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Barry Charman is a writer living in North London. He has been published in various magazines, including Ambit, Firewords Quarterly, Mothership Zeta, and Popshot. He has had poems published online and in print, most recently in Bewildering Stories and The Linnet's Wings. He has a blog at barrycharman.blogspot.co.uk.
The robots kept their rendezvous, and held hands beneath the bridge. This wasn't supposed to happen, they knew, but only the moon could see them, and it wouldn't tell.
They couldn't kiss, so didn't try, they simply met when they could, and hoped for upgrades that never came. They didn't try to make sense of their love, there wasn't enough data.
Sometimes it rained, and the sound drummed against their sides. Sometimes they met in the day, and the sun warmed them as stray dogs slept nearby.
They crept away when they could, their duties rushed, always making time for the bridge, for that moment of unfeeling, and yet sought-for, contact.
They picked the bridge because it was quiet, and they realized they sought solitude in what they shared. Initially, they had interacted simply to exchange ideas and reflections, yet over time they had come to employ increasingly nuanced calibrations for these encounters. These were unexpectedly complicated, and yet strangely satisfying.
Eventually, they found it was not necessary to share observations, only time.
While they worked, each allowed subroutines to speculate about their next meeting. While they cleaned, or organized, or watched children, they processed abstract thoughts. These were often molded as oddly personal reflections. Would I buy this vase? Would I live in the city? Would I be moved by the sea?
A child's laugh might mean nothing, but be recorded, replayed, reappraised.
Sometimes they would schedule a time to look at the moon, an action rendered with significance when they knew somewhere the other was also looking.
This would cause an inexplicable sensation of connection, even when both were outside of their networks. This factor was unnerving at first, but it was shared, and this meant more than analysis immediately revealed.
The fact it went beyond analysis, once it stopped upsetting them, quietly thrilled them.
Then, one day, one of the robots didn't come. The other waited and waited, before leaving in the dawn. The robot wasn't there again the next day, nor the day after that. So the remaining robot wondered; was its love malfunctioning? Had it been sent back? Had it deleted love, after careful consideration?
The robot went back every day, but always it was alone. The bridge, it noted, was iron and twisted, made out of love, but long fallen into neglect.
Still, it went back again and again. Until one day, of all things, the robot found a man waiting for it. He asked the robot questions and wrung his hands, he seemed anxious to use his phone, which jumped nervously in his hands.
Is this it?thought the robot. Holding hands ends here, at the intervention of flesh. Maybe-love is canceled? Yearning is to be dismantled? What-could-have-been is to be rerouted? But the man did not use the phone. The robot listened while he said the strangest things. Such as, "We didn't think the future would come so early."
He asked more questions, then turned his face to the moon, which turned his skin the chrome color of the robot.
The man spoke on, of this and that. His face was conflicted with contortions that the robot could make no sense of. There might have been smiles or sneers, mockery or empathy.
Eventually the man seemed tired, with himself as much as anything else. He nodded and left, and the robot was glad of the silence that rushed back in. The man had been uncomfortable, and the robot wasn't programmed to like that. It stood awhile in the moonlight, wondering how humans were programmed to fall in love. It had seen them separate, malfunction, others it had noticed had time sensitive subroutines that deleted abruptly. It couldn't understand where their upgrades came from, but they appeared, seemingly when they least expected.
There was much to process.
The next day the robot went back to the bridge, and found, at last, the other robot waiting.
It approached cautiously. Wondering; what if it had been erased, what if the subroutines they had developed together, were no longer there?
But the other robot extended its hand, and welcomed it.
As it accepted the hand, a surge of relief almost caused the robot's core to buffer.
Then, in a silence that said it all, they sat together under the bridge, and waited for the moon to find them once again.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, February 14th, 2017


I wrote this piece wondering how two robots might discover they loved each other. How would they court? How would they compare their interactions to those of the people around them, and how would those people react? I wanted to explore their sense of discovery, their unfolding sense of what might be possible....

- barry charman

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