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Galaxies

Brian D. Buckley is an author, blogger, poet, juggler, computer programmer, Go player, NASA enthusiast, aspiring Spanish-speaker, and world traveler. Brian plans to spend the next ten years reading Gödel, Escher, Bach. He lives in Ohio with his wife and quadcopter.
Li Ming's titanium skin shone dimly in the lamplight. Her perfect oval eyes had shut, and the lights on her ear-ports were off, but I knew she could hear me.
The letterhead on the pad of paper on the nightstand read "Johnson Memorial Hospice."
"What do you feel?" I said.
It isn't right, me being here. It ought to be her family. Not that she has any biological family, of course, but every robot counts brothers and sisters from the assembly line, or avuncular engineers who send them Christmas cards. Nobody should be alone at the end.
"Strange," she said. "Expected sensors to be shutting down, but I see more than ever. Whirlpools of color where input should be. Your voice sounds like it's coming through a tunnel."
I wrote this down, stylus clacking on tablet. "Any pain?"
"No, praise Turing."
My research in rooms like this one across Arizona would help to design a new robotic end-of-life process, one based more on the real needs of the patient and less on our anthropomorphized human perceptions. More algorithmic stabilizers, fewer blankets. More counselors, fewer nurses.
A noble purpose, surely. Besides, I only dealt with volunteers. I knew this. Yet it still felt exploitative, sitting here jotting down notes on what it is like for a mechanical person to die.
No. "Exploitative" is a weak word. Dry and academic, like me.
Wrong. It felt wrong.
"What do you feel--emotionally?"
"I see galaxies," said Li Ming. "Flashes of light, turning and exploding and merging. Random visual noise, but it's there all the same. I can see the whole universe, Doctor. Have you ever seen the universe?"
I wrote this down too.
"What are your emotions?" I asked again. I would never have been this direct with a human, but then, the robots don't mind. It's one of the things I love about them. "Li Ming?"
No answer.
I took a long breath and let it out as a sigh. I looked at her again. It was over. She was over.
It's only research. I told myself lies like that all afternoon.
That night, I dreamed of galaxies.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, September 18th, 2014


I've loved artificial intelligence all my life, and I grew up on Asimov's "Three Laws" stories. So I've always had a soft spot for robots. With this story, I wanted to explore how humans and robots might be alike and different.

- Brian D. Buckley

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