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March 28 2015

by Effie Seiberg
(Originally published in Lightspeed Magazine)

I found a robot’s heart today. I didn’t think they still made robots
with hearts, but there it was, at the corner of Leary and Sycamore. It
even looked like a heart: size of a fist, valves pulsing with pale
ching ching noises each time they opened and shut. The metal was old
and worn.

I took it home and plugged it into my computer. It had a few jumbled
videos—the way older robots used to store memories.

I sorted by number and began to watch.

The first video was in a warehouse. Lines of identical, still robots,
presumably the same old-fashioned model as the one whose heart I’d
found. The field of vision jerked to the left and found another robot
looking straight at it. The other robot smiled, and glanced downwards.
The camera followed it and saw the other robot’s hand clenched in a
fist. One, two, three times it bobbed the fist up and down, and then
extended two fingers. Rock, paper, scissors. The camera then captured
its own robot hand reaching forward to join the game. Scissors beat
paper. Paper beat rock. A wider robot smile. None of the other robots

I clicked to the second video. Same warehouse. An operator in white
QA-tested each robot. They all stayed very still. The robot to the
left flashed a silly face, and the camera jiggled in suppressed
laughter. The operator approached, and the camera snapped forward.

The next video was in a factory on a moving conveyer belt. The robot
to the left was about to get tied into cushioned packaging. It already
had the manual for “Personality-free Chore-Bot” nestled in its arms.
It looked up and said, “Shouldn’t you buy me dinner before you tie me
up?” The startled operator hit the alarm. Red flashing lights flooded
the factory floor, and a mechanical voice said “Faulty Chore-Bot.
Remove for destruction.” As the robot to the left was removed, the
camera swiveled forward and was still.

The fourth video was in a living room. Children played on the carpet
as a middle-aged couple unpacked the robot. “This should be the
perfect model for us,” said the man. “None of that personality module
nonsense. It can start by keeping the deer away from the tomato patch.
Go on now, go outside.” The camera swung from the door to the
children, who were playing rock, paper, scissors, then back to the
door and headed out.

I hoped I wouldn’t see the man disassembling the robot in a later video.

The next several videos were in the garden, in different seasons. The
camera patrolled around the tomatoes. Sometimes heavy and ripe,
sometimes hard green buds. Sometimes the camera would look through the
back door, like it was waiting for a glimpse of the playing kids.
Sometimes, the man would shoo it away. I scanned through these pretty

I clicked to the last video, which was in the garden at night. Nothing
to guard against. The robot’s hands went through the motions. Rock,
paper, scissors. Rock, paper, scissors. Over and over, until finally,
the camera looked down and the hands unscrewed the robot’s breastplate
and reached in. The video went blank.

I unplugged the heart and took it to the workbench in my garage. I
dusted off my spare chassis and brought it over. The heart looked like
it would fit inside perfectly. My daughter always loved Rock Paper

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 (CC BY 3.0 US) 2014 Effie Seiberg
effieseiberg (dot) com

Effie Seiberg
[email protected]
San Francisco

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