Contraption

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NBR November prompt:  

The story must contain this line:  "I have to deactivate you, I'm sorry."

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The man struggles as he pushes the human-sized box through the door and into the glamorous apartment. He is out of breath, but that does not affect the beaming smile on his face. His wife turns around, a smiling five-year-old on her hip. She jumps down excitedly and runs across the smooth white floor.

"Daddy!" she screams, leaping into his arms.

He laughs. "Hey munchkin, how's my little birthday girl doing?" he says, tickling her stomach.

"Very good now that you're here, daddy." She gasps. "Is that my present?"

"It sure is!" He sets her down.

The woman walks over, her face lined with concern. "Where have you been? Zoe and I have been worried sick."

He smiles, pulling her closer and wrapping his arms around her waist. "Do you mean you and Zoe, or just you?"

She won't meet his eyes.

"Gwen, look at me. I'm fine." He pleads with warm eyes. "Don't be mad."

She looks at him for a while, then puts her hands up in defeat. Her face relaxes. "Fine, but call me next time."

His smile grows. "You're amazing," he says, kissing her on the cheek.

He goes over to the box and starts opening it with a knife. Zoe stands back, jumping with anticipation. The cardboard splits open.

The gift walks out of its cardboard prison, glinting in the afternoon sun shining through the window.

Zoe yelps. "You got me a robot?!" She runs towards it, staring into its metallic eyes.

Gwen's frown reappears. "Levi, what's this?"

"It's a robot."

"I can see that, but why did you buy it for our daughter?"

"It's a new project I'm working on. He is made to serve and protect her."

"You know I don't like robots."

"This one will be her friend."

She takes Zoe's hand, pulling her away from the machine. "Levi, it's a machine. It can't have friends, and it can't care for Zoe."

"Trust me, Gwen. This one's different." He leads her to the kitchen. "Please, this will be good."

"I don't trust that thing."

"Just look at it."

Levi points at the robot that is crouching down to Zoe. She runs around him, then stops and hold the sides of his face. "I will call you Neo, and we will best friends forever! I hope you like tea parties."

"Hello, Zoe." His voice sounds natural, unlike most robots.

She hugs him tightly, smiling. "I love you, Neo!"


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The rain pours down on the sea of black umbrellas. Eighteen-year-old Zoe does not know what to feel. It's like all the colour in the world has been drained out, leaving only darkness. Emptiness fills her chest as the casket is lowered. Her hand drifts to the metallic one next to her. His hand is cold, but his eyes are not. The universe seems to cry with her, pouring out its longing for the departed soul.

Her mother's face looks older than usual. Her eyes are puffy from crying and her knuckles white from clenching her umbrella as a silent scream.

"I'm sorry about Master Levi," Neo says, looking at Gwen.

Tears start to stream down her face. "You." She points at him. "It's your kind that did this!"

"Mom!" Zoe interjects. "Don't blame Neo for this, he didn't do anything."

"Maybe not directly, but he might as well have! They're all the same."

"He's sad about dad too, mom!"

"He doesn't have feelings, Zoe! He's a machine!"

She opens her mouth to speak, but Neo pulls her back. "Zoe, it's okay. Let's go somewhere else."

...

The puddles on the rooftop shines with the setting sun. The old air conditioner is cold under her, but she doesn't care. Neo simply stares at the sun, resting his arms on his knees.

"I hate her," she says.

"You shouldn't hate your mother, Zoe. She loves you."

"No, you've given me more love than my mother could ever give me."

Neo lowers his head. "No, Zoe. You know I'm a machine. I cannot love."

"No, Neo." Her eyes fill with fresh tears. "You can love." She stands in front of him.

"And how do you know that?" He looks up.

For a while, they just stare at each other.

Finally, she says the words that she has wanted to say for so long. These new feelings that have recently started to form. She knows they are real.

"Because I love you."

Her heart feels like it's going to burst from her chest. She knows robots aren't supposed to have feelings. But this is the most real thing she has ever felt. The world goes silent. Then something happens.

Neo stands up and wraps his arms around her. His chest glows, like the setting sun. It warms her as he embraces her. "I think, I love you too."

Just then, Gwen and a man in uniform bursts through the door. She gasps at the scene and runs over to them. The man grabs Zoe, holding her back. "Mom, what are you doing?"

Gwen faces Neo, hate burning in her eyes. "This machine is too dangerous to have around. What if he does the same to you as to your father?"

"He is harmless!"

"I will not lose you too, Zoe!"

Zoe struggles to get loose, tears dropping to the floor. "Please, mom!" she pleads. "Don't hurt him!"

She ignores her daughter. "I have to deactivate you."

Zoe screams, her voice hurting, but her mother opens the door in his chest, exposing a switch.

"As long as Zoe is safe." He looks at her. Gwen clutches the switch, ready to pull.

She sees something.

His eyes. They are not dead like the other robots. He seems, sad. They tell a story of love, and of pain. She knows it's impossible, but they seem... human.

She closes her eyes, only hearing her daughter scream.

"I'm sorry."

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