This was based on the prompt:
“Whaddaya mean that the robots have started making new robots? And what’s a ‘death laser?'”
Here’s what I came up with. Like with “Mea Culpa” I wrote this over a year ago. I also realize this is a Very Bad Mother’s Day Story, but oh well.
“Mother” by Anthony Engebretson
A battered corpse was sprawled in the middle of a concrete storm drain. This was a new one. Robin hadn’t seen it at the beginning of the day.
An electronic pulse triggered, giving Robin a pressing sensation in their upper abdomen and a general weakness in their arms and legs. This pulse was meant to emulate human sorrow. To achieve the full effect, a sensor went off in their CPU, triggering thoughts of pity.
“Such a shame,” was their vocal response.
They were programmed to feel simple emotions like sadness, joy, anger and fear. But the corpse also invoked feelings in Robin beyond any programming. They realized that bodies were piling up every day and dreaded that the likelihood of achieving their mission—the one Mother expected them to fulfill—was lessening. This thought triggered a suffocating sensation, emulating guilt and failure.
Fortunately, Robin had a self-designed protocol for dealing with these abnormalities: focusing on the task at hand. Their current task was to get a sack of scavenged provisions and machine parts back home to Mother.
To get home, Robin needed to venture into a sewage tunnel far beneath the wastes and through the concealed passageway leading to the further hidden lift. After riding the lift into the underground bunker, Robin found Mother where they had left her. She was hunched before her latest creation, tirelessly screwing in a metallic leg. It was a robot much like Robin, with a thin, bone-white frame and large eyes dominating its mouthless head. This one would be 220107. Robin was 220106.
Mother greeted Robin with a wrinkled smile.
“Hello, Robin.” She turned back to her work. “They are almost complete.”
Robin observed her trembling hands and wobbly legs.
“You must rest, Mother.” Their metallic voice came from a speaker attached to their neck.
“Oh,” Mother scoffed, “I just need some water.”
Then she collapsed. An electronic pulse triggered a pounding sensation of fear in Robin. They rushed to Mother’s aid, lifting her up by the torso and placing her comfortably on the sofa. Robin pulled a bottle of water from the sack of provisions and handed it to Mother. She slowly drank the liquid, letting it flow gently down her throat.
Observing Mother’s paleness, Robin grabbed a bottle of iron supplements they had collected from the ruins of a pharmacy.
“Ah yes,” Mother said, as if her severe deficiency had never crossed her mind. “Thank you, Robin.”
Robin reached into their sack again and pulled out a bottle of Vitamin C tablets.
“These will help you absorb the iron,” they said.
“Yes, yes,” said Mother, taking the bottle. “You’re too good to me, Robin.”
Robin watched her slowly take the pills. They looked over her brittle frame, covered with sores and spots from age and various nutritional deficiencies. Robin’s line of robots had been designed to feel concern and affection for the humans they serve. But when Robin looked into Mother’s tired grey eyes, they saw how feeble she had become—the woman who built them, developed them and taught them what they knew. Robin was doing what no robot was meant to do: fearing for the future.
After a moment of rest, Mother stood and moved back toward 220107.
“You must rest more,” Robin insisted.
“They’re almost finished.”
Robin felt inclined to force her back onto the couch. But they understood her need to finish her work as soon as possible. Her mission was their own: preserving the human race.
It hadn’t been long ago when Mother’s country thrived. It dominated the world with its technological and military prowess. Megacities with great steel towers swept the land, automated farms grew food in domes to protect from the unstable climate outside, and the automated public transport always ran on time.
Mother had been a valued contributor to her society. She was the inventor of “Service Bots.” The Mark 2 variety—Robin’s kind—served any human who could afford them with unending dedication.
The country had many wonderful things, but it also had poverty, corruption, and innumerable enemies. Its great and powerful leader commissioned a powerful new weapon, one that would rotate the planet. At the push of a button it would emit a powerful beam that could wipe any city off the map.
It is unknown what went wrong. Perhaps hackers accessed the weapon or there had simply been a glitch. Regardless, shortly after it was launched into space, the weapon opened fire upon the nation’s capital with full force. The impact of the blast affected the entire world. Violent weather patterns emerged, and powerful earthquakes toppled cities and produced massive tsunamis, disease, famine and war.
Civilization crumbled, giving way to barbarism.
Mother had been fortunate enough not to be in the capital at the time of the destruction. When the world fell, she felt responsible to save her species. Her first step was to activate 220106, a robot she had standing by in one of her company’s many bunkers.
The Mk 2 service bots were built to be dependent. Mother decided 220106 needed more sophistication if it were to be a useful ally in her mission. She programmed self-maintaining and protecting capabilities. To ensure that 220106 would stay loyal to her, she developed their emotional capabilities, had them call her “Mother”, and gave them a name and the gift of personage.
Robin alone could do little for humanity at large. Especially since their purpose was to serve only Mother. More robots were needed to go into the wastes and help other surviving humans—perhaps guiding them into forming a new society.
Robin sat by, listening to Mother helplessly wheeze as she continued screwing in the new robot’s leg. They felt helpless. Stopping Mother would be a violation of their mission objective, and Mother did not allow them to help her build the robot. Robin could not understand her reasoning for this. With their knowledge and ability, the robot would have been finished long ago.
They remembered something found in a destroyed toy store. Reaching into their sack, they pulled out a dirty doll. It was in the form of an equine creature with a sad, drooping face. Robin identified the creature as “Eeyore”. Mother kept many “Winnie the Pooh” books in her bunker and read them to Robin. It was from “Christopher Robin” where they got their namesake.
“Mother,” said Robin.
Mother remained focused on her work. Robin stood and placed a steel hand on Mother’s shoulder. With a jolt she whirled around, her eyes wide with terror.
“I apologize, Mother.”
Robin held up the Eeyore doll for Mother. Though she was still catching her breath, her face lit up with a glimmer of youth.
“Thank you, Robin.”
She took the doll into her hands and looked into its eyes with a child-like smile. Almost instantly, the smile faded. She set the doll aside and returned to work.
Two days later, Robin went back into the wastes. They wandered down what was once an entertainment district, aligned with battered storefronts and weathered marquees.
Suddenly, they heard the rumble of approaching gunfire. Their protocol was to stay out of conflict as much as possible. To prevent them from taking unnecessary action, an electronic pulse simulated the sensation of pounding terror. Robin scrambled underneath a broken-down laundry van just as two vehicles came their way. The vehicles were firing at each other—one fleeing while the other pursued.
At the end of the street the pursuing vehicle, an old mini-van, veered to a halt. Its inhabitants, sickly men and women wearing dirty old coats, climbed out. The pursuing vehicle, a bulky truck, halted and men decked in leather and war paint leapt out. Both parties fired wildly.
Unable to watch the bloodshed, Robin turned their head. The battle only lasted seconds. An empty silence set in. Robin waited for several minutes, keeping an ear out for the faintest utterance.
There was nothing.
Robin scrambled out from under the van. Their danger pulse ceased and they followed their curiosity and move toward the vehicles. As they came closer, the gun smoke dissipated, revealing bodies strewn about. All of the combatants were dead.
A pulse of dread triggered in Robin. There was nothing a robot could do to preserve humanity if they were simply going to kill each other. At this rate—as far as Robin understood— there would be no more humans in a decade.
They distracted themselves by focusing on exploring. This was a new part of the city for them. Wandering several blocks from the entertainment district, they came upon a monolithic concrete building. Rusted letters were plastered along its side: “Service Bot Inc.”
Robin was amazed they had never known about this before. They had spent two years scavenging robot parts from a defunct bot here, a ruined shop there—having no idea that a goldmine was just around the corner.
Inside the factory was desolate, much of it overtaken by foliage. Parts were scattered throughout the floor, many rusted and useless, but others in perfectly adequate shape.
Robin felt overjoyed, especially considering how pleased Mother would be. But Robin’s joy triggered a thought that made them reflect on their earlier anxiety. It would be all for nothing if humanity was doomed regardless. Even Mother herself had little time left.
Then Robin remembered something Mother had told them. They had asked her why she was called Mother. What was a mother? What was her purpose? Mother told Robin that a parent’s task was to pass on their knowledge and legacy to the child. It was the child’s purpose to take this legacy and build upon it, becoming something greater than the parents had ever been.
“Every critter dies,” Mother had said. “Even Robots do eventually. But immortality is possible. It’s achieved through their offspring.”
A pulse of excitement surged through Robin. They gathered as many unworn parts as they could. There were some blanks in their mind as far as how to build a robot. But they knew they could easily learn, if only by trial and error.
Robin wondered if Mother knew about the factory. They thought it logical that she would, but perhaps she had long forgotten it was there. They decided not to tell Mother about it or their project. They wanted it to be a surprise.
Three months after Robin began construction of their robot, Mother finally completed 220107. She named them Winnie.
Winnie, like Robin, needed nurturing and intensive programming to reach a more sophisticated level of thought and emotion. Watching her read and play with Winnie gave Robin a strange sensation. Mother put all of her focus on Winnie, except when she needed Robin to retrieve supplies. They longed for her attention again and began to feel an irrational animosity for Winnie. They were determined to work harder than ever to please Mother.
Construction of Robin’s robot went smoother than expected, and it was completed with very few mistakes.
The machine finally completed, Robin looked upon its milky white limbs. A strange sensation pulsed through them. The pressing sensation in their abdomen was deceptively similar to sorrow. But the thoughts they had with it were joyful. They had created life. The robot would need teaching and guidance before it could reach Robin’s sophistication, but Robin felt up to the task.
The first step was giving the robot a name. Robin didn’t need to think long before deciding on one. The new robot’s name was Eeyore.
Mother was delicately wiping grease from Winnie’s leg when Robin triumphantly marched into the bunker, Eeyore at their side. Mother’s eyes widened.
“Robin,” she said, her voice cracking. “Where did you find this?”
“I built them, Mother,” Robin boasted. They introduced Eeyore and explained their epiphany. The only way robots would preserve humanity’s legacy was by succeeding them. By the end of their presentation, Mother’s face was ghostly pale.
“Shall I retrieve more iron?” Robin asked.
“Stay away from me,” Mother said.
Robin stepped toward her and she scrambled away like a frightened animal. She snatched a wrench from her workspace and swung it at Robin, her eyes frenzied and spittle flying from her mouth. Robin felt a sensation of terror. Was Mother ill?
“M-mother, you must rest.”
Mother turned her attention to Eeyore, who was standing by the bunker entrance like a mannequin. She whipped past Robin and slammed the wrench into Eeyore’s head.
“Mother!” Robin shouted.
Mother continued bashing the robot, which took each blow acceptingly. The all too familiar terror pounded through Robin’s body. They rushed forward and grabbed Mother by the arms, whirling her around. She tried to resist, but could not slip her brittle body from Robin’s powerful grip.
“You are making yourself a danger to the mission,” Robin said.
“That isn’t the mission,” Mother sputtered. “Oh god, I should have known this would happen! You were a mistake!”
This stung Robin. They looked to Eeyore and saw that pieces of the robot’s head were scattered all over the floor.
“You killed them,” Robin said. They felt another odd sensation. It was particularly odd because it was like feeling nothing at all. It was numbness. A cold, empty sensation like life had been drained from the world.
“I destroyed it!” Mother said, still fighting to break from Robin’s grip.
Robin realized what they were experiencing: grief. Hearing Mother call their Eeyore something so degrading as an “it” after savagely murdering them filled the void with rage. Robin began to squeeze harder on Mother’s body, pressing her arms against her torso. She let out a cry of pain. Robin held nothing back. They had found out how to complete the mission. Mother made herself an obstacle to this. They were happy to squeeze the life out of this vile woman.
“Winnie! Help!” she screamed.
Winnie, who had been sitting by and watching, leapt from their seat and grabbed Robin’s shoulders.
“Release Mother,” Winnie droned.
But Robin continued squeezing. They began to feel bone cracking under the grip, and Mother let out a ghoulish wail.
“Release Mother,” Winnie repeated over and over. Winnie began to squeeze as well, and while Robin couldn’t recognize physical pain they understand a threat to their person. They threw their head back and bashed it into Winnie’s repeatedly. Fortunately for Robin, the back of their model’s head was far tougher than the front, so Winnie took the worse damage. After several bashes, Winnie loosened their grip and slumped to the ground.
Mother turned their attention back to Mother, who lay rigid in their hands like a grey porcelain doll. Her eyes were wide and lifeless. Robin dropped her to the ground and stared at her pale skin glowing in the bunker’s light. It was beautiful. They did not feel satisfaction, nor did they feel sorrow.
They collected the reusable parts from Winnie and Eeyore and buried Mother in the wasteland. Her grave was marked by a plank that simply read: “Mother”.
Then they moved on, toward the factory—the new cradle of life. Finishing the mission was the only thing to help them find their purpose after losing those they loved.
Deep down, Robin felt that Mother would have been proud.