INHERITED LOSS: a short story

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WORDS || by Joshua McInnes

‘The robot is eating bugs again.’

Emma finished adjusting her shawl in the mirror. She had never appreciated the aesthetics of black. Marceline was leaning against the window overlooking the manor garden.

‘He isn’t eating bugs. He simply likes to put them in his mouth.’ Emma explained. ‘He’s fond of the sensation’.

‘It shouldn’t come. It shouldn’t even care’. Marceline spoke softly, any sense of tone left unused. ‘Maybe it’s broken’.

‘He’s not broken – he’s grieving’.

Marceline’s expression barely changed, nor did her gaze turn from the window, but Emma recognised the shift in stillness; blankness, where there was once mere juvenile absence.

Could it be resentment?

‘I’ll wait in the car’.

Emma listened for the heavy footsteps and sullen slam of the door; the once telltale signs of teenage hormonal indulgence. Now there was only the quiet snick of the front door.

A long time ago she may have sighed. She may have followed Marceline and maybe they would’ve argued. But she vowed never to do it again. These moments had been scarified. Such untempered emotion belonged to the past. When Marceline was born, she underwent the neural rewrite along with everybody else. She never regretted the decision. Remorse never seemed rational.

She found Argo outside sitting in the dirt beside the strawberry patch, watching the beetles crawl across a leaf. There was a sparse drizzle and mist was rolling in across the grounds. She thought the grey, cloud-filtered light made everything seem young; drops of rain, like morning dew. She knew though that the day was late and the rain merely water that had been too long in the sky.

‘Hello Argo’.

The robot looked over his shoulder. His eyes pulsed a diffused blue.

‘Hello Emma.’ He smiled. ‘I have found some beetles.’ The expressions signified by the robot’s ebbing lights and crescent mouth always affected her with great surprise.

‘Yes, so I see’, she said. She crouched beside him.

‘Would you like to watch them with me for a while?’

‘Not particularly, Argo’.

His eyes seemed to dim. He looked away, across the grounds to where the rain poured stronger. To Emma, it fell like strands of oak brown hair parted by the breeze.

‘I’m sorry Argo. It’s . . . ’ The robot fidgeted with his fingers. ‘Of course we can watch them. But only for a bit. We’ll have to go soon’.

The robot winced, struggling to his feet. Emma remained crouched beside him. At full height, he was level with her eyes.  Clumps of wet soil and leaves stuck to his egg shaped body where he had sat.

‘I don’t know what kind of beetles they are’. His voice trembled.

‘Why would you need to, Argo?’

‘H.E.A.R.T.H is able to recite whole dissertations on robotics and empathetic entropy. S-IRT told me the weather forecast and calculated the route to the funeral. I cannot even tell you what beetles these are. They could. Why can I not, and why are they not sad?’ The static in his voice rose sharply. ‘Why are you not sad?’

‘You are different, Argo. You know that’. She gently raised her hand. ‘Russ didn’t want you to be like us, like the other machines. He wanted you – ’ She struggled to locate the appropriate words. ‘ – to experience the world as we once did’.

The robot held his palm out to the rain. ‘To feel it?’

Emma nodded. ‘Russ was a brilliant man. I know that I miss him but it’s difficult to not feel it. You’re lucky to grieve, Argo. It’s important. Feelings were something we once cherished. We’ve forgotten though. Russ knew such detachment would be our death. I think now he was right’.

She shook her head. ‘I wish my daughter could mourn her father’.

A very small part of her almost felt guilty. How lonely must the only one on the planet able to feel? And to be designed for that very purpose by people who no longer could.

Argo took her hand and softly squeezed it.

‘It’s time to go, Argo. Let’s clean the mud off you’.

‘Can we keep the beetles?’

She almost smiled.

‘Let’s leave them outside’.

The robot nodded. He waddled towards the manor.

‘I’m ready to say goodbye now’

She stood as well and let Argo lead her by the hand.