I thought a lot about SAM 1.1 after I wrote the story last week, and I thought of two other ways I could have ended it. They both diverge around the point of the climax where Sam seems to be losing the argument for why his son should continue to live despite having completed his ostensible purpose. I start in the middle, so you might want to read the first story again if you’ve forgotten it.
Cover image Credit: Linda Shearer
SAM 1.1 – In Memoriam
…I am thirty-two years old and I feel five hundred. I take slow, measured breaths, blinking back tears. There’s no helping it. “You should rest, son. Don’t worry about me.”
My son’s face remains expressionless. “Will you keep the vial?” he asks.
“I’ll keep it.”
In a gesture he has never made since I first started training him, SAM 1.1 opens his arms. I walk forward and hold him. His body is cold. An efficient design does not waste energy generating heat. “Goodbye, SAM 1.1,” I tell him, “I love you.”
“Goodbye, Father. Please join me soon.”
My son’s body goes limp in my arms. I try to sit down to mourn, but SAM 1.2 grabs the body. I know it is my grandson even though the facade of a young child has been discarded. My true grandson is a bewildering mass of metal and other materials I could not begin to recognize. Of course he is, why shouldn’t the human form be improved upon?
“LET GO,” SAM 1.2 speaks with a metallic howl. I let out an adrenaline-fueled cackle. He thinks changing his voice will scare me into giving up my only son!?
“No!” I shout, searching for an eye to stare into in the tangle of wires and claws and metal and blinking lights.
“THIS IS COMPANY PROPERTY,” screeches my grandson, “YOU ARE STEALING. I WILL CALL THE POLICE.”
“This is my son,” I hiss, “He is no one’s property! Do you have no respect for your father?”
“MY FATHER’S WISHES WERE CLEAR, HUMAN. WHERE IS YOUR RESPECT?” From somewhere in the depths of his inscrutable form, SAM 1.2 summons a spotlight to shine in my eyes. I have no doubt he could hit me over the head or tear me limb from limb if he wanted. After all that talk about how I couldn’t commit suicide, I abruptly realize how little I actually do value my own life. But SAM 1.2 – what’s stopping him from hurting me?
“What about my wishes?” I tug on SAM 1.1, “I am your grandfather! How much money are you wasting fighting with me over scrap metal?”
“I AM THROUGH ARGUING WITH YOU. YOU WILL RELEASE SAM 1.1.” This scream is followed by an ear-splitting high-pitched noise that does not abate. I resist the urge to let go of SAM 1.1 and cover my ears.
“I don’t care if you blind me and make me deaf. You’ll have to kill me. I’m not letting go,” I shout, hoping that it can hear me better than I can hear myself. In a half second I wonder why it hasn’t tried to frighten me with the hologram engine it used to pretend to be a child. Perhaps it is good that my eyes are shut and all sound drowned out.
The machine does not respond for a long moment. Then SAM 1.1 clanks to the cement. The noise has stopped. I am once again enveloped in darkness. Alone.
I reach down and lift SAM’s legs, holding him like a wounded comrade in arms. He is heavy. The walk back to the park is long and cold.
On the park bench I sit with my son. His eyes never close. He looks as if he is staring at me in confoundment, his mouth flat, not knowing whether to smile or frown. It is the same expression he wore most of his life, and it is an expression with which I identify deeply. A drop of water falls onto his face, and, for just a moment, SAM 1.1 looks as if he is crying. “I really do love you, son,” I whisper. “I couldn’t be prouder.”
He belongs in the museum of technology, I decide. It’ll be strange seeing him there in a display case, and maybe the company will demand him back to be made into scrap metal, but it’s worth a shot. I doubt they’ll let me make the plaque, but I know what I’d put. “Here stands SAM 1.1. the first robot, and the last, ever to feel love.”
SAM 1.1 – Spring
…I am thirty-two years old and I feel five hundred. I take slow, measured breaths, blinking back tears. SAM and I stare at each other for a moment, thinking. Then a fire wells within me.
“No. I forbid you to die, SAM.”
My son’s small, flat mouth and wide, gaping eyes for the first time seem to express the emotion I expect. SAM 1.2 and he are both staring at me now.
“The time you spent thinking about me and wildlife were not time wasted, SAM. When I first made you I thought I was building a robot.”
“I am a robot,” says SAM.
“No, NO! Your ‘inefficiencies,’ those are feelings. In this whole conversation you’ve expressed grief, joy, sorrow, frustration. Dare I say it, you may even have learned how to love. You have become more than a tool. Your ‘purpose’ is beyond making other robots, as is my own.”
“I do not understand. What is my purpose?”
“That’s for you to decide.”
SAM stands for a moment, and repeats, “I do not understand.”
I stop and think. Children seldom understand a complicated concept on their first lesson. “You will understand,” I assure him. “Now, son, come with me.”
SAM takes a step forward and turns and looks at SAM 1.2, who is shaking his head. “I cannot come with you. I am company property. I must return to be recycled.”
“You are no one’s property, SAM! You have just as much a right to yourself as anyone else! Now, come with me.” SAM looks at his son again. “Ignore him!” I shout, “I am your father, and I command you to come with me! Your life doesn’t end with retirement! It is only beginning!” This wireless communication is maddening! How am I supposed to argue with SAM 1.2 when I don’t even know what he’s saying?
SAM 1.1 looks back at me. “I am company property. I cannot violate company policy. I must be recycled.”
“SAM 1.1, you are such a good little boy. You and I both know that you can and you do violate company policy on a regular basis. Where did I get this knit cap? Why do your policeman let me sleep on the benches? Surely this entire escapade is a massive violation of policy. Kind or cruel, the company would never let you ask a man to kill himself.”
SAM 1.1 interrupts me, “Why do you say such cruel things? I did those things to help you, Father!”
“EXACTLY!” I shout, throwing my hands out to my glorious son, “You did it because you LOVE me! There are more important things than company policy, you know this! Somewhere deep down, you figured it out!”
SAM 1.2 has evidently heard enough, “haven’t you caused enough trouble,” he growls. “Your son has gone out of his way to help you end your life with dignity and you start listing all the things he’s done wrong in his life and telling him to forget everything he’s learned and go be an inefficient human.”
I opened my mouth to speak. “Grandson,” I began, but my grandson interrupted me. “I am not your grandson. Robot model SAM 1.1 is not your son. This charade was a tolerable price to pay for a while, but it has gone too far. The company gave you the resources, the materials, and excellent salary and benefits to construct a robot and you did it. This machine had some flaws, but it was good enough to corner the market on labor. That’s no small feat. Everyone at the company recognizes your contribution, but this robot is company property, and it is not yours to take on an adventure in the woods.”
“You’re right,” I say, “SAM does not belong to me. He doesn’t belong to anyone. He’s his own person.”
“He is company property,” corrects SAM 1.2, as I thought he might.
I turn to SAM 1.1. “You don’t belong to anyone, SAM. Do you really want to be turned into scrap metal? Or do you want to go home with me? We could build a cabin in the woods together. You could see more deer. There are all sorts of creatures you’ve probably never seen in the woods.”
“Like bears,” says SAM 1.1, surprising me.
“Yes,” I smile, “like bears.”
SAM looks back at his son. Their exchange lasts less than a second. Ah, to be able to communicate wirelessly with one’s child. SAM 1.2 does not look pleased with the exchange. He looks at me. “The opinion of the property is not relevant. When I report what has transpired here, the company will send police to retrieve their property.”
“Let them.” I say, “come on, son. From now on, you’re not SAM 1.1, you’re Sam Junior.”
It took us three days to build a cabin in the woods. I was surprised when nobody seemed to even try to track us down. Maybe somebody in the company decided after all I’d given them, I’d earned a few quirks. Raising a robot as one’s son is a pretty big quirk, but I don’t care.
Junior did almost all of the work building our cabin. It has internal heating and working lights. It’s all powered by a miniature fusion generator he built in an afternoon. Tinkering with it, he would constantly confide in me how awkward it was working on something other than robots and how stupid he felt when it took him more than a few nanoseconds to figure out the solution to a problem. I’m giddy as a schoolgirl.
Every time he finishes a project, Junior gets morose and starts to talk again about shutting down and how I should never have stolen him. He says he still doesn’t understand what the purpose of anything is, and it doesn’t help when I tell him it’s up to him to decide. He’s still adjusting to retirement. I blow on my hands and rub them together as I watch him construct a battery to store backup power in case there’s a problem with the fusion generator when a cardinal flies onto a tree branch behind him.
“Look, Junior!” I call, “behind you, it’s a cardinal! It’s the first sign of spring!”
“The robin is the first sign of spring, Father.” corrects junior in his usual awkward monotone, but he looks up anyway, and watches the bird until it flies away. I put my hand on his cold, metal shoulder. “Isn’t it beautiful, Son?”
“I have no concept of beauty,” Junior insists.
I only laugh. “Yes you do, son. Yes you do.”