A man with a good memory does not remember anything because he does not forget anything.
- Samuel Beckett
The robot felt confused as he scanned the wrecked apartment. Books and diskettes knocked off the shelves. The box-spring broken in the middle. The door to the bathroom looked like a body was thrown against it. His higher level circuits chased their own tail trying to fill the six hour hole in his memory. He briefly suspected the landlord of finally taking revenge for repeated degreasings into the plumbing but then dismissed the idea. Mr. Lopez was vindictive enough to trash the room in retaliation for clogged pipes but that wouldn’t explain Zeb’s memory chips terribly corrupted by sulfuric acid.
He analyzed the traces of acid still present on his input ducts - “Detroit’s Best H2SO4”- a bottom shelf inebriant. The scan revealed another clue - “Angelic Azure” lipstick with a few micrograms of DNA. He powered up the genetic analyzer buried deep in his chest compartment, hidden away from the peering eyes and scanners of relevant authorities. The DNA twister’s log showed a 1:22 AM scan for malware and heavy metals. He congratulated himself for playing it safe even while being so obviously hammered.
DNA Scan Results:
A human female. 27 years old. Western European father. Southeast Asian mother. Especially high on the music/math curve. Most likely a slim athletic girl if she took care of herself. No red flags in the mental health arrays or cancer triggers. Just the general hodgepodge of good and lousy genes most humans carried around.
The program built up a police sketchbook image of the girl and Zeb ran a comparison through the major social sites. He flipped through the few thousand potential matches until one photo triggered a response from the memory repair program that had slowly been trying to make sense of last night’s fractured data.
Zeb then remembered that some friends dragged him to one of those popular and awful clubs in the Meatpacking District. A 3D projector turned the wall into a lava lamp for those twisted on chemicals, code or endorphins. Soon alone and bored by the bar, he idled through the club network checking out who was there and what they listened to. Few plugged into the audio feed from the DJ team suspended above the dance floor – a pink boxy robot with four arms throwing out samples to a wild haired kid who scratched at two touchscreens. Most of the dancing mass of metal and flesh instead tuned into the popular club channels coming out of Berlin and Manila.
Only one avatar plugged into Zeb’s favorite blues station (a DIY affair broadcast out of the Louisiana bayou). She had a generic profile, one of the swarms at the club simply listed as female with a gray silhouette instead of a photo. He sent her a private message with a location tag: “How do you dance to that music? Or are you moping like I am?” Then he scanned the wallflowers hoping to catch her eye but she was either too subtle to be caught checking him out or didn’t care.
The club map showed his friends in the blue room so Zeb trudged through the crowd to tell them he couldn’t take this place anymore. Zeb now clearly remembered the hard knock on the plastic of his back and then turning around to find her saying “So you’re the bot who listens to Leadbelly and Robert Johnson at a club?”
Here the memory repair program restored a snippet of video so Zeb reviewed the footage of their first meeting. His HUD swarmed with data to help with the often confusing intricacies of human conversation:
A high level of facial symmetry. The phrase “joie de vivre” tattooed on the inside of the left wrist. Jagged angles in her hair - either a high priced salon or she actually cuts it herself. Judging by the mean value of her outfit, he guesses the latter. Only the ballerina shoes and necklace of purple gems show up in any public catalogs and neither item was expensive. He could hear the blues being piped into her cheap earbuds. She stares at him with a look of mocking challenge that races his circuits. “So moping, eh? Is that a line you use on all the femmes?"
“No,” he says seriously, “this is the first time I've had an opportunity to use it. I've never found anyone tuning into my favorite station at a club before and I wondered if your reasons resembled my own."
She giggles and throws him a wink. “I guess you’ll have to buy me a drink to find out.”
There the video snowed to a halt and Zeb circled the apartment to scan for clues. He spotted a glint among the twisted sheets - a cheap green plastic ring with a large glittery heart. The memory repair program seized on the trinket and another piece of last night’s video clicked into place:
The green ring taps against the side of a double whiskey neat as she blows the hair out of her eyes. As she talks, she leans her arm on his shoulder in a familiar gesture free of flirtation. “I flew for the first time at the Lunar Colony,” she continues. “Pretty great but it was the dance class that made the trip. I went there to learn the Natural Movement technique. Do you know it?”
”No,” says Zeb. In the last few milliseconds, he reviewed dozens of dance websites and videos about the movement but concluded that didn’t count as knowing it.
“Well, they teach you to move naturally, to go with the flow of your body. You have to feel the rhythm and it can’t be taught.” A Michael Jackson song comes out of the small speakers under the bar and she lights up. Giving Zeb a mischievous look, she grabs the fedora off a guido behind her. The jersey boy flares for a second until he realizes the cuteness of the thief. Many eyes at the bar turn to her as the hat becomes a fluid part of her dance. Zeb swells with pride.
She settles back on her stool and asks, “Do you like to dance?”
“I’m not very good at it.”
“Nonsense. Everyone can dance.”
“So I’ve heard.”
When she gets him on the dance floor, she’s too kind in her encouragements and Zeb feels like a coddled child – “Oh look honey, it’s trying so hard. How cute!” The embarrassment almost overwhelms him. He’s temped to pull his customary move of claiming the need to degrease and then disappearing. But she’s too sweet for that and he would just spend the rest of the night kicking himself for cowardice. Instead, she keeps him engaged with stories of hitchhiking India and growing up as a free spirit in Alabama. Experience already taught Zeb it was best to let others do the the talking because his explanations of intricate accounting problems and the details of low-level smuggling were of little interest to most humans. But she seems to enjoy his stories of blustering mafioso bots and the city’s underground network of illegal code out of Bangladesh and the chemicals homebrewed in Bronx basements. When they return to the bar, a glance between them confirms the unspoken agreement. They drain their glasses and head for the door.
As the video halts, Zeb’s reminded of the female that the night of clubbing was supposed to help him forget. After Christine left him, Zeb took to late night walks around Prospect Park, his circuits wallowing in the slow crashing end of that relationship. He couldn’t seem to escape the circling inconclusive study of who to blame - laying all the fault on her capricious and illogical nature before switching to self flagellation for his own inability to assay her needs. Before going out that night, Zeb strictly programmed himself to not think about her but the sulfuric acid slowly eroded the blocks he put in place. The short videos of the mystery femme reminded him of the lost Christine. In her body posture and mannerisms, he detected a similar openness to new possibilities, “to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life” as a human writer once put it. A wild exciting girl to help him forget, to put the thrill back into him, to make him feel like a whole robot again.
Zeb looked through his logs for more clues and found a transcript of their conversation from the walk back to his flat in Alphabet City. He had emailed it to a robot sociologist friend for help in analyzing:
Her: <in a tone that could be teasing or accusatory> So you have a thing for human girls huh?
Him: I like what I like. I’m not afraid to show it. At least my social site is public. I don’t think it’s fair for you to cruise mine when you keep yours hidden away.
Her: <perhaps crossly> I’m not into all this sharing. I like to keep some things private.
Him: <trying to return the banter to playful and light> Why? What do you have to hide? Did you kill someone? Sell your eggs to China? Write a book?
Her: Well if you must know Mr. Zebulon Q Robot <drawing the hackneyed phrase out ironically>, my grandmother thinks you’re going to hell if you hook up with a robot. Every time I visit her she says, “Never trust a machine to do a man’s job.”
Him: <muttering> Old bitch of a dinosaur.
Her: At the prayer over dinner, she always asks God to show me the error of my ways.
Him: Who’s she to get in the way of happiness? Ever since I was first programmed, only human girls ever attracted me. I don’t know why bots always bored me so quickly. Maybe because I could mostly understand their thinking, guess what they would say. You girls always surprise me and it takes every circuit I have to keep up.
Her: <sounding impish> So you like surprises huh? <She grabs his hand and pulls him in for their first kiss>
A surge ran through Zeb’s circuits as he reviewed the notes. He usually found human females to be both alluring and utterly baffling. His deep interest in human literature indicated he was not alone in this. Now that delicious blossom of excitement filled him again. The mystery, the potential, the promise of the future. The few times he experienced a connection similar to this, the two rarely left each other’s side for the first few weeks. Ridiculous young love – making out on the subway, staying in bed until the afternoon and every day a new jewel of togetherness. So where was she now? Why wasn’t she here? His burned out memory frustrated him all the more.
He went into the bathroom and as the light flickered on, the violent and hurried scrawl of Angelic Azure on the mirror surprised him. “Nuts to you bot. I’m not just another femme but now you’ll never know.”
The robot stared at the message for several milliseconds, not wanting to reach the obvious conclusion. He screwed it up again. Zeb couldn’t control his programming and a surge of anger caused him to punch a hole through the bathroom wall sure to please Mr. Lopez. The robot didn’t want to spend the next weeks replaying the videos over and over again, resurrecting the memories just to analyze his failures. It took only a few milliseconds to compile all of the restored memories from the evening into one file. Almost as an afterthought, he threw in every shred of data about Christine as well. Then only another millisecond to delete them all.
The robot stared blankly at the lipstick on the mirror before using a towel to wipe it clean.
Writing & Lecturing >