© 2017 Kyle Richardson
Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes
(This story was first published on April 14th, 2017, at Daily Science Fiction.)
The beacon looks strange in his hand, like it’s missing something, even though it’s complete. It has to be complete. Every component: allocated to its precise location. And what is reality but a connection of moving parts? What is life but a collection of interlocked gears?
Still, the beacon looks . . . strange. “It is all assembled,” he says, “and yet . . .”
“And yet, you don’t have the faintest freaking clue what you’re doing,” says the girl. She tilts her body over the ship’s hull and peers down at him. Her black hair swings down and hangs in front of her face, so it’s impossible to tell if she’s smiling or not. “I thought robots were supposed to be smart.”
Her voice ricochets inside him, bouncing off the churning parts, the twisting parts, the parts that always seem completely and inexplicably still.
The word digs in somewhere it shouldn’t be and refuses to budge. “I am Chonx,” he says. “It is the name I have been given.”
The girl pushes away from the hull and slides to the ground, out of sight. “It’s a name that was printed on your chest plate,” she says. Her voice rebounds off the night-darkened trees. “Who knows what it means?”
But someone knows. He glances up at the cloud-flecked sky, at the murky stars beyond it.
Someone out there.
He eyes the beacon once more and says, “That is why I must secure a connection.”
The girl steps into view and touches the metal bulk of the ship, her finger tracing each indentation, each impact groove, each jagged, smoking hole. “Your spaceship is screwed, Chonx,” she says. She narrows her eyes at the dented beacon in his hand. “And so’s your little walkie-talkie. You’re not connecting with anyone.”
He tilts the beacon back and forth. He studies the fractal spines, the imperfect symmetry. Nothing about it matches the ship. The molecular structure is all wrong. The construction is rudimentary at best. Still—what else could it be? “Perhaps it requires an energy source,” he mutters.
The girl exhales, blowing her bangs away from her green eyes. “Maybe it does. But I’m tired. I’m hungry. And I’m cold as hell. Can you do your little homework assignment later?”
He can. Time, it seems, is no hindrance. His cells do not age. His body does not rust. The same must be true for those who have sent him here.
Yes, for the human girl, his beacon can wait. “I would like to resume tomorrow,” he says.
The girl frowns, the skin around her eyes crinkling. “Whatever.”
Tomorrow it is, then. Tomorrow, he will provide an energy source. Tomorrow, he may finally make contact. He disassembles the beacon swiftly, unlatching the pieces in a clicking blur. Then he follows the girl up the muddy hillside, while the rain begins to fall.
The girl watches him shut down. His red eyes dim. His joints sag. His metal skin grinds against the rocky cave wall until he’s slumped diagonally against it. Hell, it almost looks like he’s drooling. Why can’t she sleep that well?
She tosses another stick into the trembling fire and hugs her knees to her chest. In the dirt by her boots, the pieces of the beacon glint in the firelight. She pushes them around with her pinky finger, then sighs.
It was never supposed to go this far. Hell. How was she to know he’d believe it? This so-called “beacon,” this glimmer of hope—that somewhere out there, someone was looking for him. God. It was supposed to be a joke!
But the way he looked at it, the way his eyes lit up, the way he leaned in and touched it so gingerly. So carefully. So full of awe and wonder . . . How can she tell him the truth now? And what would she even say? That she was just messing with him? Damn, that’d be harsh. Even for a freaking robot.
God only knows where he came from. She sure as hell doesn’t. But one thing she does know: nobody’s looking for him.
Nobody will ever be looking for Chonx.
He’s just some alien robot that crashed on the wrong damn planet. And now she’s stuck with him.
She frowns and scoops up the gleaming pieces, then lays them quietly on his limp, metal hands. She kicks at the fire until it sizzles out. Then she trudges down the mountainside with her tattered pack jostling against her hip.
It’s about a mile to the junkyard, more or less. She winces up at the rain. She should be back within the hour.
He wakes to the sound of the girl’s voice. Fragile. Musical. “Up and at ’em, Chonx,” she says. “Look what I found.”
His eyes blaze. The cave flickers. Her face spirals into view. He glances down at her outstretched hand—at the metal parts pinched between her dirty fingers—and something in him twists and spins. “What is it?” he says.
The girl rolls her eyes. “What do you think it is?” She thrusts the metal pieces toward him. “It’s more parts of the beacon, stupid.”
His chassis whirrs. His joints flutter. He cups his hands below the girl’s wrists. “May I have them?”
“Hell.” The girl grins. “I guess so.” She drops the pieces onto his reflective palms. Then she points at him and says, “But I’m hungry. Find me some breakfast, first.”
Breakfast. The word fractures in him and blooms.
Nutrients. Organic matter for digestion.
On a planet as thriving as this one, breakfast should be a simple task. “I will find you some breakfast, first,” he says. “Then, I would like to resume my little homework assignment.”
The girl frowns. Her shoulders sag, just a little. Then she smiles, the skin around her eyes staying smooth. “Whatever you want, Chonx.”
He looks down at the new components. One is caked with dirt. The other: crumpled and tinged with rust. Yet again, the beacon surprises him. What function could these new pieces serve?
But the girl hungers. Breakfast, first. Then, he will surely make contact.