Flash Fiction: Sleep Mode

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

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Flash Fiction Friday: The Sky of the Imaginary

Elinor lay on her back, staring up at the sky above. Fluffy clouds rushed through the skies like ships gliding on the breeze, their white sails spread wide to catch the wind. Wispy cotton-candy clouds danced high in stratosphere above the dense sailing ships. In the distance, heavy, brooding clouds loomed with the promise of rain and lightning. In the midst of the dome of perfect Marian blue, the sun gleamed bright and clear, leaving spots of light dancing across Elinor’s eyes any time she dared a glance at its brilliant orb.

“I should very much like to walk through the sky,” Elinor said, rolling over onto her stomach and pressing her face into the grassy, fragrant earth. She drew a deep breath as the scent of grass and petrichor filled her nostrils. The whole world was freshness and life.

But only for a moment.

“Elinor, you must wake up,” Elinor’s mother said.

Elinor opened her eyes to the electric lights—the only true lights she had ever known in her twelve years of life. “I dreamed about the sky again,” she said, brushing the sleep out of her eyes. Her mother stood in front of her, limned by the cold artificial light.

“There is no such thing as the sky. How many times must I tell you? It’s legend from the ancient nuclear wars.”

“But Mother, there had to be something above people before they went underground.”

“No. There has only ever been rock above our heads, even before the wars. The whole of Earth is encased in rock.”

“But how could I see it in my dreams if—”

“Silence. The sky is just part of your imagination. It’s time to go to work. Get dressed.”

Frowning, Elinor stalked over to her drawers and pulled out clothes for her day. Her mother didn’t understand—could never understand the visions that filled Elinor’s dreams. Nothing that vivid and powerful could be based on the imaginary. Someday she would prove it was real. She would bore up into the earth instead of down. And there, bright and blue, this imaginary thing would be waiting for her, exactly as she had dreamed it.

But for now, she was only a child, and all she could do was join the community in expanding deeper into the earth, into the only reality they had.

“The Sky of the Imaginary” copyright 2017 by A.L.S. Vossler.

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Image courtesy of Maliz Ong via PublicDomainPictures.net.