I listened to the whir of machines in the distance as I laid in the shade of the allotted tree. Each region was allowed a single tree for sentimental purposes, and I relished the fact my property stood near. The grinding of metal gears would’ve drowned out the sound of the birds had there been any. Instead, the hissing and pounding of mechanic parts became the norm of nature. I closed my eyes, imagining what the times before the Mechanic Period. Time referred to as the Obsolete Period.
Robots took over in all work areas to give humans more leisure. The first robots created by humans were to make work more efficient before technology evolved to the point where robots could build and improve themselves. Artificial intelligence became desirable over the human mind, so machines took over the workforce around the world. Money became unnecessary as every product could be made without the need to pay for labor of machinery. Robotic goods lasted human lifetimes and were replaced should there be a malfunction.
Soon robots took to solving human problems. They advanced to the point where they could create living units equipped with all human necessities from food to clothing down to the air. All other gasses in natural air were filtered out to give humans pure oxygen. Humans grew attached to their units, their technology, their separation from the natural world and all its imperfections.
The time came when technology ruled human lives in entirety, and humans feared going outside their units as they’d been coddled to extreme weakness and vulnerability to the natural environment.
A series of beeps and the heavy steps of metal feet grew closer. I sat up to a worker bot making its way toward the tree. I stood in front of it at the edge of its shade, ready to defend the allotted tree. The robot made its path in a perfect line and stopped at the threshold of shade and sunlight.
A pair of blue lights flickered in a robotic blink as the mechanic head tilted sideways.
“What? I like coming out here.”
Its hand rose to point at me. “Burned.” It spoke the word as if it were a sentence on its own.
“Yes, my skin is burned.” I turned my arms over and gazed at my crimson flesh.
The robot bowed its head. “Hurt?” Its mechanic voice rose to punctuate the one-word question.
“It doesn’t hurt much.”
The bot crept closer, extending its metal arms. “Help?”
I clutched my arms to my body. “No, really, I don’t mind.”
Its arms retracted and it stepped back. “Sorry.” Its voice lilted down.
“It’s fine. Can’t you say anything more than one word at a time?” My voice rose with an edge as I waited for an explanation.
“Don’t. Know. How.” Each word came out slow, punctuated, and deliberate as entire statements.
“Someone should teach you then!” I crossed the threshold into the light, wincing at the harshness of the golden star.
“Hurt!” This word came out loud as its blue light eyes grew, and it shoved me back into the shade.
My eyes widened as I hit the ground, and the robot stepped into the shade. “Why do you care?”
“Yes, I talk. So what?”
It paused, and its eyes shut off for a few moments to collect itself before trying again. “First. Talk. To. Me.” Each slow word formed a fragment of a sentence.
“I’m the first one to talk to you?”
Its head bobbed up and down in sharp, decisive movements. “No. Others. Out.”
“Yeah, no one comes outside anymore.” I slid back until I hit the tree and leaned against it.
“Why what? Why do I?”
It nodded once more, and its blue circular eyes flickered.
“I used to love history lessons where we’d learn about how humans were before. How they played outside and enjoyed nature. Now everyone’s so attached to their devices.”
“Forgot. Be. Human.”
“Yeah, we did forget how to be humans, didn’t we? Now everyone’s too sensitive to come out.”
“Sick. Hurt.” It crept passed the sunlight when I motioned for it to sit next to me.
“That’s right. Everyone would get sick.”
It pointed at me. “Sick?”
I shook my head. “I used to get sick, but not so much anymore. I try to come out as often as I can.”
Cold metal fingers touched my arm, and I winced, pulling away.
Its arm retracted and its head bowed. “Sorry.”
“It only hurts when you touch it, but it’s not so bad.”
Its head turned to the tree trunk and it touched the bark. “Tree. Strange.”
“I suppose so, but I think it’s pretty. Have you ever seen the leaves change colors?”
It cocked its head sideways, and its eyes flickered. “Never.”
“It happens in the third season, Autumn. Some people call it Fall.”
The robot stood and tipped over, landing flat on the ground. “Fall?”
“It’s the same word, but it has a different meaning.”
It turned itself over and sat up. “Colors.”
“Yeah, orange, red, yellow, and brown.”
The sun dipped in the sky, and the harshness of its rays began to fade. A cooler breeze blew in the open field, and I closed my eyes.
“No, just relaxing.”
“Oh.” It settled against the tree, and the whirring in the distance quieted. “Go.”
“You have to go?” My eyes popped open and I faced it.
Its head bobbed, and it stood.
“Will you come back?”
“You back?” The two-word fragment tumbled out as it stared.
“Sure, I’ll come back.”
“Both back.” Its eyes brightened, and its voice took on a lighter tone. It turned away and started back toward the sound of machinery.
“Wait, do you have a name?”
It paused in its straight path and turned its head back. “Identification E00071. Your name?”
“My name is Elizabeth, but you can call me Lise. I’m giving you an easier name.” I paused as it stared at me. “What about Eli?”
“Eli. Eli. Eli.” The robot tried its name out in different tones. “Good. See Lise.”
“Good night, Eli. Yes, I’ll be out here tomorrow, about the same time.”
Its head bobbed one last time before it traced its path back repeating two words. “Lise. Tomorrow. Lise Tomorrow.”