by Daniel Lively
“But it’s not fair!” Kimberly was trying not to yell, and doing a poor job of it.
“It’s not about being fair,” her husband explained calmly in between bites of spaghetti. I sat at the end of the table as always and said nothing, looking back and forth between my surrogate parents.
“It’s not fair to him, and it’s not fair to me,” Kim repeated, clearly annoyed at his cold demeanor. “You asked me to take care of him. You asked me to teach him how to be a human. You asked me to be his friend, and now you’re going to ship him off to the edge of the Universe.”
“It’s what we built him for, Kim,” Dr. Hsu was beginning to sound exasperated with his wife, who was practically crying into her dinner.
“Kimberly,” I offered. “I have greatly valued our time together and I consider you my friend, but Dr. Hsu is correct. This is my ‘job.’”
“It’s only your job because he told you it was,” she snapped at me, wiping her eyes angrily. “What about what you want? No one has ever asked you what you want to do!”
Greg sighed deeply and turned to me, wiping food away from his mouth. “Fine. Jonathan, what do you want?”
“Don’t patronize me!” Kimberly yelled, no longer trying to hide it.
“I want to do my job,” I answered simply.
Dr. Hsu made what I knew to be called an “I told you so” gesture at his wife, and as had always happened in the past, it only served to anger her further.
“He only thinks that because you made him like that. You made him able to learn and adapt, but you didn’t give him any ambition or free will. He’s kind, sweet, and loyal. He has all of the qualities of a wonderful person but you didn’t give him a heart, Greg.”
Dr. Hsu looked confused. “That’s how robots work, Kim. Technology’s wonderful, but even the most advanced computer still does only what we program it to do, and Jonathan is programmed to mimic human behavior to the point where he might be able to bring something of a human touch to one of the most important missions in human history, and certainly the most important project I have ever been a part of.”
“If it’s so important, why don’t you go? You’re more of a robot than Jonathan is,” Kim snapped.
Dr. Hsu looked shocked and hurt. “You don’t mean that, Kim. I love my work, but I love my wife more.”
Kim began crying in earnest, and before I knew what I was doing, I had reached across the table and put my hand over hers gently, as if I was holding a delicate rose.
Kim choked back a sob and looked at my hand, shocked. Her expression was mirrored on her husband’s face, and if I had been capable of facial expressions, I might have joined them.
“Jonathan,” Dr. Hsu broke the brief silence, but for the first time in my life I cut across him.
“Kimberly. The concept of ‘want’ is familiar to me in an academic sense. I know the difference between expectation and desire, and I understand the emotional distinctions inherent in the two. I will do my job because I need to, and because it is expected of me. I also know that it is something Dr. Hsu wants, along with the rest of his team.
“But please,” I continued before either of them could say anything, “I want you to stop crying.”
Kimberly’s eyes widened and looked into my receptors and I could see Dr. Hsu’s mouth drop open almost imperceptibly in my peripheral vision.
“Kim,” he said breathlessly. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry I got you involved in this. I had no idea he would come so far.”
I looked at Dr. Hsu and my eyes clicked several times. “Please don’t be sorry, Doctor,” I said. “I’m not.”
Kimberly squeezed my hand back and smiled, wiping her eyes again. “And neither am I, Jonathan.”