My Favorite Robot

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“I’m very sorry, Mr. Clark, but you’re dying.”

Brett swallowed. “Dying?”

The doctor adjusted his glasses. “It’s a neurological disorder. Degenerative. The longest you might live is up to ten years, but I wouldn’t get optimistic. Most people don’t even make it to three.”

Brett looked at his hands in his lap. He was clammy all over. He’d felt it in his head, in his brain, only slightly. There hadn’t been any real symptoms, just a feeling of uneasiness. He’d also been feeling dreadfully lonely, which the doctor had assured him was a classic symptom. “Is there no cure? No operation? Nothing?”

“There… is a cure,” the doctor said, as hesitant as can be. “But it is extremely difficult to, er, administer.”

“But of course I’ll do it!” Brett said. “Why shouldn’t I? Tell me what the cure is. Is it a matter of cost? I’ll pay everything I’ve got!”

The doctor was shaking his head the moment Brett had started talking. “The cure isn’t something that I can give you. It’s not medical, precisely.”

Brett wasn’t following. “Not medical,” he repeated numbly.

“Not medical.” The doctor took a breath, and then finally dropped his clipboard on the desk in front of him with defeat. “The only cure is true love.”

Brett assumed that he’d misheard. “True love?” It was silly to say it aloud. Obviously he’d misheard. Brett didn’t know much about neuroscience, but it was clearly ridiculous.

“That’s right,” the doctor said. “The only way to treat this disorder is to find true love. Of the reported cases, only five percent, maybe less, have been able to treat themselves. Despite appearances in the modern world, true love is extremely rare.”

“True love!” Brett found himself laughing. He must’ve been dreaming. “The only thing I have to do is find true love? I’ll go on some dating websites! Do some speed dating! Whatever! You said I had years to pull it off!”

The doctor coughed into his fist. “Erm, yes, I did say that you had years. Many patients with this disorder make it at least two years after being diagnosed. But you see… true love is a chemical thing. Your brain is changed by it. A very small percentage of the population actually experiences it, even if they think that they can.”

But Brett had stopped listening. There was a commercial running through his head, he’d seen it on TV a hundred times, with that stupid little jingle. “Ladybot,” Brett said. “Ladybot. You’ve seen the ads, haven’t you? Manbots and Ladybots? They’re a couple thousand bucks, but hey, that’s cheaper than cancer treatment!” He was laughing again, uncontrollably. “That’s all I have to do! I’ll buy myself a Ladybot and program her with the exact settings that I need!”

The doctor leaned forward. “It’s a possibility, but you might find—”

“It’ll work fine! You’ve seen how realistic they look these days! A good Ladybot is practically indistinguishable from a human!” Brett paused. “Maybe it’ll cost more than a couple thousand if I want the best on the market. Ah, but don’t you see?” He was grinning like a crazy person.

The doctor spread his arms. “As I’ve already told you, the treatment is not medical. I can give you recommendations, but this is out of my hands.”

Brett stood and felt compelled to shake the man’s hand. “Thanks a ton, doc. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine! I’ll be great! I’ll be cured in a month!”

Brett was not cured in a month.

“Sweetie?” he asked his Ladybot. “Can you fetch me something to eat?”

“Yes, Mr. Clark,” she said, her smile unfading.

“No, no,” Brett said, his hand over his face. “Stop calling me Mr. Clark. Brett will do just fine.”

“Reconfiguring programming,” Ladybot told him. “Yes, Brett. I will get you food right away.”

Moments later, she returned with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, his favorite lunch. “Again?” he said, his shoulders slouching as he took the plate. “You gave me PB&J yesterday for lunch.”

“Of course!” Ladybot said. “You had told me that it was your favorite lunchtime meal! I can show you my data logs if you’d like.”

“No, no, no, that’s fine. It’s just… Three PB&Js in a row is a little much. Can you spice things up a bit?”

“Reconfiguring programming,” Ladybot told him. “Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches will be served no more than two lunches in a row. They will also feature spices.”

“No! No spices!” Brett shouted.

“Reconfiguring programming,” Ladybot told him.

He set the sandwich aside. “Now, please, sweetie, have a seat.”

Her strangely cold flesh sat down in his lap. “Yes, Brett? How can I help you?”

“Well, ah, hm, the trouble is, you’re being a little too helpful. Do you know what I mean?”

“Reconfiguring programming,” Ladybot told him.

“It’s like, you know, you do everything I ask. It’s like you’re a slave, not a person. If you really want me to love you, you need to show some personality, maybe have some opinions that differ from mine.”

“Reconfiguring programming,” Ladybot told him. “Brett, I do not like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They are incompatible with my software.”

“See! There we go!” Brett said, trying to make himself sound cheery. “Perfect. Just wonderful. What would you like to watch on the TV this afternoon?”

Ladybot’s head hung to its side. “It is not my opinion to watch TV, Brett. What do you want to watch?”

“Well the game’s on, you see. I’d like to watch that.” He went for the remote.

“Brett, I do not like sports,” Ladybot said. “It is not my opinion to watch this game.”

“Hm, ah, well, alright,” Brett said, his arm still halfway to the remote. “Now I feel like you’re just disagreeing with everything that I say. That isn’t quite what I meant. I think that you need to find a middle ground.”

“Reconfiguring programming,” Ladybot told him. “Please enter a percentage value for future disagreements.”

“Ah, hm, well, sweetie, if I tell you a percentage value, I feel like you’re still choosing your opinions at random. I mean, I’m no expert with computers, but—”

“Reconfiguring programming,” Ladybot told him. “My opinions can be determined via a random number generator. Does this mode suit your desires?”

Brett shifted in his seat. Her skin felt a little too clammy. “Er, yes. I suppose it will do. We can work out the specifics later. But if I tell you how to act, it doesn’t make you feel all that… human?” He shifted again. “Your skin is very cold.”

“Reconfiguring programming,” Ladybot told him. “Body temperature increasing. Body temperature settings will remain at near-human temperatures indefinitely.”

“Anyway, as I was saying,” Brett went on, feeling her slowly warming, “I was thinking that maybe we should have some arguments, or something. It’s normal for couples, isn’t it? We can’t be perfect. It feels too weird. So the percentage of future disagreements settings… Well, I feel—”

“Reconfiguring programming,” Ladybot told him. “I hate you. I am breaking up with you.”

“Oh! Ah! Hm. Well, that’s not quite what I meant. And you know I told you about using contractions more often.”

“Contraction frequency is set to 10%. 10% of possible contractions in the English language will be applied to my vernacular. If you wish to reconfigure the programming—”

“Ah! Hm! Oh. I think you’re missing my point. And please, can you make me something else to eat? I don’t think I’m in the mood for PB&J right this moment.”

Ladybot stood. “Yes, Brett. I will make you some tuna sandwiches instead.”

Brett drummed his fingers on his leg. “Hm! Oh! Ah. Well, I don’t quite like tuna sandwiches. I thought we’d discussed this.”

“We have,” Ladybot said. “We are having an argument.”

“That’s not, er, quite how it’s supposed to go.” Brett leapt to his feet, suddenly in a panic. “You’re supposed to make the tuna sandwich anyway, without even asking me! And then I’d get it from you and tell you I don’t like it, and you’re supposed to get offended! And then, THEN we fight! And you’ll tell me to eat it anyway, and complain about how much you do for me without anything in return, and I’ll try to defend myself, and… and…!”

“Reconfiguring programming,” Ladybot told him. “I will be in the kitchen, preparing our argument.”

Brett sunk into his chair. Just a little more tweaking was all she needed. Just a little more.

 

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Quarantine

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The patient was laughing again, and Dr. Milton couldn’t tear his eyes away from the glass. Patient 392, named Chris Laker, had been infected less than an hour ago, and the symptoms were kicking in remarkably fast.

Dr. Milton took notes on his clipboard, repeatedly glancing at Patient 392. The patient was lying in his bed, laughing hysterically. There was a wide smile on his face, and it was almost comforting. Milton marked down the time that the laughing had begun, but his handwriting was horrifically sloppy. It was hard to write from inside of this bulky quarantine suit.

They’d brought in thirty more patients today, and another group was coming within the hour. Dr. Milton had been awfully busy. Watching Patient 392 through the glass, Milton wished that he could be as happy. He doubted that he’d laughed since the outbreak had begun.

The quarantine was running out of space. They were going to have to start sealing patients in groups. In major cities, there were already over thousands of people infected. The whole country was in crisis, and the government wasn’t quite sure how to handle it.

The crisis wasn’t just the sickness. There was also the problem that some people wanted to get sick.

Dr. Milton left the room quickly, in a hurry to get out of this bulky suit. The air that he breathed felt musty, and he hated the way that it rubbed against his skin. The clean-off would take fifteen minutes, but it always felt like thirty. Only after that would he be able to remove his quarantine suit.

During the clean-off, in which he was thoroughly soaked with soapy water, and exposed to all sorts of germ-killing chemicals, Dr. Milton thought about how this sickness worked. A dopamine overload. The brain would begin to produce dopamine at an insane rate, causing a state of pure bliss. Those infected would become uselessly happy.

The disease was airborne. It was estimated that fifteen thousand people in the United States were currently infected. The number doubled every week. It wasn’t a problem with procedures. The quarantines were all perfectly safe. It was those damned junkies. Hospitals all over the country were getting raided by maniacs who actually wanted to be infected.

The laugh of Patient 392 was sticking with Dr. Milton. That grin on his face. Those twinkling eyes. They were all so happy. So horribly, horribly happy.

The disease wasn’t deadly, but there was still no cure. The few medications that had already been proposed were difficult to administer, as the patients didn’t really want to get any better.

Okay, so the disease was deadly, but in an indirect way. Patients stopped eating. They stopped moving. They stopped caring. They would just sit in bed all day and all night, laughing uncontrollably with that stupid, hopeless grin on their face, until eventually their body managed to fall asleep. The patients didn’t get a lot of sleep. It’s hard to lose consciousness when you’re laughing so hard.

Dr. Milton ripped off his suit and hung it back up with the rest. He started walking down the halls of the hospital, noticing the concern on everybody’s faces. Many of the doctors hadn’t slept in days. There was still no reliable cure. Not a single patient had been saved, and now they were dying of starvation.

The intercom came to life, an unusual occurrence. “Alert, all doctors and visitors!” the intercom bellowed. “An emergency has been called. Everybody must evacuate the hospital! Intruders are—”

The intercom went dead.

Those damned junkies were here.

Dr. Milton quickened his pace, until he eventually decided to break into a run. The tired doctors all around him had sprung to life, moving towards the stairwell.

But not everybody was going down the stairs. A swarm of people was coming up, pushing the doctors out of their way.

The raid was over thirty people, with a wild look in their eyes. They attacked the doctors, blocking any attempts to stop their invasion. There were security guards posted on each floor, but they were vastly outnumbered. Some of the intruders had guns. Dr. Milton dove into an empty office when he heard the shots firing, still a full twenty feet away from the stairwell.

He had to get out of here. This hospital was doomed. The intruders were going to break the quarantine, letting the disease into the air. Milton had to be as far from this building as possible.

Though the guns were still firing, and the halls were still swarming with doctors and guards and junkies, Dr. Milton crawled on his hands and knees out into the hall, moving towards the stairs.

“There has a been a breach!” the intercom shouted. “The quarantine on the second floor has been broken! Evacuate immediately! Evacuate immediately!”

Dr. Milton was on the third floor, but he held his breath anyway. He knew that there was no hope. He couldn’t hold his breath long enough to get out of the hospital. He jumped to his feet and started running.

A bullet struck him in the back, his left shoulder blade. Dr. Milton fell to the ground, writhing and shouting. The stairs were so close…

“The quarantine on the first floor has been broken!” the intercom yelled. “The quarantine on the third floor has been broken! The fourth floor! The fifth!”

Milton tried to hold his breath again, but he could feel the bullet sitting in him. The pain was too much. He kept gasping for air.

“All quarantines broken!” the intercom announced. “Evacuate immediately!”

He was crawling again, so close to the stairs, but his vision was getting fuzzy. Milton clawed forward, but he was slowing down.

“Everybody,” the intercom said, speaking more quietly now. “The hospital is infected. You should get out while you can. Ha ha ha. Isn’t that nice? Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha……….”

Dr. Milton died with a smile on his face.