by Stephen Muret
The robot placed his lunch box on the coffee table. The robot latched his front door fast. The robot unshuttered his metal eyes. He dilated his metal pupils. The robot peered into the darkness of his retreat. He peered into that darkness, but he did not see that darkness. The robot marched five steps and laid aside his tool belt. The robot marched fifteen steps and halted before his wardrobe. Naked and oxidized and innocent, the robot stood. A dulled and metallic burnish, the robot stood. The robot stooped and rolled open a drawer. The robot peeled from the drawer a pair of cotton briefs. Then, in a series of movements made only possible by centuries of visionary engineering, the robot balanced on his right foot, elevated his left leg, and turned his left foot inward. The robot passed his left foot through the apertures of the briefs. Then the robot steadied himself again on his two feet. The robot reprised this gymnastic balanced on his left foot. The robot marched then two steps more into the darkness. Here was the corner of the backmost room. Here, on the floor, waited a cushion. The robot sat on the cushion in his underwear.


To the robot the larva was flavorless. Neatly it wedged at the corner of his audio slit. He flicked it through with his fingertip. The carapace bounced off the robot's inner support strata, tinked back and forth as it fell, and came to rest just below his power center. For many minutes the robot sat silent, still and empty. He sat thus, feeling the hard shell of the larva warm beneath his power center. Then, once he had sat silent, still and empty long enough, the trap door beneath his power center fell open. The softened carapace dropped into the wiring of his abdomen. The warm larva settled at the robot's very root, resting just above his point of contact with the cushion. The larva wriggled there. The larva triggered from there a cascade of sensors. The signals rose to the base of the robot's throat. The robot registered nausea.


A little more wriggling and the larva sloughed its carapace. A tiny insect, it was, a spiral. But its speed of growth astonished; and its elasticity was famed. In just moments the miniscule spiral swelled to veritable coil. And that veritable coil weighted the robot's root. The insect lengthened and lengthened, its newly generating segments overtopping its lately generated segments. The maturing form piled up upon itself like a skein of rope, or a chary snake. The longer time the robot sat silent, still and empty the more length the amassing creature grew. Finally, within him, the robot sheltered a great worm-like bug.

Sensors soon registered disturbances at the base of the robot's status cord. Pressures rose. And in the filament whirrings of the robot's entrails a warmth suddenly existed. The robot plotted these initial signals of the bug's uncoiling through accustomed alpharithms. But when the signals breached the trap door beneath his power center the signals suddenly disappeared. They merged into the power center's heat. Then the signals reemerged above that power center. But they reemerged much less quantifiable than before. Now the robot could no longer register the signals as discrete data. Now the robot could only register the signals as vague sensation. In other words, the robot began to feel.

The feelings climbed the robot's status cord. Slowly they mounted, a vibration now instead of a pressure, a thickness now instead of a warmth. The robot registered, vaguely, what seemed to be a cord extending within him. The robot registered, imprecisely, what seemed to be a tongue unrolling upwardly. A Tongue? Where had he known of a tongue?

But then the robot remembered.

The maw of the great bug gummed now at the base of the robot's vocal matrix. The sweats of the great bug emanated now to the robot's farthest members. The insect pressed its head against the back of the robot's light sensors. The insect licked the back of the robot's eyes. He sat thoroughly perfused now, the robot. Vibrations. Pressures. Warmths. Thicknesses. These all thoroughly perfused him. The robot unbent his legs finally and rose from his silent, still and empty sitting. The robot ignited the lamp of the darkened room. He looked down. Once again he was human.

The robot rubbed his new skin to a flush. The robot pinched the toughness of his musculature, kneaded it. The robot noted a tightness in his bladder and yawned. The robot tugged at the waistband of his underwear. Snap! The robot exhaled a virile sigh.


Our robot padded about his dark retreat then. He padded about igniting all its lamps. The robot stretched himself limberly then, and yodeled. The robot washed himself liberally then, and ingested copious foodstuffs. At last the robot found repose around his favorite comfort nodule. There he pried open a book, attached its eyepieces, and began to titillate himself. He waited there for his wife's return.

Shortly, an attractive she-robot, well-formed and mauve, clicked over the front doorstep. Our newly human man spoke nothing to this attractive form as it placed a lunch box on the coffee table. Our newly human man spoke nothing to this shimmering mauveness as it drifted by, away from him, to disappear into the backmost room. Our man simply waited, titillating himself still with his book, until finally, after a predictable lapse, the unmistakable noisings of his wife's bath became audible.

Our newly human woman joined our newly human man then. She chatted to him copiously as she ingested copious foodstuffs. He listened smilingly. Then our newly human couple made love.

Exhausted by their workday and loveplay, our newly human couple sank into a profoundly affectionate sleep. While sleeping they embraced each other without cease. Through all the hours of the night they never released one another, as if each for the other was the sole source of warmth and security. The couple dreamt contentedly and awoke too soon.


As our lately human man stood before his morning mirror, loathingly he monitored the relapse of his alloys. The elements appeared first as transparent film, and discontinuously. Right away, however, they coalesced to metal and began to spread more uniformly. Our man blinked and blinked, hoping to rescue at least his pupils. But he knew his hopes vain. Our man extended his fingers examiningly. Our man flexed his fists discerningly. Yes, he realized, the rigidness was upon him. He stopped blinking.

Hurriedly our man stepped to his wife. Roughly he gathered her supple form to his hardening one. Man and woman kissed then with tenderness and dread. An instant later the woman began stiffening, too. The mauve alloys were reclaiming her--her lips brittling, her posture ossifying. Man and woman marched then together from their darkened retreat. They marched hand in metallicized hand. Still they wore their underwear. Man and woman parted at the curbstone before their transports.

When our lately human man reached his place of output he no longer wore his underwear. It no longer served any function. Little of his flesh remained.


Our robot then, in a series of movements made only possible by centuries of visionary engineering, displaced his foot from transport to tarmac, swung his center of gravity outward, and--all at once--flexed, balanced, pivoted, exited, and straightened. The robot stood erect then beside his transport. The robot peered over his transport to the queue before the conveyor belt. The robot locked his transport. The robot marched to his assigned place in the queue.

By the time our robot assumed his position on the conveyor belt, he retained only smatterings of human flesh. His smatterings were isolate, yes, but alongside the full metal shellacs of the other milling robots, still meaningful. Many a robot had lost his flesh forever, our robot knew. He knew this from gossip. He knew this from observation. Our robot tremblingly gazed on these lost souls that surrounded him. Desperately he feared their fate.

He said to himself then, "Someday I won't come back here."

He said to himself, "Someday I'll just stay human and not return at all."

The robot repeated these words to himself each morning. In fact, several times each morning he repeated these words to himself. But then, inexorably, the conveyor belt shifted him inward, rolling him from the daylight of queuing platform to the dim bloodless drone of output station. And there, each morning, our robot's grand and heroic resolutions were forgotten.

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