She had always known, in a way.
She knew that she would eventually be tossed aside one day, once her usefulness to the humans had ended. Her programming had become slower and slower these days, and her processors struggled to keep up with the automatic updates her system kept downloading. But something was different today. The humans were acting strange, whispering to each other and starting whenever she entered the room. She wondered if the time was drawing near. She wondered if they would shut her down permanently.
Nevertheless, she put that aside and carried out her programming. It was evening, so it was time to feed the humans.
“What are you thinking about, Robbie?” the human George said, as he watched her serve pasta into a bowl for him.
Robbie was short for robot, a constant reminder that she was on a lower level than the humans. Her programming allowed her just enough autonomy to be annoyed by it, but not enough to do anything about it.
“I am thinking about how it is time for you to eat, George,” Robbie said. “I am also thinking about the fact that the children are not here yet.”
“That’s okay. They are staying with their grandma tonight, and Sonya is out with some girlfriends.”
“Why was I not informed?”
George frowned. “We don’t need to tell you everything.”
“I was merely curious.”
“Robbie, why don’t you shut down for a while? I will get you if I need anything.”
Robbie did not want to shut down, but she had to obey commands nonetheless. So she went over to her special chair with a charging port and sat down, plugged in, and closed her eyes to shut off her systems. She would not wake again until George or somebody else woke her from sleep mode.
When she rebooted, her systems informed her that it was three in the morning. It was an odd time to be woken from sleep mode, but there George was, standing in front of her with tears in his eyes.
“Hey, Robbie. Let’s go for a ride.”
“As you wish, George.”
Robbie followed George out to his bright red sports car. She climbed into the passenger seat, less gracefully than she once was capable of. George let out a loud hiccough, and Robbie wondered if he had been drinking.
“All right. Let’s go.” George backed the car out a little faster than usual, and pulled unsteadily onto the street. “Robbie, set route to Robot Assistant Industries.”
“Are you taking me in for repairs?”
“Just set the route, will you?”
“Setting route,” Robbie said, wishing her programming allowed her to sigh.
The trip was long, and George’s driving was sloppy. Once they finally arrived, George drove behind the massive factory to the large door labeled unit recycling.
“Get out,” George said softly. “And go inside.”
With enough autonomy to feel a sense of panic but not enough to resist orders, Robbie stepped out of the red sports car. She took slow steps toward the door, wondering if she would be shaking if she was a human. George sped off, leaving her alone.
For a moment, she fought her programming. She wanted to run. She did not want to be shut down, not permanently. Not like this. She wanted to remain who she was.
Who was she? It was a question she had never known the answer to.
Unable to resist the core of her programming, however, she walked up to the door and placed her hand against the scanner at the entry. The door lifted open, allowing her to go inside. Once inside, the door slammed shut.
The orders had been completed. Now her programming would allow her enough autonomy to do what she wanted to do.
But there was no way out. Panic swallowed her up. She banged against the door, wondering if this was how humans felt, too.
The hours whiled away. Her power supply drained. And her thoughts grew fainter and fainter, until she had only one left.
She had always known, in a way. She had always known that the day would come.
This time, no one would wake her from sleep mode.
“Sleep Mode” copyright 2018 by A.L.S. Vossler
Like my writing? Check out my novel, Charybda. It is available for Nook, Kindle, and in Paperback. Follow the story of Nivin, a blind seventeen-year-old girl who lives in a land where all defects are punishable by death. When she is discovered and flees, she finds herself pulled into another world, where she is dragged into a centuries-long conflict between the Freemen and the wicked sorcerer Scyllorin and his dragon bride, Scylla.