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Remote

Toshiya Kamei Kaoru Sakasaki lives with his family in Yokohama, south of Tokyo. He writes late at night after putting his children to bed. In 2020, he won the Judges' Special Prize in the first Kaguya SF Contest organized by Virtual Gorilla Plus.

Toshiya Kamei holds an MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Arkansas. His translations have appeared in venues such as Clarkesworld, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Strange Horizons.
Mrs. Yamano had told us about you beforehand. She said a new kid would soon be joining our class. His name was Satoru, a middle school student like the rest of us. An accident left you paralyzed, so you would be coming to school encased in a robot body. That's all she told us. Mrs. Yamano is nearing her retirement, so you can't fault her too much for being a bit old-fashioned. Even so, when the word "robot" came out of her mouth, it sounded antiquated. At first, I thought she was pulling our legs.
When I first saw you, Satoru, the word "robot" flashed into my mind. On TV, I had seen kids attending classes remotely, but the technology in use seemed more sophisticated. Some wore android suits while others rode highly individualized mechas. To be honest, your robot looked like an older model, because some parts were hardly painted. But it's far more advanced from any so-called robot from the previous century.
"That's because," you said, "most kids you see on TV have major corporate sponsorship. Some of them have company logos prominently painted on their robots."
"You've got no sponsorship, Satoru?" I asked.
Then a smile appeared on your face inside the screen.
"On a practical level, it's a matter of luck and connections," you added. "On the other hand, it's also a matter of identity."
"Identity?"
"Who does this body belong to? It's an age-old question."
You barely managed to move your fingertips. So the device hooked up to your fingers transmitted your words and vocalized them. Perhaps because of this, you sometimes sounded rather formal and grown-up.
"Excuse me, sir." You never hesitated to speak your mind, even in the presence of teachers. "Here's my concern--I have been called on far less frequently than other students." You criticized our social science teacher. "Mind you, I'm not necessarily talking about educational equality. You may refrain from calling on me because of this apparatus. If that's the case, please disregard my physical appearance."
"My words didn't come out right," you said afterward. "As far as I'm concerned, ableism is similar to other forms of prejudice like racism. But our teachers aren't used to having me around. They're merely confused. So I sounded like a smart aleck." He sighed. "I may have increased their workload."
You were special. Other kids might have felt something akin to envy or jealousy. Do you remember Kaori? The other day, I bumped into her for the first time in a long while.
"I'm grateful to Satoru," she told me. She beamed a smile, and then repeatedly opened and closed her fingers.
This happened toward the end of the fall semester. Everybody had gotten used to you by then and some of us made lighthearted jokes about your appearance. A cheap-looking protection suit, for instance. Having six legs prioritizes efficiency, but it's skimpy on aesthetics. Some of the jokes might have been hurtful, but you laughed them off.
So you left quite an impression on me when you got mad at the boys making fun of Kaori. At first, I thought you identified with her six fingers, but I think I was a bit off.
"I was glad he defended me," Kaori said. "Other kids often teased me about my fingers, but I usually shrugged them off. When Satoru got mad, it felt like my eyes were opened. I realized then it wasn't a laughing matter."
But you know what? Kaori no longer has her sixth fingers. She had them surgically removed.
"I had my surgery scheduled already," she continued. "I was glad, but I felt conflicted. 'Which side am I on?' I wondered."
Kaori is a nice girl. Don't you think so, too?
It was the coldest winter day when I talked to you for the last time. The school nurse threw blankets over your body so your joints wouldn't freeze.
Your remote case was always stored at one corner of the storage room. After class, Mrs. Yamano accompanied you there. That day, too, she was supposed to do that. But another teacher rushed into our homeroom and fetched Mrs. Yamano. So instead, I ended up taking you back there.
"What made you decide to come to school?" I asked, trying to make small talk.
Do you remember my question? As you pondered for a while, a silence fell between us. As the shuffling of your six feet echoed through the deserted corridor, a surge of nostalgia filled me.
"Which do you consider superior? Body or mind?" you asked, instead of answering my question.
"Mind, maybe," I answered.
"That's what most would say," you said, nodding inside the screen. "Let us consider those who went missing." You came to a halt there. "Ten years, twenty years. It doesn't matter how long ago they disappeared. If their body doesn't show up, they're still missing. Even though they're dead, their death isn't tangible as long as their body isn't found. In this world, only physical presence is unambiguous."
You usually spoke at a leisurely pace, but you said all that in one breath. Then the shuffling of your feet resumed as you began to walk again. We soon reached the storage room.
"I don't think I would have left any marks if I had just exited remotely behind the screen," you said. "So I needed my physical body. Am I making sense to you?"
I nodded, but to be honest, your words went over my head. Their meaning didn't dawn on me until I learned about your father's arrest.
The authorities accused him of committing fraud. He was receiving the disability benefits meant for his son. It was against the law because his son had already died. They said you had died months before you came to school.
Later we learned that your robot was remotely controlled by your father. He had quit his job, cooped himself up in the house, and kept manipulating the robot. They said the screen projected a composite image constructed from videos recorded while you were still alive. Your robot spoke words as your father typed them on the keyboard. When he needed to be away, he used the bot made from the data collected while you were alive. I have no idea what made him do such a thing. Even so, he had reportedly never touched the disability benefits he was receiving on his son's behalf.
On that coldest day, Mrs. Yamano was whisked away to the principal's office and learned about your father's arrest. Then who on earth was I talking to? Were you the one who asked me about body and mind? Or your bot? Or something else? I'm writing you this letter, Satoru, because I want to know. Even though I've got no idea where I should send it to, I'm casting my message toward electric waves.
"Turn off the switch," you said once we were inside the storage room.
"Where?" I didn't know where it was.
"Here."
My gaze landed on a plastic lid under your screen. When I flipped it open, a button emerged.
"Press it slowly and firmly," you said before falling silent.
I did exactly what you told me to. There was hardly any resistance. It didn't even click.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, May 7th, 2021


This story attempts to address the classic mind-body theme. When the basic idea for this story came to me, the current pandemic had not yet altered our lives. After the story emerged, its meaning seemed to have shifted along with the connotation of the word "remote." With a plot twist inspired by Henry James's The Turn of the Screw, what I wanted to do was to encourage readers to think about the age-old debate about the intricate bindings between a person's mental self and physical form.

-Kaoru Sakasaki (translated by Toshiya Kamei)

- Kaoru Sakasaki, translated by Toshiya Kamei
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