The following is a story I submitted for a Baltimore Reviews fiction contest, based on the theme “Games”. Enjoy! :)

 

Date: First of June 2127

This is the day I finally see him, at the summer fair. I am just a face in the crowd watching a very handsome man throwing a ball at some bottles.I think it’s called a coconut shy, one of those games in which you win fluffy, useless toys and you have the chance to show off in front of your crush.But this guy is alone, a surprise given that, with his blonde hair and sparkling steel blue eyes, he can probably win any girl in town. Instead he seems to just be winning the game along with the attention of 20 people or so, and he’s not shy at all.

“Ladies and gentleman, watch and learn!” He grins while targeting the last remaining bottle, then takes a deep breath. The ball leaves his hand towards the target, swirling in the air. I watch it without blinking, just like everyone else around, then a loud ‘Bang!’ is followed by applause, mine included. I can see he’s proud of the result, his whole face beaming with light, but only for a couple seconds – then suddenly a mask of nonchalance covers any trace of the initial enthusiasm.

“Well, thank you. But I’m afraid I can’t keep this fluffy toy… Maybe someone else wants it?” Some hands raise immediately, and a few children start screaming enthusiastically. He chooses to ignore them and squints his eyes over the crowd, as if looking for someone in particular. “You, over there”, he purrs. “Would you mind joining me on the stage? I’ve been watching you all day and I dare say, I can’t keep my eyes off you…”

He’s pointing in my direction. I turn around to see who the lucky winner is. Everyone is staring at me though, smiling. I sigh, rolling my eyes, and wishing I could become invisible. It strikes me to tell him I don’t need that stupid toy; I can win something similar myself, I’m an expert in games… But people around start pushing me towards him, so I just blush and end up accepting the fluffy pink unicorn, almost as big as me. I feel embarrassed but I’m trying to hide it by smiling and thanking him for the gift, yet my mind is wondering what the next step should be.

Of course talking to him so early wasn’t part of my plan. I was supposed to observe him from a distance at first, take notes and disappear behind a tree, or in a crowd, like I did until now. What went wrong though? Does he know? Looking at his face I decide he doesn’t, but I still feel like he’s wearing his mask so I need to be careful; I hate changing plans. I’m pretty sure he just wanted to flirt when he said he couldn’t take his eyes off me, as my own eyes were on him the whole day and they never met his. I was just another pretty face in the crowd, he has no idea he chose the wrong girl… But now, just as I smudge my lipstick on his cheek, his mouth comes closer to my ear, and a whisper pulls me back from my thoughts.

“Please save me.”

I walk back a step, silent questions crossing my face. How much does he know? Is everything in vain? What does he want from me? He chooses to answer just the last one though, loudly enough for the crowd to hear. “I get so lonely sometimes, mind if I ask you out to celebrate my… victory?” My face displays in a split second a mixture of disgust, relief and excitement, but only the last one stays there. After all, the crowd is applauding even harder than before, and the moment he kisses my hand is the peak of their explosive reaction.

I can’t stand it anymore, so I smile shyly. “I’d be honoured, we can actually go right now unless you have anything else to win?” I immediately regret the question though, as I anticipate the answer just before he replies, winking. “Just your heart, darling”.

We find a restaurant nearby serving dinner – a little too crowded for my taste. Despite him trying to be flirty I start realising – to my surprise – that he is quite a charming person, even with his cringe worthy remarks from earlier. I try to focus the conversation on him, since I need to know this, but somehow he brushes my answers aside. Without a clear plan in mind, I decide it’s time to be blunt.

“What exactly did you mean by what you said in the park?” I’m watching his reaction closely: he looks uncomfortable, glancing subtly at people around us. “I’ll explain everything later… I thought you may know it already. But enough about me, tell me more about you”. I raise an eyebrow at his request, but don’t complain. Instead I tell him about my everyday job and how I’m researching for my new psychological novel.

“So that’s what you were doing at the festival then? Observing people?”. I hesitate half a second, not sure how much I want to reveal. But as soon as I open my mouth, something distracts my attention. A pair of amused eyes watching me from the other corner of the room, and a smirk that I’ve seen so many times beforehand, sending me the same warning as always: Be very careful, you don’t want to fail, do you? Indeed I don’t. I respect my master as much as I’m afraid of him, but with his eyes on me, it’s hard to think straight. If only I could-

“What’s the matter? You look like you saw a ghost!” He laughs and I realise I’ve been silent for a while, so I giggle and blame the wine. I know we need to get out of here as soon as possible. It’s not a safe place to talk, or perhaps such a place doesn’t even exist.

“How about going for a walk? I think I had enough food.” The truth is my plate is half full but no one mentions it, instead he just nods quickly and gets up. Something about this makes me wonder, again, how much does he know?

The sunset looks spectacular, and everything around is so calm and relaxing compared to the crowded restaurant. But this isn’t the only thing that had changed: now that we are alone, he seems more open and relaxed. Maybe I can finally find out what I am searching for; I casually ask about his work. He frowns and looks behind his shoulder, but nobody is around.

“Listen, I know everything about you. I know why you were spying me and I know what you want to find out. No, you’re not writing a book. Not even close to that. You see, I also know your little… secret.” I gasp. No one could know that apart from my master, and the fact that he was following me earlier at the restaurant means that he wanted to make sure I don’t tell anyone. It is forbidden, I know that. And I am too afraid of my master to even think of spilling my secret to anyone. But there’s something strange about this guy… How can he know? Can I believe he’s telling the truth?

“You have to believe l me, we can get out of here. You see, I also hide something…” I freeze. That’s exactly what I need. It doesn’t matter if he knows my secret, as long as I am able to find his own, and then I will be free, forever. Just like my master promised. I somehow manage to look calm, but inside I am buzzing with anticipation. My eyelashes are fluttering and I give him my sweetest smile.

“So… what is it? Since you claim to know mine, it would be fair for me to know yours, right?” He seems a little nervous, looking around again, then he closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, his mouth close to my ear. I am mentally prepared to send data over as soon as he tells me. I can almost smell the freedom already…

“I’m a robot.”

Click.
MISSION: COMPLETED. PREPARING TO SEND DATA IN THREE, TWO, ONE….
Oh. What? No, I can’t send that! Not when it’s my last chance to talk to him, and-

I hear a loud Bang! from my right side, and a sharp pain follows straight into my memory disk, the centre of my existence.

 

***

 

Date: First of June 2127

I know what I’m supposed to do, and I know what I’m not supposed to do. Although my training wasn’t as comprehensive, a clear plan was laid out, and I should follow it. So far everything is good: I’m having fun at the fair while ignoring her. First, let her think she’s succeeding. Then, take her by surprise. That’s what my master said, and he expects me to follow his orders. But why would I? He never gave me a good reason for doing all these, did he? Apart from freeing the world of an evil creature. I wish I had more time to think before starting my mission… It’s too late now.

I’ve somehow managed to be the last person left in a throwing game, maybe because it’s quite hard for me to miss. Should I try be more human like? Well, maybe, but I can’t disappoint the crowd, can I? Especially not when she’s watching me closely…

“Ladies and gentlemen, watch and learn!” I take a deep breath, sensing her sweet, subtle perfume, then I aim at the last remaining bottle. Of course I win. I smile to the applauding crowd… Oh, I didn’t expect him here. An old man is watching me from the corner with a smirk on his face, clapping his hands whilst holding my gaze the entire time. He didn’t say he would follow me… and this requires a change of plans. I try to hide my anger, mask it with another feeling, while I search for her in the crowd. She’s not impressed, I can see that, but I need to get her closer – we are more powerful together, and we need that for when the master realises I won’t finish the mission. Her beauty makes it – hopefully – much easier for me to fake some flirting remarks. I offer her the toy and luckily she accepts, joining me on stage. However her gestures seem genuine, as if she doesn’t realise who I am… I’m afraid she won’t follow my plan. She doesn’t seem to understand how important it is to stick together, especially now that the master is watching. With an impulse, I lean forward and whisper to her ear “Please save me.”

All I’m hoping is that she’ll understand, but I can’t say more with all these people around us, so I continue to hide under my flirtatious mask, asking her out and kissing her hand. She accepts, perhaps grudgingly, but now what? My perfect plan from earlier – or shall I say my master’s perfect plan – is shattered. For the first time in my short existence, I don’t know what to do next. I’m revising in my head everything I know about her, while searching for a place to eat and, hopefully, talk in private. The master said she did something wrong in the past and she needs to be stopped, but why can’t he stop her? He’s her master as well, and I’m sure she will obey anything he wants. Instead, I’m supposed to capture her and return to the headquarters, but now that we’ve started talking I can’t-

“What exactly did you mean by what you said in the park?” I blink, realising the small chat is probably over. However, we are in a crowded restaurant, which makes it impossible to actually discuss important matters. Why would she ask this if we’re not in a private place? I can’t risk anything, so I quickly decide to postpone any further discussions. “I’ll explain everything later… I thought you may know it already. But enough about me, tell me more about you”. She just raises an eyebrow, disappointed, but fortunately complies. I’m still not sure how much she knows, or what her mission really is – apart from watching me closely, of course. But her lies, like being a writer, confuse me: what is she trying to achieve?

I decide what I need to do: be honest with her. I’ll tell her who I am and what’s my purpose here, how the master thinks she’s evil, but I don’t want to do anything he wants me to do until I understand what happened with her. Who is she really? All I know is she is a robot, just like me, and this should be enough to convince her I’m trustworthy. I suddenly realise no one has talked for a while: she seems lost in thoughts and I probably look the same, so I try to relax a little bit.

“What’s the matter? You look like you saw a ghost!” We both laugh. She looks so beautiful, I’m almost 100% sure she’s not a criminal… I sigh. Suddenly she asks to go for a walk, which is convenient as I don’t think i can keep my mouth shut for much longer – we need to find a place to be alone, and talk.

The sunset looks spectacular, but even more so is the way it reflects in her red hair, making her look like a dazzling flame. Maybe her crime is melting hearts, as I’m pretty sure she just did with mine. I know I can’t lie to her anymore, not even when she asks about my work; I look around before replying, but no one seems to be there.

“Listen, I know about you, I know you were spying me. No, you’re not writing a book. Not even close to that. You see, I also know your little… secret.” She gasps. Her eyes sparkle full of questions, and I can see in them an unspoken battle.

“You have to believe in me, we can get out of here. I also hide something…” I pause a little, wondering if I’m really willing to follow this path. I know it’s forbidden to tell people you’re a robot, but if you tell this to another robot, then it can’t be a bad thing, can it? After all, she deserves to know. And I’ve stopped following the original plan a while ago, so the master would be angry with me anyway. But nothing will matter as long as she stays next to me. We can do everything together…

“So… what is it? Since you claim to know mine, it would be fair for me to know yours, right?” I look around once again, but everything is as peaceful as it was before – just a little darker. Before I change my mind, my lips come closer to her ear and I finally say the words that, I hope, will shed some light on the masks and lies we’ve been displaying to each other.

“I’m a robot.” I take a step back, watching her expression changing from confusion to excitement and then terror. But before I can say anything else, a loud Bang! comes from my left side, and she collapses into my arms. Someone is laughing. I can hear footsteps approaching – my master’s. There was always an inexplicable antipathy between us, but I never truly hated him until now. While carefully placing her body down, I take a deep breath and struggle to keep calm.

“You know, you kept saying she was evil, but-”

“Lies, all lies.” He stops ten meters or so from us. “I realised you wouldn’t finish your mission, so I had to change plans. To interfere. There’s only one left thing to do now…”

He keeps laughing, and I know what comes next. I can see the weapon in his hand, but I’m not interested in fighting or running. I can’t do this alone.

“You broke the rules, my friend. Never break the rules…”

I turn around to look at her peaceful face one more time before – Bang! – I fall down next to her, and everything is black.

MISSION: FAILED. PREPARING TO SEND DATA IN THREE, TWO, ONE….

 

***

 

SIMULATION ENDED.

The red team was grinning, pleased with the result. “You see, of course Eve is the best! She was able to respect all the rules, and tricked the guy into sharing his secret… We can’t wait until she actually meets the real world, and then-”

“You think she won?!” The judge’s voice boomed over the others’, and the whole room suddenly fell silent. “Yes, she managed to find the other robot’s secret, but I’m afraid the game was more than that. Unfortunately for you, she lost at life itself, because Adam proved he can do more than just follow rules.” The programmers exchanged confused looks with each other, but waited for the judge to continue. “He can think for himself, and he learned what love means… He may have lost the contest but this only proves that the whole purpose was wrong. A good artificial intelligence needs to surprise people, to do more than it was programmed to, not blindly follow some instructions that a mad scientist gives him.” He took a deep breath. “This means Adam is the true winner today.”

The blue team started to applaud, although they never really thought about that when they designed their AI. However, they quickly took notes for when Adam 2.0 would be released, one version closer to entering the real game of life.