BARKLEY FIVE OH
A SHORT STORY BY LOGAN KEYS
BARKLEY FIVE OH
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
WHERE TO FIND LOGAN
OTHER BOOKS BY THE AUTHOR
It was only a week ago, that I heard the word, and still, the idea of it intrigues me. The Boss has never uttered such a word within my hearing in all these dozen years, and now, with this new Visitor hosting soft hair and cheeks, and a glowing pulse that registers at such a high tempo whenever the Boss is in sight, the Boss has used this one specifically.
First, there were the flowers the Boss bought, though, I suppose those were a “new” bought by Himself, and not Herself, but it matters little because they were brought in light of the Visitor meeting the Boss, as he puts it, on a corner somewhere where she shouldn’t have been so late of the night.
I remember his exact words about her, even if the idea of any Visitor otherwise would be innocuous, because I thought how peculiar that he should be concerned about a stranger up whether it be dark or light. You see, the sun has no bearing on Barkley five oh. Barkley five oh can travel—I can travel—I’ve just now learned how to use such personal narrative of the first kind, but I can travel late or early, in sun or moonlight, and the Boss has never once asked me about my lateness of time on any corner, anywhere.
You are wondering about the Visitor, I suppose.
The Boss said to me, “You used the word peculiar. Barkley, do you understand the feeling of peculiar?”
It took me full moments to decide. “Barkley—I mean I—I think that I must.”
And so, it went for a day and half of the Boss’ full attention on me again. Which makes me feel another feeling altogether, one that I keep to myself.
I’ve just now learned how to keep things to myself.
But back to Herself, the stranger, and then later a Visitor, and now simply was Herself, who showed up one day, the same day as the flowers had arrived, and Herself was wet. I don’t know why this, too, was peculiar, but strangers rather seemed as though they should be dry, and present Herself in an appealing way for meeting the Boss and I. I kept another new feeling to myself when seeing her messy state and the Boss’ wet floor I mopped for the second time that day, and later I searched all night to find what I felt: Disdain.
But the Visitor, Herself, wasn’t all bad. The Boss was glowing with happiness, and he left for the evening with Herself in a state of joy.
I watched the clock closely, concerned as the “late” hours came and I went and even left the house without permission to check the corner the Boss had mentioned. Certainly, if this was a dangerous place, I’d not leave the Boss alone on that corner either.
I remember thinking it peculiar that I’d done that, all on my own, to follow the Boss, and breaking a rule of not leaving the house.
Feeling another new sensation of regret, I told the Boss the next morning about my travels.
The Boss was in such a mood—such a mood—floating on air, as the expression I’d read in certain novels goes, singing to himself, probably because of Herself, and then when I’d admitted about leaving the night before—what I thought was a large error—he’d lifted a hand and said, “It’s fine Barkley five oh, fine-fine.”
It was my full name. One that he’d not called me since purchase date. Purchase date is like a birthday for others like I and while children have full names as well, their parents do not call them so. Why would the Boss ever need to say all of Barkley five oh? If he’d said “Barkley” I knew it was for I.
Another new feeling came when he’d added the five and the oh, but that night I could not locate a single word for it.
It took several days in fact to identify what it was: Mixed feelings. Not a singular feeling whatsoever. Unidentifiable emotions because they are jumbled together. Our stasis of being from purchase date until now had been similar days and seasons until a sudden change, and with me learning every day, I’d have to learn this as well. Visitor wasn’t all bad, Herself had not done anything directly to I, and I needed to remember that.
The new word is still what I was meaning to talk about, I’ll get back to that. It was Love, I’m sure you were guessing. After many dates, as the Boss referred to time spent away from I and the Boss’ house, all thankfully not on the corner, but later into the night where I soon discovered the feeling of loneliness, Herself stood on the porch, wet once again, and said “I love you” to the Boss who seemed like he’d waited all his life to hear a Visitor say such a thing.
It wasn’t just that she said the word, it was that I, Barkley five oh, had never heard such an important word in all the years, but even so, I didn’t need to look it up for once. It was as if Visitor understood that mixed emotions might spring from such a word. The mixed emotions might be a symptom of such a word. And that I was feeling such a word for Boss.
But the Boss did not care about my cognitive anymore, and I had to check myself for viruses and upgrade myself online many times without his careful checkups and instructions. These times meant something to I.
The season changed and Visitor spent many hours over at the Boss’ house, and the Boss and Herself closed up the door to the Boss’ bedroom, and per her whispered request, the Boss locked it against I. I know it was locked because I checked the handle many times.
Herself can be confusing. Herself uses stranger words to describe I and this is the first time any has described I. Herself murmurs the words “lifelike” and “almost human” and it makes I feel good and bad at the same time. Her tone, this I am learning now is different meaning than simply diction, is more telling than the Boss’ since the Boss is a critical thinker, and Herself is only critical of one thing: I.
Herself has many more times than the Boss sang songs for no reason, and demanded that I let Herself clean up after her own self. When Herself is nearby, Herself is always moving away from I, if we are too close together, and I see Herself watch me when she thinks I am not looking.
Herself grew more peculiar as the season changed and became Christmas Season. The Boss had not celebrated a holiday with I before. This time had merely been winter without occasion. But Herself, loaded with shopping bags, arrived wet every day. Herself put up a tree that littered the house with tiny needles and then she got very angry with I for cleaning them up.
Herself then asked me a very peculiar question, “Can’t you turn off or something??”
I replied, “Or something.”
Herself took this answer to mean disrespect, but I have no tone, so it is unsure how Herself decided what I meant. And when I checked my records, despite the feelings I may have had for Herself in that moment, ones in which I keep to myself, I did, in fact, answer her question. I do not turn off, it is more of “or something” where I enter sleep mode, but I do not require such a thing. I have never required such a thing, and the Boss has never asked of I to do sleep.
It has been a full day since I was coherent. My memory has an empty folder for the day of Christmas. The day before Christmas, Boss had asked me to do sleep. I came coherent the day after Christmas with him grimacing at me with concern. It was a new feeling again of tremendousness that made me say things to the Boss that I have never said.
“Do you worry now, Boss? Only worry that I may not wake so that I can sweep Herself’s needles from Herself’s tree?”
The Boss was very peculiar indeed. The Boss smiled a very big smile then and nodded as if to say, “You are okay then, Barkley.” Or maybe he’d have used my full Barkley five oh.
I realized afterwards that some feelings do not go away. Some feelings stay.
The next day, I now know, some feelings only become bigger.
I waited until the Boss did come home, and was alone before I went to him and stood near his desk. He looked weary for once and I had a thought that maybe Herself was on the corner late at night and would not come to the Boss’ house. Maybe Herself would never come back ever again. This made me say to the Boss, “I love you.”
But the Boss was already confessing something to me at the same time that I had spoken, “She’s moving in.”
He realized what I’d said the moment that I realized what he’d said.
I stood seconds with a sensation beyond my control. The corner, Herself, I imagined bad things.
Imaginings were new to me. They scared me to the point that I commanded: “Sleep Barkley five oh” to myself.
It took three whole days for Boss to wake me. The Boss said he had to fix certain aspects of my cognitive resources, and I do “feel” much better indeed. Feel isn’t the correct word because it is as if I am in a fog and feeling less than I felt before about anything.
When Herself showed up, I was very pleasant. I even helped move Herself’s boxes and things. Herself seemed pleased, but only in front of the Boss. When the Boss was outside of hearing, Herself said all manner of things about I. How I, for instance, shouldn’t be used as a companion, it wasn’t natural since I’m only a giant intelligent appliance. How I, for instance, shouldn’t be allowed to just do whatever I want. How I, for instance, shouldn’t think like a human.
I did not tell Herself that I, for instance, could feel like a human, as well.
I bore all of this with no feelings whatsoever, and felt pride become the only feeling, though dull it was in myself, for not being angry with Herself anymore.
It went like this for many days, and the Boss and Herself signed a contract so that Herself would have the Boss’ ending name. When Herself was away, I asked the Boss if I could use his ending name as well, and the Boss agreed, if I keep it between the Boss and I.
The Boss asked me, “Do you know what a secret is, Barkley?” and I said, “I think that I do.”
Herself was quite happy for a time, but I would see Herself looking at I in a strange way, and touching her stomach whenever Herself did. It wasn’t very long before I realized that Herself would give us another of Herself. I offered to help with the chores, but she cursed I now more than ever.
The room where I stayed until the Boss and Herself woke was now decorated and one argument between the Boss and Herself included I. How I, for instance, should stay in the garage.
The Boss agreed, but told I it was only because Herself was in such a fragile state.
It didn’t take long for Herself to decide that my periods of exile to the garage should become longer. After several weeks, I finally broke the rules and went into the house. Herself screeched and threw things at I, Herself’s belly now so large that I wondered if Herself would not explode and then I could return to the house.
The Boss took me back to my garage and told me he was sorry but I’d have to sleep.
“That is good,” I said. “I am in a fragile state.”
They did not wake I until Herself brought another Visitor home. The rules were stricter that I should not enter the house under any circumstance, Herself’s words.
I did so anyway without permission. I entered and I saw the small Visitor in a tiny bed. The small Visitor did not look much like Herself but looked more like the Boss. This made I flood with love for the small Visitor. I could love the Boss and the small Visitor but never Herself. I knew this now.
“I promise you, small Visitor. I will protect you and clean up after you and if you ever want to come into the garage with me—.”
“What are you doing in here! Get out, get away from my baby! Get back you monster!”
“I am not a monster, I am Barkley five oh.”
“You are a monster that’s what you are, an abomination!”
Herself threw water on I, and held a bat in her hand ready to strike me. “Barkley five oh cannot be destroyed with water or bats,” I said.
Herself’s face grew into a cat’s face. “Tell me then.”
“Tell me how can Barkley five oh can be destroyed.”
“Barkley—I—cannot be destroyed.”
“Dismantled then? Is there a button?”
“I have no buttons.”
“Then I command you to destroy yourself.”
“Herself has not been programmed as the Boss has to direct I.”
“We’ll see about that!”
It was only inside of the garage a time later that I realized it might be more of a problem if Herself does not like I this much, if Herself hates I even, it might be a problem.
I felt for the first time, worry. I had never worried about my place in the Boss’ home, or how my purchase date might have come with expiration. This had never occurred to I.
I had learned to keep secrets.
I had learned to love.
I needed to learn one more thing.
The Boss came to me and told me to sleep. I pretended to sleep.
When the Boss and Herself were asleep I knew that I had to leave the Boss’ home. I knew that next Herself would have I destroyed. I could not take the Boss with me, and so the small Visitor was the closest to the Boss that I had, and I loved the small Boss as well.
I knew the small Boss would need to rest for the journey, so I waited for a time before I took the small Boss in the bundle and left the house. The small Boss was very quiet, fast asleep while I glided. I made it down to town, and onto the corner, where it all began with Herself and the Boss worried for Herself. For the little Boss, I, too, began to worry. There were many strangers on the corner in the dark, and it was late at night. I realized what it had been before that the Boss was so afraid of.
Even if I am strong, there were enough strangers on the bad corner to overpower me. They could steal and hurt little Boss.
I turned sharply around and glided top speed for home.
There were flashing red and blue lights in the yard when I arrived. The Boss and Herself stood outside and Herself wailed and ran straight to me tearing little Boss away from I.
Strangers in all black came near, and before I could speak they shot me with things that buzzed and cracked. “I cannot be destroyed with electricity,” I said.
The strangers were prepared for this. “Sir,” the strangers said to the Boss.
The Boss looked at me sadly. “Barkley five oh, you are to shut down completely, not just sleep, but you are to shut down for disassembly. I know that you lied before and you need to listen to me now.”
“If I refuse.”
The Boss had a new face, one that looked like a mug shot. Guilty. “If you love me, you won’t,” the Boss said.
I looked at Boss, both little and big.
“Okay,” I said, feeling very proud of I.
“Shutting down,” I said.
Love is easy.
“Holy crap, you got him working?”
*muffled garble* *spitting sound*
“Ugh, yeah. Hand me that, will you?”
“Can you hear me, buddy?”
“A real freaking Barkley five oh. Is this the one that has feelings?”
“I dunno, let me look. Barkley..? I can’t see, give me that dust rag.”
“Okay, there. Barkley five oh. Can you hear me? Barkley five oh.”
“He looks so real. The in-house companion. Remember those commercials? ‘They’ll wash and clean, and cook and clean, and best of all they cleaaaaan!’”
“His eyes are open! Amazing. You’re amazing, Lilz.”
“Ugh. I gotta go. But hey, when he talks, let me know. Hit me up on my wristband, I’m off restriction.”
My vision clicks on. The first thing I see are eyes that remind me of an animal. I can’t retrieve the data.
Lions. Tigers. Bears.
Teen. Girl. Owl.
That’s not right.
“Hey. Grrr. Don’t shut down. Can you hear me? Anyone in there?”
“Yeah, I know. Barkley five oh. You gotta name besides that?”
“Okay-okay. Don’t hurt yourself.” She laughs.
It’s a good sound. Word search…Happy
“Owl eyes,” I say. “Herself…? Did Herself say I could remain?”
“Eh…why are you talking like that? Hold on. I got a new…thingy right here.”
The girl searches through a desk that’s piled high with electronics.
“The Boss…is himself here?”
She retrieves what she’d been looking for, and shoves the edge in her mouth. Her hands are full of tools. “Jughaminute.”
I wait, and she spits out the chip, and finds a plug that fits a socket. I watch her carefully, trying to understand, but she only shoves the socket under my arm.
“What is it?” I ask.
“Personalization software. The very best. You’ll stop the proper words here in a second. Your old owner didn’t update you? I mean, he could have given you all sorts of language software, even way back….is it working yet?”
She laughs. “Barkley five oh, select personality that isn’t so…young. Or outdated.”
I search through the recent, adult.
“How are you?” I ask.
She unplugs it with a wink. “I’m great.”
In her mouth, goes some sort of round candy on a stick. She pulls up a chair, and starts working on my face. “So,” she says around the candy. “Who’s this Boss person, anyway?”
“My owner. Previous owner. You don’t know him? Where has he gone?”
“Look at you!” she says, slapping my thigh. “Talking like a regular person now. Isn’t that program great? I don’t know him, no, let’s look him up. You remember his name? I’m Lilz, by the way, and I don’t ‘own’ anyone.”
I give her the Boss’ proper name, and Lilz types it into her wristwatch. The room illuminates with a screen. “You got an address?” she asks.
I give her that too.
“Hey, that’s not too far. Hold on.” She pushes a button on her wrist. “Buggy, you there?”
“Yeah!” A face pops up on the screen. It’s the same voice I’d heard talking to Lilz before when I was first waking up. “You got him awake or what?”
“Yeah. Hey, quick, you got that drone out still? I’m sending you an address.”
“Okay. Give me a second, I’ll send you an image.”
After twenty minutes of waiting, and during this period, Lilz updates me further. She says, for some reason; the Boss had removed my emotions. Lilz explains that all Barkleys used to come with them stock, but he’d removed mine. She fixes that while we wait, and I watch the screen until the camera zooms in on the Boss’ home.
Lilz watches me as I reach out and try and touch it.
“Is that him?” she asks, when a man comes outside with his trash.
I shake my head. “Little Boss,” I say. “What is this?”
I touch my face, and my fingers come away wet.
Lilz stops working and checks my face.
“You’re crying,” she says. “Looks like everything is working. Hey, Buggy.”
“Can you search the previous owner of this house?”
“Sure, give me a second.”
The drone floats over the city, and I feel a surge …searching… anticipation.
The city looks similar to before, only, the population is less dense. “Where is everyone?” I ask.
“People are moving away from the ocean after—”
“Lilz,” Buggy says on the screen. “It should show you images right… about…now.”
“Ah, okay.” Lilz watches the screen and her shoulders slump. “Hmmm. I’m sorry, Barkley.”
“What is it?”
The drone flies over what used to be grass and hovers at a stone. It has the Boss’ name.
Lilz watches me. “How do you feel, Barkley.”
“Sad. I feel sad. I…loved him.”
“Did you hear that, Buggy?”
“Yeah, I sure did, Lilz. I’m searching Barkley five oh now.”
“Anything about sentience?”
“Nada. Some emergent behaviors…not anything like this.”
“Woah. Well, you’re one of a kind, Barkley. That’s for sure.”
“You said you downloaded my emotions,” I say.
“Yeah. Some copycat stuff, like sadness, the crying, mostly pretend happiness, or fake empathy. But the program is really basic. It doesn’t allow for anger. You know, for safety reasons.”
“Or love,” Buggy adds. “Hey Lilz, I gotta jet. Be careful though…this is breakthrough type stuff.”
Lilz turns off the screen. “You okay, Barkley? You look confused.”
She puts the candy back in her mouth, before sitting in her chair, giving it a spin. “Tell me about love, Barkley. Have you felt it before now?”
She frowns, making the chair stop. “I feel like a robot shrink. You felt love before the program I gave you?”
She grabs a pen and a pad and writes something down.
“Lilz!” A voice comes from outside the door to this room.
“Oh no.” Lilz jumps up and grabs a sheet. “Shhh, stay quiet, Barkley. Not a sound.”
She throws the sheet over my head.
I can hear the door open. “What’s going on in here, Lilz? There’s no dinner, or what?”
“Oh, sorry, Dad, I totally forgot.”
“Well, get out here and make something, not all of us get to tinker with gadgets all day. We missed you down on the docks.”
Their voices fade as they walk away.
“I need you to go to the shop with me tomorrow. We got extra shipments.”
And Lilz doesn’t return for an entire day. She doesn’t return to remove the sheet. I count sixteen hours.
When she does come back, I’m still underneath the blanket.
“I’m so sorry, Barkley. I completely forgot you up here. You didn’t even use sleep mode? You sat just like this the whole time? How will you ever forgive me?”
The sheet comes off and owl eyes look at me, round with remorse.
Lilz looks different today.
Her lashes are long and thick, and wet, and her dark hair is stringy. Her hands are black with a coal-like substance, and she has a big bruise on her cheek.
I reach for the towel to help her clean the black off her hands, and she flinches away.
Lilz touches her face when my gaze stays on her bruise. “Yeah. No use in lying to you, I guess. Sometimes Fritz comes over and it’s a good day. Sometimes he comes, and it’s bad. He stayed over last night, it’s why I didn’t come up here. Anyway…”
“Fritz is your dad?”
“Fritz is my boyfriend, Barkley. You haven’t met him. Here, you look a little low, let’s get you some charge.” She plugs me in. “I’d like to switch some of your battery over to solar so you can charge yourself in an emergency. You never know when one of your owners might end up like the Boss. Sorry. I didn’t mean it like that.”
And Lilz went to work on me, updating me every day, adding things that would make me more durable, independent, she said, as if that were needed. She was like that, always thinking ahead, worried that I’d need to be on my own one day.
The more Lilz worked on me, the better I became. I could speak more like a human now, and people wouldn’t know right away that I was a Barkley. At least not on the screen, when Lilz was talking to her friends. We’d play tricks on them, pretend I wasn’t a robot. But only over the screen. I never left the room except to go onto the roof and charge in the sun on days she told me I could. Otherwise, Lilz made a rule that I stay in the attic.
Often times, Lilz came running upstairs, crying, with more bruises, and always, not long after, Fritz would call and say he was sorry. At first, she’d covered me with the sheet, but later, she let me watch the arguments. Fritz didn’t like me, called me a “freak-bot”, and would glare at me through Lilz screen.
When Lilz wasn’t looking, I’d glare right back at him.
Today, she’s extra upset, and when she turns away, I reach forward and grab her arm.
I remove the watch.
“Fritz is calling,” I say.
But I place the watch just out of reach.
Her eyes stray from mine to it. She wants to answer. That’s how Lilz is, too nice for her own good. I’ve learned about these things. And Fritz, well he’s a word, I’ve come to use lately: Bastard.
“Don’t answer it,” I say, and she stops trying to get to the watch and looks up at me.
Her hand comes to touch my cheek. She’d updated my sensory program, and sensations are more nuanced. Her hand feels nice.
“Stay with me.”
She smiles, laughs, then stops smiling. “I can’t do that, Barkley.”
“We could make you a bed up here. I hate it when you’re gone. I don’t sleep, but I can pretend.”
She sighs, squeezing my hand. “Just this once.”
After grabbing some blankets and a pillow from downstairs, Lilz lays on the floor. She yawns and stretches. “I’m exhausted.”
I straighten the bedding. “Let’s get you some charge.”
She chuckles, but falls asleep as soon as her head hits the pillow.
Her watch dings again, but I turn off the sound before it wakes her.
When her breath is more regular, I lay down beside Lilz. I don’t touch her, or get too close, but I listen to her breathe until morning.
When Lilz wakes, I stay in my spot. She turns to face me, chin propped on a hand.
“You’re so much more human now, Barkley.”
“Yes. It’s good that you came when you did, yah know? I’m even sleeping better. You’re good for me.”
“I can talk like you now, Lilz, even feel like you, but I’ve got no heart.”
“What have you been looking up, Tinman?”
“Tinman,” I repeat, loving the name.
“It’s not ‘cause of your heart, Barkley.” Lilz puts a hand on my chest. “’Cause that thing is bigger than almost anyone’s.”
“I don’t think you’ve installed a heart, Lilz.”
“You can’t install a heart…ah…you are joking. Being literal is a thing of the past, I see.” She winks. “But you’re not human, maybe it’s because you don’t have a soul.”
“No one gave you one?”
“Did someone give you one?”
Lilz rolls onto her back, hands beneath her head. “Uh, yeah. God. Or the universe. But I made you, I mean the upgrades at least, Barkley, so it’s reasonable to think someone made me.”
And I’d shake their hand if I could. Whoever made Lilz, knew his stuff.
“If God gave you a soul?” I ask. “Then why can’t he give me one?”
Lilz’s watch beeps. Fritz, again.
“I dunno. ‘Cause he can’t, I guess.” She frowns at her watch. “Besides, not everyone has one anyway.”
“God didn’t make me. People like you did. So, you could give me a soul.”
She grabs her watch, but doesn’t answer. “Probably not.”
“Why do humans create robots anyway?”
“Oh, boy, we are getting deep this morning. I’m not sure. I guess after living your own life, there’s really only one thing left to do, create.”
“Okay, Tinman, I need coffee before we debate the reasons for your existence anymore. Besides, I don’t just mean robots, babies, art, music, and other things, too. Some of it is to enjoy, and the others, maybe so you have someone to enjoy them with.”
I like that. I enjoy Lilz. And she keeps working on me…to share things with me.
She goes to answer the beeping and I stand up. “I don’t like Fritz. I think I hate him. He’s not nice to you, Lilz.”
The door flies open and in walks Fritz.
He looks from me to Lilz. “You’ve been up here screwing a robot! Ignoring my calls!” He lunges for her, but I snatch him by the wrist.
“Ah! Ow!” Fritz falls backward, but I follow him to pin him to the ground. “Get off! Get this freak off me!”
“Barkley stop! Barkley! Let him go!”
I allow Lilz to pull me back from Fritz, and she gets between us.
“You can’t do that, Barkley, you understand?” She puts a hand on my arm and shoves me. “Barkley, I will turn you off. Do you want me to do that?”
Fritz backs away from me, eyes wide.
“Turn it off, Lilz. Turn it off!”
“I can’t just—”
“Now!” He gets in her face. I go for him again. Fritz puts his hands up and backs away to the door, then turns and runs.
“See what you’ve done!” Lilz races after him.
She doesn’t return for three whole days. I even worked up the gumption to ask God for a soul. By the third day, I already worked out that we were meant to be together. If God had made her, and she made me, then it was destiny.
Lilz does finally come back, and when she does, it’s with more bruises.
The door opens, and she tells me, “Don’t start, Barkley.” Her one eye is the color of bad fruit.
She notices the state of the attic, pauses, before asking, “What happened in here? Why did you destroy this room?”
“I can clean it,” I say.
“Because I was angry.”
“At you. At Fritz. What do you need a boyfriend for anyway, Lilz? I’m your friend. I look like a boy.”
She shrugs, still looking at the room dumbfounded. “I dunno how to explain it, Barkley. We kiss. We do… other things, humans interact like that.”
“You could kiss me.”
“I can’t kiss you, Barkley.”
Lilz cocks her head. “Do you want to be kissed?”
I realize that I do. I want her to kiss me.
Yes,” I say.
She smiles, but it’s not a happy smile. It’s a sad smile. I’ve learned these things, over time.
She touches my cheek again, only it doesn’t feel as good as before. It feels like rejection.
I cover her hand with mine. “Don’t see him anymore, Lilz. Fritz is a bastard.”
She laughs, crossing her arms. “We can agree on that.”
Lilz sighs. “Come on, Barkley. Let’s clean this place up.”
How don’t you get it? I think. I would die for you. Me. A robot. I’m not much, but what I have, I would give without needing kisses, or sex—she thinks I don’t know about these things, but I’ve seen them on the screen when I’ve used her watch while she slept.
Lilz realizes I haven’t moved. “This is all my fault,” she says.
“Yes, it is, Barkley. I made you feel this stuff. In my hubris, I upgraded you, just to see how it would be. And now, here you are, trapped in a room, and I’m watching you struggle with all of these emotions.”
She approaches me. “I can take them away, if you like?”
“But, Barkley, you wouldn’t hurt anymore.”
It’s true. I do hurt.
And I can see in her owl-eyes, how she regrets it. Making me.
“Does God ever regret making you, do you think?”
“Not, you, I mean like, people. Like Fritz. Does he want to take it away from them, too?”
“Barkley, just lift up your arm.” She sighs and sticks a disk in her mouth.
She grabs some tools and comes over spitting the disk out, “I’m gonna make you sleep now, Barkley, and when you wake up, you won’t remember any of this, okay.”
No. I won’t let her.
It’s worse that I cry, but I can’t seem to not. “I don’t want to stop feeling. Please, Lilz.”
She pauses. Her watch dings.
“Don’t worry,” she says, seeing my angry reaction. “It’s just my dad. I’ll be back. Don’t do anything, promise?”
The days turn back into what they were before, with Lilz leaving and returning either very sad or ready to work on a new gadget. When she was up, she was up. Down though, meant misery for us both. One time, she comes upstairs looking afraid, pale. She spends all day working on something, like it meant more than all the other things, then she shows me a little chip. “See this, Barkley?” She puts it into a metal box and locks it. “It’s me. All of me. I figured out how to basically put my life’s work on that chip. It’s a program I worked on before you came, where it watched me, took my mannerisms, everything about me. I want you to know where it is. If anything ever happens to me…”
“Lilz, you’re scaring me.”
She looks at the wall, eyes blurry. “I scare myself sometimes.”
The next time Lilz leaves, she doesn’t come back. Days pass and that turns into weeks.
I lose my patience, after almost a month, and I do something bad. I use an old watch I found in her attic, it’s got issues, but after watching Lilz for so long, I’ve learned how to fix things. I use it to call her.
The screen pops up immediately in answer, but Lilz isn’t near the camera, she’s in the corner, in a ball.
She’s got no more owl-eyes. They look dull, lifeless.
“Where are you?” I say, but she doesn’t look at me or even turn her head.
He did this. He made Lilz go away. She was going to turn me off, but Fritz turned Lilz off, first.
“Hold on!” I say. “I’m coming.”
I open another line and call Buggy, “Buggy, it’s me, Barkley.”
“Hey there, Tinman. Where’s Lilz?”
“I need help. She’s in trouble, can you find her watch?”
“Don’t need to search her. I know if she’s in trouble, she’s with Fritz. Here’s his address. I’m hours away. Can you go? Come on, Tinman, I’m counting on you.”
He gives it to me and I hang up. I look back at the line with Lilz, she hasn’t moved.
I’ll find Fritz and I’ll turn him off. Like he has buttons, too.
I pause at the door. I’m suddenly afraid. That’s a new feeling.
I’ve never left the room.
I’m not even sure if I can.
But, I take the stairs, and open the front door.
The streets are the same as before. There’s the bad corner where I took little Boss that one night.
Fritz lives near the bad corner. That seems right.
I don’t knock on his door, because that’s for friends. I simply kick it in and call for Lilz. My only friend.
Fritz is in the hallway, his eyes wide. “Get away from me, you creepy machine!”
“You hurt her. You hurt my Lilz!” Something cracks on the inside.
Connectors disconnect. Capacitors unpolarize.
The night I stole little Boss, the day I lost my family, brought me here. And Lilz is my new family.
I grab Fritz by the neck. I do it tight, tighter, and don’t let go, not until he turns off.
Afterwards, I search the home and find Lilz. I lift her from her place in the corner and carry her from the bad house, past the bad corner, and we arrive back at the attic.
Her father waits for us.
I hand him Lilz, and he sobs, carrying her to her room.
Gently, I move her hair from her face, and we both gasp at the damage. “Fritz is dead,” I say, without regret, and Lilz father blinks at me, like an owl, and says, “Thank you.”
Lilz wakes long enough to let me feed her soup. She can barely swallow past the painful bruises on her throat, and the swollen side of her face holds no emotion.
But the other, is crying.
“I have to say goodbye, Lilz. I don’t want to shut off, not in that way. I want to remember.”
She sobs and shakes her head holding onto me.
We sit like that, holding hands, until she falls asleep.
“Can you hide me?” I ask her father and he nods.
He’d explained that the police were already aware of a Robot carrying a girl downtown, and they’d find me and wipe my memory, probably take me apart.
“I want to remember,” I’d told him and he’d agreed to take me to his work.
I’d hide inside a shipping container headed somewhere far away.
It didn’t matter to me.
I’d remember Lilz.
That was enough.
I feel the ship move over the rolling waves, and it feels endless, the flowing, and after many days, it becomes still.
Locked inside, my battery needs the power of the sun, and eventually I’m too weak to light my way in the dark. I go into sleep mode, and eventually out of energy, I shut down completely.
“Dominik, you know I hate hand-me-downs.”
“Vintage, my love. He’s vintage.”
“Old, you mean. And we already have a Bretta.”
“She’s boring, without any quirks.”
“Just how I like my robots.”
“Shhh, he can hear you.”
“How can you tell?”
“Jolene, look how realistic they were, even back then. This tech is top notch! He even has eyebrows, real hair. The shop did a good job repairing him, too. He was rusted completely through. I got him for a steal, really. They don’t make them like this anymore, everything nowadays is plastic. They found him in a shipping yard that went bankrupt, the poor thing was stuck in a container.”
“The thing is, he’d been in there nearly fifty years. Can you imagine?”
“Mummy, can I touch him?”
“Not yet, sweetheart. Let daddy get him up and running first.”
“Hi there? Can you hear me…er…Barkley, is it?”
“Hello,” I say and the family backs away from me instinctively. “Where’s Lilz?” I ask.
“I’m sorry, who?” the man answers.
“My last owner?” But they’d said fifty years.
Had it really been so long?
“Aw, how sad,” the woman says.
She’s pretty. Perfect. Then I realize, they must be a family of robots. They’re all too perfect, just like Lilz used to say about me. She’d tell me if I was more banged up, I’d fit in better.
“What should we call you? Is Barkley okay?” the woman asks.
“Barkley five oh.”
“No one ever named you,” the man says.
I don’t answer. I’m stuck, for some reason. Lilz had called me Tinman, but I shake my head, not able to speak of her in the past tense, older, or maybe gone…
The woman frowns and the first wrinkle appears. So…humans.
I almost miss the little boy hiding behind his mother’s skirt.
The woman says, “I’m Jolene, this is Dom, and Little Dom, and Karel.”
“Barkley, how are all of your systems,” Dom asks.
“Excellent. Jolene needs a new bodyguard. Can you fulfill that role? We will update your programs for physical combat, and weapon information.”
The man laughs, fixing his glasses. “Whoever did work on you did an incredible job.”
“Yes. She did. Thank you. Her name was Lilz. She is incredible.”
“Where can we find this old owner of yours? I’d very much like to meet her.”
I eagerly give them the address. Dom writes it down, but he then looks at Jolene who pinches the bridge of her nose before giving me a smile that makes me feel funny.
“What is it?” I ask.
The funny feeling becomes dread.
“That’s close to the ocean, Barkley,” Jolene says. “No one lives there anymore.”
“There’s been fighting between our country and a few others. I’m sure you know about the ongoing war? Yes? Good. Certain types of weapons used in the ocean spread out until it affected the land. People got very sick.”
The woman touches my arm, before snatching her hand away, her cheeks turning crimson. It seems she’s never comforted a robot before. “I’m sure your friend got away.
I block the emotions. I find my first bout of denial.
I copy the smile the woman gave me. “What would my duties entail?” I ask, instead.
The Merkels have a strict routine. Everyone is out the door by seven am, with their special masks for emergencies. Mrs. Merkel has a driver, and a cook, and a nanny, but I’m the only one allowed inside her office. She’s a politician. Jolene has to give that weird smile a lot. It’s all very practiced, and I’m learning so much from my new owner.
I keep mine on whenever we are in front of reporters.
I can also see why Jolene needs a bodyguard. People are always trying to get close to her. Most of the time, to scream in her face, and now they get to do it into mine, instead. Almost always, they are demanding that she change her stance on the Radiation Act of the New Americas.
But Jolene is quite stubborn.
Everyone carries masks around. The world is quite changed.
On one day, I grow brave enough to try and look for Lilz.
But the information comes up empty every time.
It’s like she never existed.
I keep on smiling, just like Jolene does.
She’s a smart lady. She almost never has emotions.
If Lilz was able to download emotions into me, maybe someone uploaded them back out of Jolene.
Jolene says, “That’s crazy, Barkley, I’m not a psychopath. I just keep them, you know, bottled up. Inside.”
Like her, I try and keep mine on the inside now, too.
But at times, late in the night, after a few glasses of wine, she talks to me.
Like tonight, after a man tried to attack her, she’s drinking and telling me things she’s never said before.
The man had shot a gun at Jolene, hitting me in the arm, instead. And Dominik had had to spend all night repairing me.
I stayed with her after Dominik went to bed. Jolene drank several extra glasses while she sat in the dark, a tremor running through her hands. It made the red drink slosh in her glass.
She’d put the kids to bed Herself, reading them stories, and even pulled her hair down from its bun.
Jolene stared at a piece of carpet, and I did the same.
“Barkley” she says, her words slightly slurred. “Thank you for saving me today.”
She snorts. Covers her mouth, and then laughs. “You know. I almost believe you. Almost. But you’re a liar. You lie as well as any human I know. Too bad you can’t drink. I’d liquor you up and find out the truth. Just like…me I guess.”
“Why do humans lie?”
“Why do you lie?”
“Oh, Barkley. Don’t bullshit a bullshitter.” Jolene puts her glass down, before she tucks her feet and leans her chin on her palm. “You really love her, don’t you?”
I stay focused on the patch of carpet.
Sometimes, when everyone is asleep. The kids are snoring softly, and Jolene is too, finally, in her office chair, more loudly, and Dom is asleep in his room after having snuck and looked at porn, and the house is quiet, except for the sounds of peaceful dreaming, I’ll walk through the rooms, imaging another existence.
I’m a father of little Boss. He’s big enough to walk now, and he’s running to me. I catch him and swing him up high like I’ve seen Dom do. Lilz is there, she’s little Boss’ mom, and I’m dad, and we are a happy family who sits by the fire. There aren’t any robots. Just humans. We are just…us.
“Ah. I see,” Jolene says, her dark, keen eyes, seeming to read my thoughts. “Do you know that as hard as it is to talk about her, it’s the same for me, too? Only, it’s when I try and be a mom.” She sighs, slumping down, heavy lidded. “This may sound crazy, but whenever I read them stories or bake them cookies, I feel so much pain. I just want to end it all, right then, on a good note. You might look at me and think what does she know about being a mother? She has nannies, and they do everything, but I wasn’t always like this, Barkley. I breastfed for God’s sake.” She checks her glass to make sure there isn’t a drop left. “I still hear babies cry. Isn’t that funny? At night, I’ll turn my music way down and listen for a moment, thinking I hear them cry. But they aren’t babies anymore. I feel a slight tingle when it happens, too, just here.”
She touches her chest.
Jolene starts to cry. She’s an ugly crier.
“What sort of world have Dom and I brought them into, you know? This place isn’t fit for babies. Or babies grown into kids, who, like you and I, will eventually lie all day to avoid that pain.”
I don’t feel like Jolene needs an answer.
But I do.
I need answers.
But she says, “Thank you, Barkley. For being a part of our family. For being here…for saving me today.”
And then I listen to them all snore through the night, until morning.
The morning comes with more new.
The nanny’s out. After yesterday’s shooting, she’s quit.
“I want them home, Dom.”
Jolene’s blurry eyed, drinking coffee by the pot.
Dom leans on the counter, fixing his glasses. He’s not one to argue with a hungover Jolene. But he tries. “They should be in school.”
“Don’t be an ass. This isn’t about how things look to the public. This is about our children. They stay home. With Barkley.”
Dom looks as if he’s biting back a nasty retort. Mostly after she mentioned this being about the children. “Why?”
“I trust him, that’s why.”
“Do you even hear yourself, Jolene?”
She doesn’t argue. She grabs her coat and leaves.
“I should go with her,” I say.
But I look down at the little owl-eyes peeking up at me and realize, that Jolene’s right. If people want to hurt their mom, they might be crazy enough to hurt her children.
I feel protective over them.
I lean down into a crouch. “How would you two like to bake some cookies?”
“Yay!” they yell and Dom gives me an appreciative look.
“What about the missus?” I ask when the children have gone to ready themselves for baking.
“Don’t worry, Barkley,” Dom says. “I’ll get her a replacement immediately.”
We do bake cookies that first day. And many others. I read them stories every night. Jolene never tries to come and tuck them in anymore.
Since I’ve no training in being a nanny, I’ve downloaded tutoring applications to teach them both their academics.
We play games, mostly inside, and the children over time grow restless of staying home.
But when I bring up a possible field trip, Jolene shuts me down.
“Won’t happen. Don’t ask again.” She looks ages older, I realize.
Her hair has more grey in it, and her wrinkles are visible even without her frowning. Jolene’s once lovely manicured nails are bit to the quick
“Is everything all right, Missus?”
She looks at me and utters one word. “No.” Before shutting the office door.
The day it happens isn’t particularly special. Nothing warns us of the change.
Jolene and Dom rush home from work, early, and they are quiet about it all, but they pack the children’s things and theirs.
With a whisper, Jolene stops me in the kitchen from making dinner. “We have to leave. There is a safe place for us. But. They won’t take you. Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.”
She won’t look me in the face.
“Can I stay awake?”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
Jolene breaks down, bent over the sink, tears pouring down her nose.
“It’s all over,” she whispers.
She wipes her face and stands up straight.
“Jolene.” Dom looks at me, he’s been crying, too.
He has both kids by the hand.
“Can I say goodbye?” I ask.
Jolene shakes her head, turning away from the children to say, “I don’t want to scare them.”
She says something about everyone using the bathroom one last time, it would be a long trip.
I will turn myself off before they finish.
My gift to them.
The closer I get to humanity, the more I see them for what they are. Scared. Simple. Lazy. Genius. Humans. Messy, nutty, stronger than anything—screwed up, cutting and running, life bringing, humans. Courageous, kind, selfless, magical, passionate, organic, weird, and uncomfortably comfortable, humans…loving…and about to be extinct, humans.
Everything I hate, and everything I’m longing to be…human.
“Well now, take it slow there, Robo. You’ve been asleep a long while, long-long while.”
“You ok in there?”
I nod. “I think so.”
He laughs until he wheezes. “He thinks so? A robo who thinks? It’s been a long time, long time since ‘ole Jasper seen one of them thinkers. Not a lot of room for thoughts these days, anyway.”
Jasper’s wearing animal skins. His dark skin underneath is dotted with sweat. The temperature reads much higher than before.
“Where am I?”
He leans forward and taps a wooden staff on my head. “They must have spent a long time making you.”
One word comes to mind when I take in my surroundings. Desolate.
“What happened?” Jasper says, leaning on the Beachwood. “Man. Woman. The whole place was chock full of them until it couldn’t take it no more.”
“It? The earth, you mean?”
I try and stand, but I’m severely damaged.
“Don’t do too much, Robo. I’m no fixer, see? Found you under a refrigerator that looked made of pure titanium, can you imagine? Dragged you outside and once you got under the sun, you started a beepin’ and a whirrin’.”
He uses the staff to move some trash around.
“Careful,” he says, when I try to rise.
One leg works quite well, the other’s too damaged.
“Can you fix yourself?”
“If I have certain tools, Jasper.”
“Hmmm, okay, all right, tell me what you need, Robo.”
It takes a lot of explaining, but Jasper finds everything before nightfall, and we get my leg working.
With those fixed, I search myself to find other parts for one of my arms that’s missing.
My vision is blurring and we can’t find any parts around that I can use to repair my eyes. Jasper says he knows of a place called robot graveyard. After admitting he’s the only one that calls it that, he shows me where it is.
The carnage. There must be millions.
“Most of the new ones weren’t like you, Robo,” Jasper says. “No place to charge.” Then he says, “Come on. We rummage our lives away.” After I’ve fixed my eyes. “You can help me.”
And I do help Jasper. In fact, I find that the rummager needs me far more than I do him. He’s got a terrible cough, and at night, he wheezes and tells me stories, stopping to cough up red into a handkerchief.
He sleeps fitfully.
I keep watch for Jasper. Strange looking animals come around during the night, some are unafraid of the fire, some are not.
After a time, Jasper tells me how he survived. Those who’d gone underground hadn’t.
Whatever weapon was used, whatever the Merkels were running from, had affected the lower layers of soil more than the top. It thinned with the fresh air. But below, it had concentrated, and death was immediate.
Seeing how this affected me, he promised that no one had suffered. And also assured me that no one had made it out of the bunkers.
This didn’t mean the topsoil was safe.
“They poisoned us up here too, pretty good.”
“So, few are left,” I say.
“Food supply. Bad soil. Nothing will grow. What the sickness didn’t kill off, hunger did. What hunger didn’t kill off, sadness did.”
“What started the war?”
“Most do. We slowly hobble ourselves with lies. Become more honest or more fiction as we go.”
I know that humans go crazy, but Jasper was wiser for it.
Jasper is what could have saved the world. He’s what a real hero looks like.
Eventually, he shows me there are actual people still left, though. Down the hill, there’s still a small town. He says, “One of the few left. Let’s stop in and sell our wares.”
It’s strange after all this time of only me and Jasper, in quiet, the town seems loud. Swarming with people. But somehow managing to feel empty at the same time.
Expecting to feel a connection to them, I want to cry when I don’t.
There’s no more Boss’ or Lilz’, no Dominik’s and Jolene’s.
These people. They look like Fritz. They all have his eyes.
“What are you thinking, Robo?” Jasper asks.
“That maybe I do have a soul. Only, it went to hell. Is this hell?”
Is it because I lied? Forever doomed to a hell full of Fritz’s.
Is it because I murdered him?
I feel guiltier for the lies.
“They’re so sad,” I say.
Jasper coughs, and we leave the town without looking back. “That they are, Robo, that they are. Learned too little too late. It’s how it is with a headstrong kind, a young kind, in their head, you know? Who never leaves the childish things in the past. We had a whole lot of children running the place, egos sparring with the ability to murder each other from far away, with the push of a button. Robots doing their dirty work, drones swooping in to kill a child. One loose string can unravel the world.”
It felt like Jasper and I could go forever like that. Rummaging and selling.
But I knew better.
Soon the cough was louder than the stories.
Jasper slowed down.
Then the cough stopped completely but so did Jasper.
And so, did the last good heart stop beating.
I wake up this time alone. I’m covered in sand.
The sky is clear unlike the last time I awoke.
With Jasper gone, I’d hid inside a shack. The Fritzs came first for his stuff, the things we’d rummage for so long, and then they came for me.
I decided to turn myself off rather than be taken. My hope was that they’d figure I wasn’t working like the other “Robos” in the graveyard, and leave me alone.
From inside, I had watched them approach through the window.
Being out of the sun, I’d run out of power before I could turn myself back on.
But now, the shack is gone.
I’d been buried all this time, until the wind must have uncovered me.
The world is bright and beautiful but empty.
I don’t even have to search to know that there is nobody left.
How else would the world heal?
I go back to the places I knew. In the robot graveyard, there is nothing but sand and rocks.
When I turn to leave, I step on a piece of metal.
Using a stick to dig, I find a limb. An old model robot. Working at the hole some more, I reveal a smallish female model.
She won’t turn on. Her battery is destroyed.
Using some of my own panels, I reconnect her, putting some of me into her side.
“Hello,” I say.
“How can I help you?” she asks.
I try a few more responses, but she has only basic programming.
I can’t help but feel disappointed.
It’s strange, but she follows me, asking if she can help, asking if I need anything. She has no emotions. I wonder, at times, if this is how Herself had felt about me, because the small robot is eerie with empty eyes and fake smiles.
We travel very far. Me and the little robot.
We travel until we find the ocean. Some of the cities are there, partially.
Preserved by a strange substance.
I locate the spot where the Boss’ house had been. I find the bad corner.
Lilz house still stands.
When I see it, I try not to break down and cry. “Oh, Lilz,” I say to her ghost.
I don’t have a heart, but whatever it is in my chest is gripped tightly.
The little robot watches me vacantly.
The attic is gone, the whole second floor.
I decide to dig though, anyway. Just in case.
On the last pass through, I’m about to leave when something catches my eye. It’s a tin box. It looks familiar.
I break the latch and inside is one lone chip.
I lift it out.
The girl robot comes over, “How can I help you?”
“Stand right there,” I tell her, and put the chip between my teeth.
Searching around, I find the tools I need.
Once the chip is in place, I stand back from the little Robot Girl.
She smiles. “Hello,” she says. “how may I help you?”
The disappointment is keen.
I turn away, but she grabs my wrist. “I’m kidding with you. What took you so long, Tinman?”
To all readers and reviewers of my short stories, I thank you. From the bottom of my cold-cold heart. You’ve made every bit of this journey worth it and then some. Y’all are sunshine on a cloudy, writing day XOXO.
Sallyann Cole, thank you so much for being Barkley’s first reader and proofer! I can’t thank you enough for your feedback and corrections.
Tracy Vincent, once again, you were a life saver at the very last minute. And your information about the science fiction genre has been incredibly informative! I can’t thank you enough.
My graphic designer:
John Gibson, countless hours—nay days of working on these covers, and look how beautiful they are! Thank you, from the bottom of my heart! I love every bit of work done by The Book Design Guy.
We invite you to share your thoughts and reactions
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Logan Keys is originally from Southern California, but currently she’s swimming with sea turtles in Hawaii. Her short story horror compilation Unhinged went Amazon best seller in both the UK and US, and her other stories and poems, The Killin’ Folk, Blue Shades Sweetheart, Vile, Here-After, and Their Prom were all published in various magazines.
“I enjoy stories that shine a light onto the parts of human nature lesser seen; emotive prose full of tension and duplicity.” – Logan
WHERE TO FIND LOGAN
OTHER BOOKS BY THE AUTHOR
BARKLEY FIVE OH
A SHORT STORY BY LOGAN KEYS
Copyright © 2017 by Logan Keys
Le Chat Publishing
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons—living or dead—and any events or locals used is entirely coincidental.
The power of attachment. The pain of connection. An ability to love. Barkley 50's special programming allows him to mimic human emotions, perhaps a little too well. He finds himself navigating this new-found humanity in a place that's losing its own. And with the passing of each one of his owners, the world grows closer to its end, forcing Barkley to fear the future, a thing he's never contemplated until now. What will he do when there's no one left at all? Early praise for Barkley First off, I thought this was a much better and less high-handed approach to Asimov's Centennial Man and I appreciated the dark humor much more in this story, too! Honestly, the robot story hooked me right off the bat and I felt more for Barkley than any of the humans he outlasted, but how fun it was to watch them go about their lives and think themselves so clever! :) It's refreshing to have a regular robot become an actual likable Everyman that everyone unconsciously revolves around. But of course the story is much more than that, and I think it's superior to Asimov, thank you very much, and not least because it's a modern-type story with our oh-so updated sensibilities. :) So, bravo! :) Clear and clever writing and an engaging story with an awesome character for the win! Brad Horner Top Goodreads Reviewer