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From an early age I was told my father had “built” me and that I was built to help the family. Any feelings or thoughts that differed from his programming were to be reported to him as a malfunction that he would fix. It didn’t take me long to associate malfunctions with pain and I reported them less and less over the years.
I slept in the basement in a box with a thin layer of foam and a pillow. I didn’t go to school, I didn’t know school even existed. My education, if you can call it that was a list of books on topics to upload. Most of these books were on topics useful to my parents such as basic plumbing and electrical work, cooking, gardening and those written by my father on my programming.
My mother would then give me a list of questions to answer about these books to ensure the upload was successful. Sometimes, the questions would be tricks or I would answer them incorrectly in the eyes of my outraged father. My uploads were almost always successful, I had nothing but time and the intense fear of “corrupting my processors” if I didn’t properly concentrate.
Writing this now, so many years later it does sound ridiculous but as a child unexposed to the world, I only had my parents to guide me. Between uploads and maintenance, I had tasks to complete. This included mowing the lawn, tending the garden, cooking meals, cleaning and fixing things such as lawn mowers, washing machines, dryers and fridges.
There was no down time, I always had broken things to fix. I later found out my father would sell these once I had fixed them. When I was 17 years old (I didn’t know of birthdays or my age, but this is what police have told me) my father had to stop work and decided it was time for me to earn some money.
The thought scared me but I obeyed orders as I had been programmed to do. My father would send me to do cash jobs mowing lawns and doing general yard work. He would usually wait in the car until I was done or leave and come back if no one was home.
During these times he would put me on mute mode and said that he would know if I spoke with anyone. It was forbidden, if I malfunctioned there would be serious consequences. No one ever approached or spoke with me. Even if they had arrived home before my father returned, they would make their way inside without a word.
I discovered later that he had told his clients I was deaf and mute and liked to be left alone to finish the job. It was simple, he would drop me off on a large property, I would do my job and we would leave. One day I was mowing a regulars house, no cars were in the driveway so my father left me to do the job. Shortly after a girl came out with a drink. She looked the same age as me and for a moment I considered she may be an android too.
“It’s pretty hot outside, I thought you might want this,” she said, handing me a black drink. “It’s Pepsi. I hope that’s okay.” She smiled. I had no idea what Pepsi was. It was black, like the oil mother made me drink ,so I thought it should be okay.
I still remember that first sip. It was the single greatest thing I had tasted. It didn’t leave my mind feeling scrambled like my mother’s drink. I wanted to ask what Pepsi was, where she got this drink from. Did she make it?
“I haven’t seen you around. What school did you go to?” Pepsi girl asked. I put my head down and walked back to my mower. What was I supposed to do? “You’re not even going to say thank you?” she quipped, following me.
I looked back at her, she made me nervous for reasons I was yet to know about. “I have to work” I replied to her. Without another word she huffed and walked away. I spent the rest of the day counting down the minutes until my father came to pick me up. I was convinced they would know I had gone off mute, that I had spoken to someone.
When my fathers dusty red wagon pulled up, I loaded my gear into the car and got in. No words were spoken, I felt a small sense of relief but a small voice in the back of my head spoke to me. He may not know now but wait till you get home. Nothing was out of the usual that night. I did my chores, worked on my uploads, and recharged my batteries.
The rest of the week was business as usual, my father was in one of his moods that lasted from days to weeks. The longer the mood, the more aggressive he would get with me. The small voice in the back of my head spoke to me once more. Maybe he really doesn’t know. Maybe he is lying. Once this seed had been planted, over the next few months its roots took hold of me.
The rare moments I was left alone, I did something I’d never done before, I watched TV.
Though usually on mute and in short intervals, I started seeing images of the outside world. Happy families, cartoons and animals, it was mesmerizing and terrifying at the same time. The day that changed my life however was the day I turned on the TV and caught a glimpse of I, Robot. Real androids that had sown real doubts within me.
Though I knew something was inherently wrong about my situation, I didn’t know what to do. Eventually, I was sent back to Pepsi girls house and got to work. I was really hoping she would bring me some more but didn’t get my hopes up. I was almost done mowing the lawn when she pulled into the property. I watched her drive up to the house and get out. A part of me screamed to talk to her.
I thought of the scenarios carefully:
I would find out the truth about myself.
She may tell my father and my malfunction would need to be fixed.
I might get Pepsi.
I caught her at the door almost out of breath from running and she turned to look at me with a glare. “Am I an android? Father says I’m an android,” I blurted out.
“Android?” she asked, raising her eyebrows.
I told her everything that I’ve told you and about the movie I’d seen with real androids. She stood quietly, I guessed she was trying to make sense of it all. I heard footsteps behind me and immediately lost all my courage. My father said nothing and grabbed my arm pulling me away. I looked back at her, still with the same perplexed look she wore when I first approached her.
I had blown it.
That night was the worst night of my life. The “fixing” my father did was worse then ever before and now I knew. I am something, I’m someone. The seams were splitting, my father no longer bothered with the usual half-assed facade that had become so apparent to me now. It was just straight punishment.
Both my parents tried scaring me, telling me stories of police and the outside world. They were both furious but also shaken. I wasn’t aloud out of the basement after that, the days passed slowly and my parents screaming matches were the only form of stimulation I had. I would put my ear to the door to try hear what they were saying.
One sentence drove fear into me that I didn’t know I had. “I’m going to shut it down for good.” I was that “it.” I heard someone coming down the steps and fled from the door. My father pushed it opened but stayed outside. I stared at him from across the room, uncertain of what I was supposed to do. He threw a shovel into the room and it clanged against the floor breaking the silence.
“Come,” he said, motioning me out of the room. I obeyed his commands and was lead into the backyard. We walked further out onto the property before he ordered me to dig a hole.
“What am I digging for?” I asked him.
“What the fuck is with all these questions? What happened to you? I didn’t program you right?” My father had to be in his 60’s at least but this shriveled up man still terrified me.
“Are you going to shut me down?”
“Yeah, that’s right. Gonna shut you down and get a new one. One that can keep its fucking mouth shut.” A half smile appeared on father’s face, as if satisfied with himself.
That smile pissed me off, that man pissed me off. As much as he scared me, I thought of what I was missing. Though, I didn’t even know what I was missing apart from the magical world I had put together through the TV shows I’d seen. I thought of Pepsi girl, I thought of the fucking Pepsi and then all the pain this man had caused me.
I clenched the shovel and swung at him connecting with the side of his face. The sound rung out into the night but no part of me was sticking around to enjoy it. My father hit the ground and I started running. There was no plan, I hadn’t intended for this to happen and had no clue where I was going or where I should be going.
After cutting through a few properties, I finally stopped running. I collapsed into some tall grass and caught my breath. The stars were beautiful, it was the first time I’d be out at night on my own and despite the fear and uncertainty it was the most beautiful night of my life.
I decided I would go to Pepsi girl’s house, I knew it was close and had an idea of where it was. I continued walking and found myself at the driveway just as the sun was coming up. I knocked on the door until a worried man came out to greet me. I told him everything I’d told his daughter and he believed me. Thank God he believed me.
The police arrived at the house to find my father with a gun in his mouth, he had already disposed of my mother. They told him to put it down but he pulled the trigger and it was over. Over for them but not for me; my life was just beginning.
It was revealed to me that they weren’t really my parents. They had stolen me, stolen my childhood, my mind. And at times, I wonder if they just might still steal my sanity. Thank God for malfunctions.
Thank you Gary, Emily and Grace (Pepsi girl). Thank you.