Palo Alto Weekly 25th Annual Short Story Contest
Honorable Mention

About Patricia Lin

Short Story ContestWhen we were little, we had one question dominating our minds. It was commonly referred to as the “What If” question. What if I could fly? What if I were a mermaid? As we grew up, some of us no longer wondered about these absurd “What Ifs” and we focused on what we thought were more important subjects.

I never lost my “What Ifs” and this story was inspired by a speculation one day, “What if there was a robot who looked and functioned as a human?” I pondered on this for days, and I decided to take this “What If” a couple of steps further and develop a story out of it.

My original “What If” became a “What if the robot was sent to live on her own and made a friend? What if there were people who wanted to hunt her down and kill her?” Thus, this simple what if became a complex story by using the technique every child knows best: asking the “What If” question.

Human
by Patricia Lin

Professor adjusted his glasses and looked at who walked into his office. He smiled. Another one of his creations. He lowered his glasses. His creation, the one he named "Eve" padded up to him. She held up her teddy bear for him to see.
"Professor, my teddy bear isn't working."

Professor gently took the teddy bear from her small hands. It was nothing serious. A screw had somehow loosened itself inside the bear. Professor tightened the screw, put the bear together, and handed it to his creation. He patted her head as she exclaime,: "Thank you! Thank you! Teddy, you're all fixed up!"

The teddy bear responded by saying, "What? I broke?" Professor chuckled softly.

Professor looked at her for a while, and then went back to work. It amazed even him, of all people, that Eve was not human. To a normal eye, she looked human. However, as her creator, Professor knew that her heart was no more than a machine, and the blood flowing in her veins was only oil. Eve was only a robot. She was a new kind of robot, a robot that could think, and act for herself. A successful humanoid robot was hard to achieve. Even Eve had her own problems. Professor sighed. His good mood was ruined. When Professor created the first artificial human, not everyone agreed with him. Some people believed that it was not right to create humans artificially, but Professor refused to destroy Eve. Therefore, the two sides would bicker and fight with one another, but Professor always managed to keep Eve safe from the world outside.

Time past quickly. Eve was soon a 10 year old, a 12 year old, then before he realized, she was 18. Unfortunately, it seemed as if Eve would never get the chance to celebrate her 19th birthday. Professor now could no longer protect Eve.

Eve opened her eyes slowly, adjusting to the light. She blinked a couple of times to clear away her foggy vision, and looked around her.

Where am I? She thought to herself. It was a good question, one she wished she could answer. Unfortunately, she could not. Eve sat up and surveyed the landscape. She was sitting on a wooden bench by a paved road. Joggers and cyclists whizzed by, their labored breathing visible in the crisp morning air. She looked down to her hands. Her eyebrows creased, her memory searching for a reason to be here. That's when Eve remembered. The night came flooding back, fresh and new.

"Professor would like to see you." A butler stood by her door, eyes cast down, bowing. Eve frowned. Professor usually didn't call for her. If she had any technical glitch, it was she who would go to Professor, in his office. Laboratory tests were always scheduled. She placed the book she was reading face down, got up from her chair, and walked down the hall to Professor's office.

"Professor, you asked for me?" Eve questioned as she softly closed the door behind her. Professor looked up.

"Hmm? Oh Yes." He smiled. Then he said, "Eve, you have to know that raising you was a very hard task for me."

Eve nodded, thinking, he called me for this?

Professor continued. "I've never told you this, but after you were created, there was a lot controversy about artificial humans. I wanted to protect you, and managed to keep you alive for 18 years. However, I can do that no longer." Eve asked: "Why not?" Professor creased his eyebrows together. "The officials finally took action, Eve. If I don't destroy you within 72 hours, they will." Professor looked at Eve. He shoved something in her hands, and said, "I'm transporting you to somewhere else, somewhere that can elude them for a while.

"Hey! Hello..." Eve refocused her eyes to see a boy about her age slowly waving his hands in front of her. He stopped when she looked at him quizzically.

"Sorry," he said sheepishly, "You were spacing out, so I didn't know if you were all right- yea, sorry."

 He cleared his throat, trying to break the awkwardness, and stuck out his hand. "Dillon." He smiled, as if expecting Eve to shake it. Eve frowned at it until he stuffed his hand back into his pocket, awkwardly clearing his throat again.

 "Yeah, so what's your name?" He asked.

"Eve." Eve said in a brisk tone.

"Eve. Well, uh, that's a pretty name." He smiled. Eve smiled back at him. She stood up, dusted off her pants, and said "Well, I'm going." She waved at him, and walked down the dirt path. "Wait!" Dillon called back at her. Eve turned around. He took out a crumpled sheet of paper scribbled something on it, and said, "Call me!" Eve smoothed out the sheet of paper. On it, 10 numbers were hastily written next to a grease stain.

It was now around noon. The morning joggers were now gone, replaced by tourists sporting "I love NY" shirts. The skyscrapers around Eve felt tall and intimidating. There were the bars on a cage. She reminded herself: I am free now. She tried to convince herself that she was happy out her, but it didn't work. It was her first time seeing the real world, and to be honest, it didn't impress her much. Professor once told her that one of her glitches that he had yet to work out was her contradicting feelings. She would feel hungry, but her system could not digest food. She would feel tired, but she was not programmed to sleep. Every week or so, Professor would give her a drug that reset her programming. She wouldn't be hungry, thirsty, or tired, and her human side and her robot side would be synchronized. The effects of the drug were starting to wear off now, and Eve was starting to feel hungry. She pressed her stomach, hoping the feeling would go away, when she remembered Professor telling her that she would always have an extra vial with her, just in case. Shaking, Eve removed a vial of translucent liquid from her neck and sighed in relief. Eve decided to save it for later, when she really needed it.

Eve called Dillon from the phone in her inner ear. "Hi, Dillon!" She said.

Dillon replied, "Hi, who is this?" Eve answered, "It's Eve." "Eve!"

Dillon laughed. "I was wondering when you would call!" There was an awkward silence between them, and Dillon finally broke it by saying, "Well, do you want to meet up?" Eve wasn't sure what to say, so she just muttered, "Ahh.... Okay." Dillon said, "How about the bench where we first met, in 30 minutes?" Eve agreed, and hung up.

30 minutes later, Eve sat on the bench where she was first exposed to the real world. "Eve!" Eve looked up and smiled. It was Dillon. He sat down next to her and beamed at her. Eve thought, you're my first friend. You're the first one to treat me normally. She listened to him talk as the streetlights flickered on. She didn't say much about herself, but Dillon seemed to understand that she liked to keep her secrets. Instead, he talked about irrelevant things and filled the silence between them until it wasn't there anymore. When Eve was with him, she felt...human. It was a feeling that she wished she could hold on forever.

The next few days, Dillon showed her around New York. Eve didn't know why he befriended her, but she felt normal around him, and he was the only bright spot she had in her miserable life. He still didn't know what she truly was. Eve knew that he would be repulsed if he knew the truth, so she kept it to herself. He never asked where she lived, where she was from, etc. They formed a tentative friendship that seemed to be walking on a tightrope. If Eve made one mistake, one slip about who she really was, and everything would collapse.

After Dillon left, Eve walked the empty streets alone. Streetlights lit the way, making everything it shined upon looking bright, warm and loved. The parts it didn't shine on were left in the cold, dark grasp of the night. A man bumped into her. Eve didn't get a chance to look at him, because he left without saying a word, pretending like it never happened. However, the mysterious man dropped a small wad of paper. Eve picked it up and was about to tell him he dropped something, but he was already gone. Curious, Eve read the paper's contents.

Eve: it read.
Let's not waste any time with introductions. I know who you are, even though you do not know who I am. Any guesses? If you ever want to see your so-called "friend" again, meet me at the bench in Central Park. You know which bench it is, right?

For the first time, Eve knew what it felt like to be cold. Her heart beat ricocheted against her chest and Eve clenched the note in her hand. She took off running, scared for herself and for Dillon.

Eve was still in perfect condition when she reached the park because she was a robot. It wasn't fair that Dillon got hurt because of her. Her hands balled into fists at the thought of how he might be suffering because of her. She marched ahead and reached the bench where Dillon and she first met. Eve looked around, and even under the ghastly yellow light post, nobody was in sight. When the sensors on the back of her head finally detected someone approaching her, it was too late. Eve felt a hand press against her hibernation button. She started screaming, but it was futile as she closed her eyes, unconscious.

When Eve regained consciousness, she was laying on the cold, hard ground. It felt like cement. She tried to move, but her hands and ankles were paralyzed, and she couldn't see a thing and she couldn't turn on her night vision either. A light flickered on. At first it was so bright Eve had to look through her eyelashes, but soon her eyes adjusted. A silhouette of a man stood in front of Eve. All she could tell about him was that he wore leather shoes. He knelt down, and squatted face to face with her. "Where's Dillon?" Eve blurted out. The man absently said, "Dillon? Oh, that boy is fine." Eve couldn't believe that Dillon was hurting because of her. "Where's Dillon?" She repeated, with more threat in her voice this time. The man shook his head. "If only you knew." Eve wanted to cry, but she couldn't. What if Dillon was being tortured? What if he was dead? The man suddenly interrupted her thoughts. He lifted her up and instructed her to sit in a chair, next to the light.
Eve started shaking again. She was tired, and had an uncontrollable headache. She could barely focus on anything, and the man talking to her seemed like a distant dream. It's all my fault, Eve thought. She tried to focus on the man's words.

 "When the Professor created you 18 years ago, I was mortified. I used to work for Professor, and I admired him greatly, but it was wrong to create an artificial human like you, so I quit. I tried to convince him to destroy you, but he wouldn't budge. He claimed that you were the epitome of technology. He thought that you were a new page in the book." The man laughed. "Professor understood that I was out to kill you. He guarded you with such fierce protectiveness. Do you ever wonder why you have never seen the outside world before now? I was never able to get you, but now, 18 years later, here we are. All I need to do is shut you down, and this whole thing will be over.

Eve still didn't know where Dillon was, so she asked one more time. "Where's Dillon?" "Here I am!" Someone behind her called.
The muscles on Eve are back tensed. She turned around slowly, and Dillon was standing right behind her. For a second Eve couldn't breathe. "Dillon? Are you okay? What did they do to you?' The questions rushed out of Eve like a flood. In response, Dillon laughed. "Eve, do you really think I was your friend? Seriously, who would want to be your friend? You're not even natural." Each word Dillon said stabbed at Eve's heart, and Eve felt confusion. She thought that she could trust Dillon, that she could rely on him to be her friend. His betrayal was so sudden, so unprepared that it threw her off. Eve laughed. It was a hollow laugh, a laugh that scared even her. Dillon stopped and watched her laugh. She was laughing hysterically now, like this was just one big stupid joke. Eve laughed until her stomach started cramping and she managed to slow down enough to say, "Dillon, you're a really good actor, you know? All this time, and I never noticed."

Eve wasn't laughing anymore. "But, why did you pretend to friend me?" Dillon smiled his same old smile, this time tinged with sadness. "I was supposed to kill you, but I couldn't, Eve, I couldn't. You really started to become my friend, and I couldn't bring myself to shut you down. So, this man had to step in and take my place. I'm sorry, Eve, I'm so sorry."

Dillon was shut up by a glare from the man, but his eyes pleaded Eve to believe him. Eve wanted to believe Dillon. She really did. She wanted to pretend that nothing ever happened, that this was a nonexistent glitch in their friendship, but Eve's face hardened.
"I don't want to hear it, Dillon. You betrayed me. In the end, you are the inhuman. In the end, Dillon, it turns out I'm the only human here."

Professor was carrying a girl back to his laboratory. A boy was walking next to him, silently letting his tears fall onto the girl. Even though it was obvious the girl was no longer alive, she still had a content smile on her face, as if she finally realized something important.

 


Judge's comment

"A short but effective exploration of an important question - what it means to be human."