Short Story: Fear of Flying

This is one of two science fiction short stories I’m posting on similar themes today. The other is much longer, and is on my Patreon for backers

The robot sat on the window ledge and looked down. The street didn’t a long way down, but the robot knew that was a trick of perspective. “Perspective” was a word he knew. He knew a lot of words, and he knew that “perspective” meant that big things that were far away could look like they were smaller things closer to you. He knew that if the telescopic function on his eyes was working better, he’d be able to see that what looked like toy trucks were in fact real ones, belching out exhaust fumes and roaring as they traveled on their way.

The robot loved trucks, both real and toy. He would often play with the toy ones for hours, while the humans around him ignored him.

The robot was broken, he knew that, because the humans told him so. But what the humans didn’t tell him was that he also had superpowers. He’d had to work that out for himself.

The humans didn’t like it when he showed that he could do things they couldn’t. He didn’t know why. They were the ones who’d made him, after all.

He could hear some of the people who were looking at him from the street below. One of them was shouting “Christ, it’s only a kid! Get him down!”

The silly humans had mistaken him for one of them, and therefore someone worth caring about. He knew, though, that if they got a closer look at him, they’d be able to tell he was a robot. After all, humans couldn’t hear things from that far away. Only robots like him could.

He started looking at one of his toy trucks, spinning its wheels, feeling the way its tiny wheels rolled on his hand, listening to the way they whirred. He held it up to compare it to the trucks on the street below. They were the same. This pleased him.

One time, one of the humans had given him a toy truck that had not pleased him. That truck had not looked like a real truck, and that was itself unpleasant. But the human had shown him that the toy truck could turn into a robot like him, and that had scared him, and he’d screamed until the human had taken the toy away. Things should be one thing, the thing that they were, and not turn into different things. Things that were secretly different things were wrong, and he wanted no part of them.

He also worried that maybe he would turn into a truck, and that was something else that would be wrong. He loved trucks, but he didn’t want to be one. Trucks could only move over the ground, while he wanted to fly.

He knew he was capable of flight — some experiments had convinced him of that, and he knew that many other robots did fly. He’d not yet, himself, achieved more than a slight glide, but he knew that all he’d been lacking was altitude. Altitude was another word he knew. It meant height. He knew lots of words, including some that the humans didn’t know that he knew.

He wasn’t sure yet whether he liked it up on the ledge. It took him away from the humans, whose constant noises overwhelmed his sensors, and who would sometimes try to see if he could talk, before turning away in disgust when his programmed reactions didn’t match what they were expecting. But it also took him away from the smells. He liked the smells. He loved the oily, smokey, smell of trucks and cars and planes — machines, like him, but machines with a purpose. Machines which the humans loved, even when they killed the humans. The humans didn’t love him, and he’d never even hurt one of them. But he wasn’t jealous of the other machines. “Jealous” was another word he’d learned, but he’d never learned the meaning of it. Apparently robots didn’t feel jealous. He was glad of that. Being jealous didn’t seem like it would be fun. Most human things didn’t seem fun, for that matter. Being a robot was definitely the better choice.

He heard some banging on the door. No doubt that was humans trying to break it down. He thought it was funny that they didn’t realise he’d piled all sorts of things in front of the door, so they wouldn’t be able to. He might be a broken robot, but he was still a clever one, and he wasn’t going to let the humans interfere in his experiment. This was nothing to do with them. This was his experiment, and if the humans wanted to fly they could perform their own one.

The humans meant well, he knew. They were scared for him, and he knew all about being scared. Being scared was one thing that humans and robots definitely had in common. But he wasn’t scared of flying. He was scared of the humans, but not of flying. He wished he could make the humans less scared, but he knew that any time he tried to make the humans feel something different, they would only get more scared. Humans were scared of robots. Even the humans who said they liked robots were secretly a bit scared of them. But that was OK, he was a bit scared of the humans, too. He thought maybe everyone was a bit scared of things that were different, even if they were good things like robots.

He stood up. He listened to the banging on the door, as it got louder and louder. He looked at the toy truck, and let go of it. He counted as it fell. One… two… three… four… five… five seconds before it landed on the ground.

He took a deep breath. Breathing was a human thing that robots weren’t supposed to do, but he liked it anyway. He felt a tremble, but made it stop — he couldn’t afford for his gyroscopic systems to fail, if he wanted to stay stable while he was flying. “Gyroscopic” was another word he knew. He thought it meant “thing which helps you balance”, but he wasn’t sure.

The trembling stopped. The banging continued. The robot took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and started to fly. He felt the wind on his sensors as he soared through the air.

One… two… three… four…

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