“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”
— Walt Disney
Pip shot up off his bed and began pacing the floor again.
He couldn’t keep still. Anxiety kept his heart racing and infinite thoughts ran through his mind over and over again.
Tay, his best friend, was . . .
Pip’s parents had burst into the barn as Pip was still screaming, hands covered in the sticky black substance oozing from Tay’s mangled body. Without hesitation, his father had scooped up Tay and carried him out, yelling for the doctor. His mother had bundled Pip into the house, anxiously asking him what had happened, why had they been in the barn, how had Tay been hurt, what did Pip do. He had been shocked into silence and could only shake his head humbly. Finally, his mother too went quiet, and she cleaned his hands, gave him a clean shirt to change into, and led him to his room. She lingered in the doorway as Pip lay on his bed, staring at the ceiling.
“We . . . We need to talk about a few things. But later,” she’d said. She turned away. “I’ll let you know how Tay’s . . . . repairs went when we find out.” Then she left.
Pip sat back on his bed again. It was hard to sort everything out in his brain, to make sense of what this all meant. That Tay was . . .
“A robot,” he whispered. It was better to say it out loud. It made the fact more concrete, more real.
A small part of him was actually relieved. The fact that Tay could apparently be fixed meant that he hadn’t killed him; if he had been human, those scythes would have —
Pip pushed that thought away. One thing at a time.
Tay being a robot wasn’t completely beyond the realm of plausibility, though shocking to learn. Pip had seen many vids about cyborgs and robots, both fiction and documentaries, and knew the possibilities of technology, at least in the old days. Before the world had been splintered and humanity dwindled. But even then, robots had been few and far between. They had hardly survived the devastation any better than humans had. His parents, now that he was thinking about it, hadn’t liked him watching those historical vids or even reading sci-fi books. They had never fully explained why, besides that it was too “violent,” an excuse that increasingly weakened as he got older.
He realized that they had been trying to keep him ignorant, to hide the fact that his long-time friend was one of those rare robots. That despite his appearance, his humanity was a facade.
Now Pip wondered who else could be a robot. Clearly, the doctor wasn’t all she seemed, since she was whom his father had taken Tay to. Was she an robotics engineer? Or a robot herself? How could he tell?
Why hadn’t he been able to tell that Tay wasn’t human?
Pip stood and went over to his window, staring out at what he could see of the village. A terrible thought began to creep in the back of his mind.
Maybe he hadn’t been able to tell because he had nothing — no one — to compare to.
People rarely got hurt here. Pip couldn’t recall the last time someone had been sick besides himself. He was pretty sure he was the one who made the most visits to the doctor.
Tay hadn’t been out of breath when he’d chased after Pip to the forest. Had it always been like that?
There was no crime here. Front doors were always open to visitors, and barns only had locks to keep out wild animals. Everyone was nice and friendly. Pip had never heard of anyone being abusive or even rude. Whenever he would watch vids that had mean characters, it was always more funny than upsetting, because who would actually act like that in real life?
No one Pip knew.
The village ran like clockwork. People did their work, spent time with their family, celebrated holidays, and ate and slept. A normal schedule. One that repeated every day, every month, every year. Pip always thought it was pleasantly ritualistic, if a bit boring.
No one deviated from the norm, no one left the village, no one ever seemed to care to.
No one had wanted to explore the forest.
It was against the rules.
It was disobeying orders.
It was . . . robotic.
Pip turned away from the window and began to cry.
His mother found her son where she’d left him: on the bed, staring at the ceiling. He didn’t look at her when she came in.
“Hey,” she said softly. He heard her walk over and sit on the chair by his desk.
After a moment of silence, she said, “Tay is going to be fine. The doctor was able to —”
“Repair him?” Pip said, voice hoarse.
His mother cleared her throat. “Pip . . .”
“You’re all robots, aren’t you?”
“You heard me.”
Pip glanced at his mother. She looked stricken, her eyes wide and hands clenched tightly on her lap.
He looked away. “When were you going to tell me?”
There was a long pause. Then she whispered, “When you were eighteen.”
A hollow feeling began in the pit of his stomach, and Pip sat up slowly. Staring fixedly at the window, he asked, “Who built you? How did this all happen?”
She let out a long sigh. “We were built by your mother — your human mother,” she clarified when Pip whipped his head around to stare at her.
“She built us all. Your father was her assistant. It was a social experiment, to see if a village entirely of robots could function without the need for human intervention. This was after the wars, when human population was at an all-time low.”
Pip’s mother had never talked so openly about the old days. She continued, her voice level, “Your mother believed that humans were going to die out. They were so few already, and she had heard rumors of a devastating disease sweeping the country. Though she and your father lived far from other human camps, it was only a matter of time before it spread here too.
“She put everything into finishing her project, her village of robots. To her, it was the only way to preserve what was left of humanity, to keep the traditions, culture, and history alive in a form that could never die. And then, you were conceived.”
His mother turned to Pip now, gazing into his eyes. He didn’t — couldn’t — look away.
“Together, she and your father completed the project. We were given our basic commands and for each of our respective duties — scout, doctor, carpenter, and so on — and taught how humans worked and lived together. During the first few months, we adapted to this way of life that we were to continue until the end of time. Then, we were given a final set of orders.”
She stood suddenly, and Pip unconsciously leaned away from her.
“To raise and protect you.”
Pip felt a lump rise in his throat. “What . . . what happened to them?” he managed to choke out.
“The disease. There was no cure, at least not one your parents could create. You were kept in quarantine as soon as you were born. Your mother never even held you. I was given the honor to be your new mother, and I cared for you as the disease came and went. We had to burn their bodies, and even then, you were in quarantine for months afterward, until we were sure there was no further trace of the disease that had taken your parents . . . and the rest of the humans.”
His mother sat down again, looking very tired. Impossibly tired.
“What are you saying?” Pip asked, wiping away the tears that had begun streaming down his cheeks. “The rest of the humans? Are they . . . ?”
“You are the last human, Pip,” his mother said sadly.
Pip stood up, trembling. “That’s impossible. You can’t know that.”
She gestured at the window. “We’ve never had visitors. And despite our maps, our scouts have indeed explored much of the area around us, even that forest. They found no evidence of any other humans still living.”
“It’s a big country. It’s a big world,” said Pip, trying to stay calm. “I can’t be the only one left.”
His mother sighed again. “I’m sorry, my son.”
“Then what was the POINT?!” Pip exploded, throwing his arms up in the air. “What was the point of saving me? Of raising me?” He had to restrain himself from going over and shaking his mother — no, this robot that had lied to him for his entire life. “Why?!”
She looked up at him, and seemed strangely confused. “To survive.”
His anger began to ebb away. “What?”
“Our orders were for you to survive. That was your parents’ final wish.”
Pip took a step back, clenching his fists repeatedly.
She went on, “We were to tell you everything when you were eighteen. A traditional human milestone. After that . . . I don’t know. We weren’t given answers beyond those final commands.” She stared down into her lap.
Pip wanted to be angry, to hang on to that righteous fury at the terrible past that had stolen everything and everyone from him, at this now empty world, at these robots that had deceived him.
But he couldn’t.
They had raised him. The whole village had. And he still loved them. He loved his father. And he loved his mother, this woman — yes, woman, who was now crying into her apron. That was real. They were real.
Pip knelt down besides the chair and carefully wrapped his arms around his mother. And together, they cried. For his birth parents. For humanity. For Pip.
“You think you’ll ever come back?”
Pip glanced at Tay. “I think so. Home is where the heart is, after all. Also, I’ll probably miss showers . . . eventually.”
His friend laughed.
They were standing on the edge of the ditch near the giant forest. The trees looked especially bright and green in the morning sun. Pip readjusted the knapsack on his shoulders.
“We could still go together,” he said. “Have an adventure.”
Tay shook his head, his once-shaggy hair now short and spiky. He’d wanted to try a different look for his new body.
“Nah. I probably can’t go that far, not being programmed as a scout. And besides, I think this is a journey you have to make on your own.” He smiled at Pip.
Pip grinned back. “I’ll miss you, buddy.”
“Same here, pal.”
The two boys hugged, Pip squeezing perhaps tighter than he should have, but then, he knew Tay could take it.
Leaving his friend, Pip began to descend into the ditch, carefully picking his way along the rocks and mounds of earth. He only looked back when he had reached the bottom. Tay looked tiny in the distance, but Pip could see him waving.
“See you later, alligator!” his friend called, quoting from one of their favorite cartoons.
“After awhile, crocodile!” Pip called back, returning the wave.
Then he turned and faced the forest.
Curiosity had lead him here, had revealed the truth of his past, and had now opened a path to his future.
He was ready.
With a final glance back at his friend and his old life, Pip entered the forest. He was not the first human to do so, and he was determined to not be the last.
He would find more humans. He was sure of it.
Whew! Not sure how well that all tied together, but I had fun writing it. =)