art by Shane M. Gavin
Metal and Flesh
by Steven R. Stewart
Sato lay on the cement floor of the workshop in a pool of his own blood and tried desperately to get Kuro-4's legs working again. The robot, in turn, tried to deal with the gaping wounds in Sato's smashed leg and pelvis.
Go stones were all over the floor, scattered like black and white drops of rock. Go had been one of the few games Sato and Kuro-4 could play together to pass the time. AIs had trouble with Go, and Sato could hold his own against Kuro-4. Sometimes he even won. The Go stones had rested in two worn wooden bowls on the table by the main hatch; now they were mixed together on the floor, blood and hydraulic oil oozing around them like a slow river.
Sato twisted his torso, torqued the wrench, and finally popped the release that allowed the panel on Kuro-4's lower back to slide open. The effort made Sato's head spin. Outside, the cold Martian winds buffeted the workshop walls, causing the metal to groan. The asteroid strike had heated the alloy, but now the temperature was falling back to normal. The lights overhead dimmed, but stayed on.
The wry eyes on Kuro-4's facescreen studied Sato's worried face.
"If the impact left even a third of the solar panels intact," Kuro-4 said, "that should be enough to keep life support going."
Sato grunted. Sweat poured down his face. "If I don't get your legs working, it won't matter."
All the suits were in the decom chamber, and the asteroid had torn that room in half. Rescue would take 44 days to arrive, and if Kuro-4 couldn't walk to bring back supplies, Sato wouldn't last half that long.
"Well, work faster," Kuro-4 said. "You're letting me win. I've already managed to repair three of your major blood vessels."
"Out of how many?"
Kuro-4 was silent.
"You've got it easy," Sato said. "No pain."
"On the other hand, the mechanisms you're working on are simple compared to the human body."
"It repairs itself; what could be simpler?"
They lay on the floor side by side for almost an hour, a yin and yang of metal and flesh. They talked back and forth, each contending their job was harder, that they were winning the competition to see who could fix the other first. Neither admitted how scared they were.
Eventually, Sato's hands went numb. Reassembling Kuro-4's servo had been difficult enough when he could feel the pieces. Foggy and frustrated, Sato lay back on the floor and struggled to catch his breath. The cement felt soft, like a down pillow.
When Sato looked up, Kuro-4 was studying him again.
"What's that face?" Sato asked. "What are you thinking about?"
"Back home. AIs aren't recognized as living beings."
Sato struggled to sit up. "Why are you thinking about that now?"
"The network says the other buildings are breached, which probably means you're the only living human in the complex. If you die, they won't spend the money on an evac mission to save me." The dark eyes on Kuro-4's facescreen were weary and afraid. "I'm in here, Sato. I know I can't prove it, but I'm in here."