by Maureen Tanafon
Robot's first memory was wreckage partially obscuring their view of the sky. They could not move; one of their legs was missing, the other crushed, and their arms were pinned. They could not remember exactly what they were meant for, or where they had come from, but they knew that they were unable to do anything.
That bit them deep, in what humans would call a soul. Robots were supposed to have purpose, to do something; but all Robot could do was lie there.
Then the Scientist came; poking through the wreckage, loading bits and pieces of the other, far more shattered robots into the pack on her back. Her drawn face lit up when she saw the glow of Robot's damage-notification lights; but that light faded a little when she pushed aside the wreckage and saw how badly Robot was damaged. She reached out and touched Robot's face, and said "Status," tiredly, as if she didn't expect a reply.
"Damage critical," Robot croaked. "Advise destruction."
That had the opposite effect they had been expecting; the Scientist's face lit up.
"No," she said, mouth pulling into a smile. "You're fixable."
Robot had not thought it possible, but the Scientist made good on her word. She took Robot back to her home--a hiding-place made out of a partially collapsed building, fortified with metal and wood--where there were stacks and stacks of robotic parts, and began repairing Robot.
Robot did not know why the Scientist put so much trouble into them. Their memory card had mostly been erased, but their basic instructions informed them it cost more to repair a robot than to make one. They wanted to ask the Scientist why, but were afraid of saying the wrong thing; the Scientist displayed many irregular behavioral traits, and Robot feared she had some kind of mental illness. They were not a service-trained robot, and could not locate any in the vicinity with their scanner.
But they formed a theory, over time--they had not been designed to form theories, but the Scientist had added a few new parts to their brain, so they had begun to think more. They could not locate any other robots; they could not locate any other humans, and the Scientist never spoke of any. Perhaps they and the Scientist were the last sentient beings on Earth.