16 The tent city dozes. The white hills of salt will be still greater tomorrow. A gathering of tribal elders, their chronographs slow, their dented bezels rotating, sip seawater, steam playing from their exhausts, salt spilling from their mechanical parts. A Federal Reserve Priest from Series 78 is chanting “History is history is history.” An exhausted look crosses its vintage monitor. The monitor goes black. Framed in it you can make out, for a minute, your eye. Cover the page with black as the sunset slowly sours into night. Off in Washington, the human city, household machines kick in their stalls in anticipation of feeding time. The boy slumps in the robot’s arms. He is intact and gleaming. He fits as if he had evolved there, as if he were an autonomous part of the robot, a freelance heart.
After Moving Day came what became known as The Standardization. Humans of robot descent (“half-bots,” as they were called) were ordered to identify themselves; all up-standing members of society were called upon to report suspected half-bots for testing. Those found to be part robot were subject to cleanup. Challenged on this final stage by a member of the press, the president said, “Human does not ‘fall on a spectrum.’ You are human or you are not. There can be no indecision on this issue. Now, if the half-bots are not human, then they are machines, and machines are not capable of death. We are not killing half-bots. We are turning them off.
“Is this ethical?” added the president, smiling. “Well, Mr. News Man, I think we can say that the ethical is defined by and for human beings. One does not hold an ethical debate with a household fan or a diesel truck.”
A tarp over a bush. The S800 pacing slow rings around it.
A robot appears out of the night. Its brilliant eyes are blue topaz. Its leather mini skirt is leopard-printed. A smile arcs across its monitor. Simon says, draw the most exquisite face you can picture. Make it look like summer, like shelter in a storm, like your mom, your child, your belief in the future.
“How do you do?” says Helen. I wonder, do the robot S800 and the robot Helen have a history? If not, they hit it off remarkably fast. Helen strips down to her shift, which is made of steel. Rotating, she shows her assets. (Draw them too.) The S800 follows her with its eyes but does not move or register indecision. They play Simon says, taking turns.
Later, Helen and the S800 have an ethical debate. Things are said: “An eye for an eye.” “Dust to dust.” “Turn about is fair play.” “Why not go Dutch? Collapse the divide between the two technologies: software and even softer.” “Dystopian science fiction stories, with robots in them.”