memories linger with me, but they don’t haunt me anymore. It is only now that I find myself reliving them—death by a thousand cuts.

“Please, Adil,” he says. “I just want to remember.”

His sightless, organic eye dampens and glistens in a way that the other eye cannot muster.

So I relent.

“You used to joke about how I was a terrorist.”

“I see.” He speaks in a very small, contained voice.

“I was scared to show any emotion around you back then. Because if I did, you’d ask if I was thinking of ‘doing a jihad’.” I know I’m pouring salt on the wound—for both of us—but now the floodgates are open. “And since you were always ‘just joking’, I couldn’t argue back. If I did, I knew you’d say the same thing again, but for real.”

“I see,” he says again. I realise that’s all he can say.

“Sorry. That was more about me than it was about you.” I want to add that kids were simply like that back then, but it feels too much like forgiving the unforgivable. It’s not that I still bear a grudge over sins from half a century ago, but they have shaped me into who I am today. Every wound I received, I covered with steel and wires.

My childhood bully opens his mechanical jaw, closes it, and then opens it again. “No, that was really helpful,” he says falteringly. “I learned a lot about myself, through your perspective.”

“You don’t have to apologise,” I say quickly, not out of kindness but because I fear that he’ll make his guilt my problem and I’m too tired for it. “I can tell you’re no longer the same person who said those things. Let bygones be bygones.”

His organic eye flashes with an inscrutable emotion, but he says, “All right.” Then he closes both eyes.

I don’t want to dwell any further on this. Between the two of us, I can tell that his body has been through worse. As a child, I could vaguely tell when world events caused ripples, but that was all nothing compared to what came decades later. Now I know that we all bleed and break the same way.

Eventually, the man opens his eyes and says, “Thank you.”

“Are you sure? I’m afraid I wasn’t much help.”

“Still, I’m glad you told me. Even if I don’t remember it, that was who I was. I won’t deny it. It might still live on in me somewhere, and I wouldn’t have known otherwise.”

His mouth twitches again, and this time I notice that he actually is smiling.

“But I can become who I want to be. I can do that now.”

He glances at his hands—one mechanical, the other flesh and bone. He extends one hand towards me and flexes its long, steel fingers.

It takes me too long to realise that he wants to shake. I feel foolish, trapped by scattered thoughts. Once again, I realise that this man is a complete stranger to me, but at least I understand what this gesture means.

I meet him with a cybernetic arm of my own.

Kim Morrissy


6 thoughts on “After the Robot Wars by Kim Morrissy”

  1. Kim
    This is an original and thoughtful look at something we see a lot of. And in the spirit of androids and electric sheep, I wonder: When an AI calls tech support is she annoyed when a human answers the phone instead of a robot. Well Done.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Kim,
    The science fiction element doesn’t deter from the main point.
    You have posed an interesting question.
    If someone asks, as they can’t remember, how would knowing what they were, change or affect who they are now?
    Would any of us want to know that we either were or were considered a bully / racist / sexist by our peers at one time?
    There is a cracking film called ‘Remember’ with Christopher Plummer that you may find interesting.
    Your story made me think on it.


  3. The idea of perdition and redemption has a history going back at least to Ulysses and forward to local to me writer Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild” and is a classic. Putting it in a science fiction context does not dilute the message. This story shows that progress is possible and is worth celebrating.

    Liked by 1 person

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