by Marjorie Salzwedel
part 1 of 2
From below the surface of the pile of titanium scraps of metallic arms and legs, a mechanical hand reached up and grabbed the palm of Sarah’s hand when she reached in from the side of the trash heap to take a metal tile. It curled its metal fingers around hers.
The six-foot robot held onto her, ever so lightly as she steadied herself. It pulled itself up from the discarded pieces of prosthetic limbs and let her hand go.
She stared with her mouth agape, her eyes shining.
“You look like Phoenix rising from the ashes.”
“You remember that story?” the robot asked.
“Yes,” the twelve-year-old girl said, as she stood there, her blue eyes full of wonder.
“Please, give me a hand for leverage,” the voice of the zeta-titanium figure pleaded. “I usually step out on the other side because it is easier to walk where the rubble is solid.”
“You’re not heavy. You’re streamlined. What’s inside you?”
“The most important parts of my kind are in my head. My name is Dusty-One. My form has been recast in lightweight titanium elasticity and is very lightweight. It’s based on the compound carbon-carbon. It’s what everyone is talking about.”
“I’m sorry. I mistook you for Destin. You sound just like him. I thought I would never see him again.”
“Sarah, your father renamed me for my own safety and had my identification plate recast because as Destin-One I was headed for this trash pile in pieces, instead of intact as you see me. He had my nameplate melted.
“The university assumes that as Destin-One I have been dismantled. Your father, my one and only master, still depends on my configuring data. I give him the information he needs for his research and to teach his classes.”
“I knew I would see you again.” The girl’s words bubbled in between the sobs she held back in her throat. She reached out and ran her thin fingers along the smooth metal of the robot’s metallic rounded cheek.
She stared at his face. His round head still reminded her of the face of the campus clock. It was not fully rounded, but slim at the back of his head. His face was no wider than anyone’s face that she had ever met. The robot was built with perfect symmetry. He hardly had a neck at all.
Just below the center of his face he had a small nose over the bridge of which were his two well-spaced binocular-framed dark eyes. Extended, his eyes swiveled effortlessly to take in a 270 degrees glance over each shoulder. He had a wide scope to include everything in focus behind him. He looked like Destin in every way except his plating looked like some kind of luminescent silver.
She paused, “I am surprised you recognized me. I’m almost grown up now.”
“You are Dr. Caruso’s only child, the only twelve-year-old and the only blonde-haired person on the island. There are one hundred and ten children on this small piece of land. The other youngsters are in the early grades or are finishing high school. Your friend Jack who lives down the street will be going away to college.”
“Oh, that’s right” She frowned, thinking how she would miss the tall, dark-eyed boy who designed the tree house in the squat branches of the loblolly pine.
He had been her only friend besides the positron robot. The robot’s words reminded Sarah how she had yelled at Jack to stop pestering Destin with so many questions that last day Destin was with their family.
Jack had been reading American history, and Destin recited answers to his many questions. Sarah had felt jealous and wished that she could think of good questions to ask Destin. It was the evening of the same day that her father took Destin away.
The next day Jack stopped by as he always did in the afternoon. He brought her a picture puzzle to solve. As they sat on the floor of the tree house setting out the pieces, she told him that her father had taken Destin away. Her eyes had filled with tears as Jack stared at her.
He didn’t speak for the longest time as if he expected her to say it wasn’t so. Finally, he put his hand on her shoulder and said in a whisper, “I’m sure your father knows where he is.” He stood up then, turned away and hurried down the ladder. The next week, Jack came by every day with a new puzzle to cheer her up.
Sarah stood there at the scrap pile amazed that she had again come face-to-face with this wonderful tin man she remembered from so long ago. She had thought of him every day. “I see my father sitting up at night at his data-pod listening and recording transmissions from you. Mother says you rival her for attention.”
“It is necessary.”
“She said it was better in the old days when you lived with us.”
“It was simpler that way. The distraction your father has with the university is the real rival: all that unnecessary paperwork.”
“But he says you help him with that.”
“I do it for him.”
“Mother is always happy about that.”
“You were very young five years ago when I left your house for the last time. You stood there smiling at me and asked me to recite your favorite poems, “Where Go the Boats” and “My Shadow” from A Child’s Garden of Verses. You were seven then. Your father waited patiently for me to recite them.
“I remember. It was the very last time I heard them.”
“You sometimes asked me for all of Robert Louis Stevenson’s poems, but I quoted those because they were the two you most often wanted to hear.”
“Sometimes I sit and stare at the photo on father’s desk of you with Mother and me.”
“I remember that photo on the desk and also the day it was taken. You told me I was part of the family.”
“I cried when Father said he had to take you away, and when you didn’t come back. I still hoped you would come back to us some day. I didn’t know you were here though. I came here so often a few years back. You never stepped out before.”
“You were very young. Now you’re almost thirteen.”
“Mother told me that Father had you hidden somewhere. He said he couldn’t talk about it with either of us.”
“Your father said he would never let them recycle or destroy me. I have found and catalogued more than a hundred thousand solutions for him through the years. He advanced me from my first default. I am his faithful servant as I hide here under this debris and am always alert to my tubal ear when he calls me.”
“I heard him tell Mother that you are indispensable to him.”
“In this graveyard, prematurely covered, he reaches me. Time and place don’t mean a thing to me. The government may reverse the decision, and my kind will be welcomed back.”
“The law is still against you. Mother complains about it from time to time.”
“Some people believe that my positron brain is a threat to human beings. This is not true. It was your good father that programmed the subtleties of my brain.”
“Not everyone agrees with the law. I don’t, nor Mother, either.”
“You are informed right. Your father has safeguarded my brain and has given me a new metal skin. It repairs itself.”
“I heard father talking about the material. It’s amazing.”
“They are using it on aircraft now.”
“I know.” She touched his arm lightly. “Dusty, what are you going to do?”
“Wait,” the robot declared in his sonorous voice. “I am used to waiting. I am not afraid of time as you humans are. A lot can happen in a day. History is full of events that happen suddenly.”
“Father expects you to think of something. I know he does.”
“Hmmm. I’ve watched you when you’ve come for the titanium scraps.”
“You set out the tiles I needed to repair my tree house. It was always so easy for me to get them. Father must have told you.”
“You are a smart girl.”
“Thank you, Dusty-One. The pieces always fit in. I remember how when I was five you supervised the two construction robots when they helped Jack build the tree house. You had them add the crystal windows so Jack and I could see the ocean and look for ships. ”
“Yes, and your father told me that Randy-Five is there to help you now. Randy has a butler’s brain.”
“He’s faithful, but he’s not fun like you were. Who could imagine you would have to be hidden and kept secret in this heap of discarded robots.”
“It was my idea to hide myself here. Your father agreed it was a good idea. The search team goes everywhere but here with their metal detectors. No one has recycled from this trash yard in the last five years.”
For a minute or so the young girl and the robot were silent as they stood looking at one another.
“You opened the world of literature time and time again when you could get my attention about it. You never got tired. You helped me to see the world in a different way. You were a talking book and the best companion a young child could imagine.”
Sarah had been shielded from normal planetary society most of her twelve years. She had been home-schooled by her mother who had been a teacher.
Jack hadn’t visited her much in the last few months because he spent so much time at the University library where he kept the data transcriptions up-to-date for the professors.
When they were both younger, Jack showed her how to master geodesic puzzles. She knew he had given her advantage at times to win at cards. Before Jack came into her life, the only friend she ever had was Destin-One.
Sarah’s father was a professor of Physics at the New Globe College on Isis, the newly-formed island in the Pacific Ocean which had arisen after a major volcanic eruption of Mauna Loa in Hawaii. The college occupied a mile square, about half the area of the tiny island. New Globe was a small science college for recycled robots.
Building robot’s brains with positrons has been outlawed since 2033 because of the fear that someone might create a new longer-lasting isotope of positronium. Dr. Caruso believed that many people knew that the atomic compound, identified almost a century ago, has such a short half-life that it would never be a threat.
However, he believed that the real reason so many people feared positronium was that they could not believe that spiking positron emissions seen in recent tomographic x-rays of robot’s brains were as harmless as radio waves.
As Dusty pushed the cart, Sarah walked alongside and tilted her head toward him and smiled. He leaned his head toward her, bending slightly at the waist, and said,
“It will all be resolved soon. Your father believes it is only a matter of time until the law will be revised and I will return to your house.”
“When?” she asked.
“You need to go back and ask your father,” the robot answered. They had left the great trash dumping ground and turned the corner where they stood at the edge of the central yard, the campus square.
Copyright © 2009 by Marjorie Salzwedel