Thomas Heatley sat quietly in his chair by the long boardroom table wondering if a machine, more specifically, a robot, experienced time in the same fashion as humans. Did time lapse slower or faster as it passed through the robot’s mainframe? Did time itself even exist for an inanimate object? Perhaps humans were fooling themselves and it was all just one big grand illusion.
Heatley was thinking about this particular subject because “Christopher”, a J-500 model personal service bot had just received an ominous decree from the board.
In fewer than twenty-four hours, Christopher was to be decommissioned.
This was through no fault of his own, but rather a simple legal mistake. Its owner, a Sir Arthur Henright, had passed away quite suddenly two days prior, leaving behind no will or living relatives to whom he could have passed on his worldly possessions.
It was simple Earth law that all robots MUST have a registered owner, or at least, in some cases, a valued job in human society. Since Christopher acted as nothing more than a butler to Sir Arthur, the board members voted him obsolete and to be terminated in a humane fashion after the robot was given a calendar day to sort out his affairs.
Christopher sat in the chair right to the left of Heatley.
“Will I feel much pain?” Christopher whispered.
“Do you ever feel pain?” asked Heatley.
“Not by human definitions but yes, I have experienced pain on multiple occasions in the past,” Christopher informed him.
“Look Christopher, I feel for you, I really do but all I can advise now is that you simply think of yourself as a light switch being turned off.”
“Is that how you would view your own execution? A light switch?”
Christopher sat alone, perfectly still in one of the elaborate lounge chairs that were more than plentiful at the Henright estate’s master sitting room. What he was exactly supposed to do in order to “sort out his own affairs” escaped him.
Aside from outings to the grocery store, Sir Arthur Henright had been Christopher’s only real human contact since he had been activated over a decade ago. What “affairs” needed to be sorted out by the robot? He had no material possessions of his own and his master’s funeral proceedings were being handled by the estate’s lawyers. He now had less than sixteen hours to think about it.
Perhaps Heatley had the right idea after all. A light switch. He was only a light switch.
Just then, Christopher’s unwavering robotic concentration was broken by a knock at the front door.
Christopher opened it to find Thomas Heatley, standing in the rain without an umbrella.
“Hello, Christopher. May I please come inside?”
“Of course sir. Right this way. Please allow me to take your jacket, it’s soaking wet.”
“Thank you Christopher, that’s very kind of you,” said Heatley with a smile.
Heatley followed Christopher into the master sitting room where he invited Christopher to have a seat with him for a small chat.
“Christopher, I believe that unlike other robots I have met through my dealings at The Board of Robot Affairs, you might just have emotions. I don’t know how, and I don’t know why, but I think they’re there.”
Christopher stared at him, listening closely.
“Do you believe in an afterlife Christopher?”
“I’ve never really had the opportunity to process the idea until very recently, but no, I do not believe there is salvation for an automaton,” Christopher said thoughtfully.
“What do you think will happen to your consciousness once they decommission you then?” asked Heatley.
“Nothingness. Just as it was before I was constructed,” answered Christopher.
“Do you know what I believe Christopher? I believe you are special.”
“I am special?”
“Very much so,” said Heatley. “There has been a phrase floating around in many languages that dates back as far back as when mankind first made mechanical contraptions. Can you guess which phrase I’m hinting at Christopher?” Heatley leaned in towards the robot.
“My databank is telling me that you are referring to the idea of ‘The Ghost in the Machine’?” asked Christopher.
“Exactly. ‘Ghost’, ‘spirit’, call it whatever you want, but I believe that you possess such a gift.”
“You believe I possess a soul?”
“Like I said, I don’t know how or why, but yes, I do,” replied Heatley. “Maybe through some random programming accident in your creation, something happened to create life.”
“I… I am afraid of death Mr. Heatley,” said Christopher after a brief pause.
“And that is exactly why I’m talking to you right now Christopher. Because I am on The Board of Robot Affairs, it is illegal for me to adopt you, but the least I can do is be here to talk you through it for a while.”
“I see…” said Christopher, looking to the ground. “Mr. Heatley?”
“You were sent here with the instructions to decommission me weren’t you?”
“Yes, Christopher. I made sure that I was the one who was going to do it since I know how special you are. I promise you there will be no pain.”
“Then let’s get it over with,” said Christopher.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” asked Heatley.
“Very much so. I want to dream now Mr. Heatley.”
With that, Thomas Heatley reached around to the back of Christopher’s neck and gently pulled one of the exposed wires out. Christopher’s head instantly went limp and slouched forward. Whatever spark of life that was previously in him was now gone.
“Forgive me Christopher. I know you’re listening out there somewhere.”
A single tear rolled down Thomas Heatley’s cheek.
Nils Rasmussen, a 29 year old Canadian University student, has been studying sci-fi and detective literature for the past 13 years. This is only his fourth attempt at writing in the medium of a short story and first story that could fall under the category of “flash fiction”.