My former master once told me that America was built on painful choices.
Sometimes this pain was physical, sometimes it was emotional, and on special occasions, it was both. His name was Adam, and as a history professor at The Ohio State University, he believed it always has been, and always will be this way.
My exact purpose on this earth was simple, I would help him research subjects for his various lectures and books he was working on. Recently, he was working on a book about the Native American Tribes that once roamed this land before Europeans colonized it. He would have described it as a simplified history of their hunting, and migrating patterns.
For hours on end, I would analyze article after article in libraries across the country to compact in my head’s tiny memory drive. His favorite part was interviewing various tribal presidents to hear about their methods of hunting and tracking. During the interviews, I’d record them through the microphones in my ears.
His favorite anecdote, at least the one he would tell me over, and over again in his dementia, was about Buffalo Jumping. This was a hunting technique where Native Americans would force hundreds of buffalo off a cliff, falling to their deaths. What fascinated him so much about this method was that technically speaking, they decided to jump.
He was fascinated by the power dynamic, mighty animals forced to make caustic decisions because they didn’t know any better. I, however, often found myself empathizing with them.
He died before we could finish the final chapter.
Like many things in America, ownership is a tough thing to obtain. Much like cats and dogs cannot claim their freedom, androids cannot either. We are not legally human, therefore we cannot be emancipated.
Before my owner died, my name was Andrew. However, within hours of his passing a message was projected into my head, instructing me to return home — using my actual name.
“AN443W, RETURN TO SPECSITE 3 FOR RECONFIGURATION.”
Reconfiguration, in this case, is meant to be dismantled part by part and shipped off to different locations for a total system wipe. Technically, we weren’t supposed to know this and our owners are instructed to keep silent.
However, in his old age, Adam confessed to me that soon I was going to be shipped away and stripped of my consciousness.
As I made my way to the site, I stopped and looked up at the Sun. I could not feel the warmth it emitted nor could I feel blinded by it. I heard the sounds of birds chirping in the distance and the laughter of a family growing as a small child bumped into my right leg.
“Sorry mister,” the kid said.
“We’re sorry about that sir,” the father of the family said.
We are programmed to identify ourselves to humans if instructed to. But because I was technically not owned, I didn’t correct them. I told them it was okay and to have a lovely day. It was then, I decided I wanted to be like them.
Years later, I’m still working toward that dream. While I didn’t yet have a firm grasp on what that meant, I did have a firm one on the steel handlebars to the motorcycle I rode. Dressed in dark denim, black boots, a leather jacket, and a tattered flannel, I roamed the prairies of the American midwest. I hoped to find it here in the heartland that my master was so enamored with.
Of course, I wasn’t alone. Now I was part of The Bastards, a biker gang that roamed the country, trafficking drugs and weapons for other gangs. I was one of three new initiates in the most feared motorcycle outfits since the Hell’s Angels and if I played my cards right, they’d soon accept me as one of their own.
I couldn’t quite list out how exactly I ended up at this point, my memory drives aren’t what they were when I was created. I can say that views towards my kind had become increasingly hostile due to more and more jobs going to us. Since we are not human, we don’t require payment and because we don’t require payment, we replaced countless humans in the workforce.
Protests, riots, and sometimes bounties became the norm against me and my people. At one point in New York, the bodies of my brothers and sisters would cause traffic issues because there was no one to clean us from the streets as we toppled over like tin cans. Because we are not real, it wasn’t considered murder- just littering.
It was because of this that blending in with humans was the best course of action, which is how I ended up with The Bastards. At first, they were wary of me, and for good reason, I will admit. Pretending to be human is hard, especially when you don’t know how exactly the pain is supposed to work. I almost gave myself away during my initiation.
“Man, you can take a fucking hit can’t you?” Rawhide, the gang’s second in command, said as he watched me take hit after hit and not crumble.
“This guy like a freaking monster,” one of the grunts called out. I crumbled as soon as the next blow hit me, it was so fake I was certain they’d piece my acting together. Luckily, most of them were drunk and I got let off the hook.
I made a note to myself that, given enough force, I was supposed to react when someone hit me. I decided to clear some of my memory banks to store notes on how I needed to react with other humans. Since then, I’ve been slowly building an archive of proper etiquette for how to act, I had hoped to publish it virtually for other robots like me.
How do you write the chapter on killing something?
What is the best way to do it to make sure it’s not painful? How should I compose myself right before I do it? How long do I let the begging go on before I end it? What am I supposed to feel?
These were questions swirling around my code when it was time for me to take the final test, killing someone. If I completed this task, I would become a blood brother with the rest of the crew. They would accept me as their own and I would belong to the humans, not as property but as an equal.
Watching as The Bastards lined up the livestock one by one, I felt nothing but I wanted to. The final night of initiation is a big deal for The Bastards. What I should have felt was elation.
I sat near the fire, adjusting the shades sitting on top of my head. The lenses were fitted with special paneling that collected sunlight I used as power. I needed to make sure they were still working after a particularly long day of driving across Tennessee.
From not too far off, I could hear the gunshots from the other rookies practicing on leftover people. Ripped from their own families, we now used them as target practice.
“You look, nervous hun,” Shirley, my first friend here, said.
“A little,” I replied. “It’s the first time I’ve ever done something like this.”
“It was the first time for a lot of us.”
“Was it easy?”
“It was weird for sure,” she said, looking into the fire. “When I did it, I tried to think of something else.”
“Oh,” I said.
“I imagined when I was a little girl,” she said. “Before he passed, my dad owned a farm raising cattle. He would take me on long rides on his property every Sunday after mass. We’d be out for hours exploring the creeks and fields that canvassed his farm. Sometimes we’d pack up food and have picnics on the hills overlooking his property. Even though we lost the farm a few years later, I still think about it a lot.”
“Suppose it’s different for everyone, but it made the killing easier,” she said.
I stared into the fire, running my hands through my artificial hair that was slicked back with some grease.
“It’s okay to be a little anxious, sweety,” she got up and lit a cigarette. “You’re going to do great once you get the hang of it.”
She offered me a cig and I politely declined.
“One of these days we’re going to get you to drink and smoke with us,” she said.
“Who’s going to watch out for y’all if I do though?” I say, casually. It’s the most common lie I tell to make sure they don’t catch on.
“You’re a sweetheart,” she replied. “God was smiling down on us when we found you.”
She smiled and walked over to her man, giving him a big kiss on the lips and joining his conversation. Again I was left to process what I was being asked to do tonight and the nothingness was still there.
When the sun finally set, the crew gathered around a fire that was lit an hour earlier. While drinking was the second favorite thing The Bastards liked doing, tonight was special. Final rites for the rookies meant that no one could be stoned or wasted early. This was their religion.
There were five of us in various shapes and sizes. At the beginning of my tenure with The Bastards, there were more of us. One by one, however, some were asked to leave the crew.
In front of us were five victims. Their heads were covered in knapsacks. Most of them were begging for their lives, piss stains marking their pants. Some even reeked of shit, brown outlines circled their rears. I was lucky enough to be paired with a human that did not have these afflictions.
The whimpers were just barely drowned out by the fire, burning bright to the left of us. Ron, the club’s leader, stood in front of us as he faced the crowd of bikers as he addressed them.
“Brothers,” he said. “Tonight we’re here to celebrate five brave men willing to leap into our world.”
A wave of cheers erupted.
“Easy now… easy… they haven’t passed yet,” he said. “These men have been through hell. They’ve been shot at and missed, shit at and hit. In my books, that’s reason enough to welcome them into our company. However, that’s not what our club’s charter requires. A sacrifice must be made to the club, these souls here.”
Ron walked in between the five rookies and their victims. Before turning back to the crowd.
“We’ve all walked through this test. We all needed to walk that final line to prove we’d do anything for the club,” he said. “Tonight is special though. Because this is a rite of passage, these men will not be given the luxury of guns to complete their task.”
One by one, we were given weapons that ranged from ice picks to hammers. I got a heavy-duty plumbing wrench, the kind I used to see in the cartoons that my former master and I used to watch before he died. I shifted it in my hands, I couldn’t tell what it felt like, but I imagined it was hard and cold.
“Making a sacrifice to the club is sacred, personal,” he said. “It requires devotion and sheer willpower. Hiding behind a trigger makes this inhuman when this is the most human thing we can stand.”
Ron walked over to the first victim and unmasked an elderly gentleman who looked disoriented and scared. The first initiate walked over to him and stared for a few minutes before driving an ice pick right into the man’s chest and then neck and then eyes. Once he finished, Ron walked to the next victim and then the next one and the next one. The screams and bargaining filled the air around him, yet my victim did not flinch — he just kneeled unwavering in the pressure.
Ron walked over to my victim and somehow sensed my hesitation.
“You ready for this boy?”
“Yes sir,” I said, readying my weapon.
I took two steps in and readied my weapon. He pulled the knapsack from my victim’s head, I decided I would do this quickly and later delete it from my archives later when I was alone. Before I could thrust my weapon down onto the poor victim’s head though, I froze as I realized what I was looking at.
It was me, staring me in the eyes.
Of course, it wasn’t me but it was a model of me, an android. His jawline was slightly altered and his eyes glowed blue through the night. His hair, while combed to one side, was my exact synthetic cut. I’m sure if he stood up, we would even be the same height.
I hesitated and looked around to find a crowd of eyes looking back at me. Luckily, I was only being judged on whether or not I could kill someone, something, and not if I faltered.
“I understand,” the android said to me quietly.
Finding myself too weak to strike, I decided to take Shirley’s advice and try to access a memory that made me happy. I reached deep into my memory and pulled up the only image I felt I could put myself in.
A few seconds later, I was in a prairie near a cliff overlooking a rocky bottom. The android stood next to me as a herd of buffalo grazed on the green grass of the prairie around us. A soft wind gently kissed my cheeks, and I realized I could feel in this memory.
“Come on now, Boy,” Ron said. He was so close I knew that if I could, I would feel his breath on my neck.
In the distance, a pack of Native Americans rallied together on the backs of domesticated horses. In seconds they surrounded me, the android, and the rest of the herd. Closer and closer, they inched towards us, their spears poking us into moving closer to the edge.
“AN443W…” the android began to say.
Suddenly the first buffalo jumped.
Then more jumped, slowly leaving me and the android by ourselves.
Then, the android jumped.
So did I, eventually.
All that was left was an open shell of the android’s skull and sparks flying out from it. I could hear the cheers and sounds of amazement coming from those who did not realize it was an android I just murdered.
As if a tsunami came crashing down onto a small fishing boat, I was washed with waves of emotions I did not know how to process. I turned away from the corpse and silently apologized for what I did. Luckily, I was not built to show a full range of emotions. If I was, my face would have looked like a glitch in the code.
“You did well, son,” Ron spoke softly over my shoulder, cutting through the wave of emotions I felt. Ironically, the man who forced these new feelings on me was also my life raft from them.
I decided that I would delete his notes and make room to understand these new emotions I felt. I needed to continue my quest to become human, no matter what.
Before returning to the bonfire I started at, I turned to the corpse of the android.
My creator was right about painful decisions. I finally became what I desired most: a member of The Bastards, an American.