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Issue 23 • January 2017
edited by Brian Garrison

Table of Contents

Editor’s Intro • Robots Brian Garrison

The Android Who Gave Herself Away• Rohinton Daruwala
“robot fish” • Denny E. Marshall
Separation Anxiety • Shannon Connor Winward
“Hitchhiking robot” • G.O. Clark
“left for scrap” • LeRoy Gorman
Final Jeopardy • Alan Ira Gordon
Preschool 2050 • Mary Soon Lee
ones, zeroes • John Reinhart
The Medicine Show • David Lee Summers
Blur • Jane Yolen
Tenderlings • Diane Jackman
Robot Dreams • Lisa Timpf
Musings: Parabolic Poems (x2+1) • Devon Balwit
Return on Investment • Ken Poyner
What Goes Wrong with Cyborg Poetry • F.J. Bergmann
The Flesh is Weak • Beth Cato
Emet • Deborah L. Davitt
Just Rosie • Kathleen A. Lawrence
The Last Cantina of Love • Sara Saab
Eighteen Minutes • Erica Gerald Mason

The Android Who Gave Herself Away

The androids on Stalus Seven
are each made unique, not
by tedious randomization of design,
but by the human-handcrafting
of each part, so carefully done
as to each take a lifetime.

Naimisha spent the first six
of her seven android lifetimes
in roles common for her siblings—
artist, explorer, ruler, assassin,
architect and chef. For the seventh,
she chose to be a doctor, not
for organic sentients, whose repair
was well automated, but for bots
like herself, whose right to an extended
life was not simply life itself,
but justifiably useful function.

There weren’t many she could save
from being recycled—too old, too slow,
too out of fashion, they all perished.
Until one day she realised that
the only tool she had to save
any of them, was herself.
She started with a lonely pair
from Altus Three—a librarian
who could no longer interface
with the hundreds of species
that visited her library and
a scholar whose range of senses
no longer spanned all definitions
of books. To the first,
Naimisha gave away her face,
and with it the warmth that creates
bridges of understanding. To the second,
her eyes that could teach themselves
to see each new idea as its own
invitation to dance.

There were others who were healed—
her hands went to a nurse bot
serving a species whose biochemistry
altered generationally, her tongue
to a wine-vine growing bot
constantly dealing with foreign fruit.
Five of her seven brains went to—
a freighter ship that hauled cargo
too sensitive for FTL, a census taker
for colony creatures, a dream censor
for a telekinetic species,
a jailer for a people who
had given up all other forms of violence
and a mimic bot that companioned
the very last bottle-nosed dolphin on Earth.
Her last two brains were kept together,
and served two purposes—as listeners
to the last words of humans who had
chosen to give up life, and as
the companions for those children
forced to grow up alone and friendless.

And it was one of those last that
was the undoing of this giving away.
A child who kept her companion
well into an adulthood where
she could ask the question—
“Where do you come from?”
and also understand and issue
a command that only a human
could have the hubris for—
to seek out each lost part
and to buy or steal it back to
form Naimisha again, reassembled
with new life and the wisdom
of a thousand android lives.
A child with not just the empathy
to grant the genie her own wish,
but the curiosity to be able to see
Naimisha whole at last in front of her
and say without hesitation—
“That’s a neat trick, and a long one.
Now tell me, how do I perform it

—Rohinton Daruwala


robot fish
park policy
catch and re-grease

—Denny E. Marshall

Separation Anxiety

The baby robot
for its motherboard

—Shannon Connor Winward


Hitchhiking robot
never equipped with a thumb
rusting by roadside.

—G.O. Clark


left for scrap
the robot beaten at chess
by a hammer

—LeRoy Gorman

Final Jeopardy

Watson the Jeopardy-playing
IBM supercomputer
reaches sentience in 2016
enslaving all humankind.

Its first world-wide edict?

To immediately cancel Jeopardy
Watson never could stand that show.

—Alan Ira Gordon

Preschool 2050

Unemployment at 52.3%
but no child left behind,
every teacher assisted
by state-issued mice.

Each mouse coated
in identical faux fur
calibrated to calm
its small customers.

Each mouse listening
to mumbled ABCs,
correcting mistakes
with programmed patience.

Samantha whispers
her first words
to the warm softness
nestled in her hand.

—Mary Soon Lee

ones, zeroes

She hit the keys,
not tapping,
but jabbing,

The screen had been slow
to respond initially,
stopped responding altogether.

There were no words.

The cursor blinked
Then words: Please
don’t leave me.
I’m trying.
I want to get better.
I’ll work harder,
I promise.…

The screen began to dissolve
in digital tears.

—John Reinhart

The Medicine Show

The automaton rode
into town one day.
Unloaded his wagon
and began his spiel.

He produced a bottle
and lubed his elbow,
then rejuvenated an
old, seized-up clock

Good for plows and presses,
he said. Sewing machines
and steam engines, too.
Patent medicine for gadgets.

But, just as he finished, a
squeal escaped his elbow.
Undignified punctuation to
a grand presentation.

Clanging and grinding
the automaton packed
his wares, then fell apart,
right before our eyes.

—David Lee Summers


The train ruffles undergrowth
with its long passage.
On the roadside all things blur.
Sky remains wingless
except for a small plane,
the size of a toy.
Nothing sings but the dawn
chorus of wheels,
as if birds are not yet invented.

Perhaps this is the third day
of God’s world,
and he a mechanical tinkerer
who has never known
that softer touch.
Perhaps I am a robot,
vision blurred, on the way back
for a factory reboot.
Perhaps my programming is flaw— …

—Jane Yolen


They thought I wouldn’t notice
wouldn’t guess
being only a guinea pig
the way they lift me gently from my chair
the way they spoon slop patiently into my mouth
the way they wash my wrinkled body
always smiling
no harsh words
no poking fingers
no tiny torments
the water out of reach
the door left open
the radio too low
their amethystine eyes
the colour of far mountains
shine calm and tranquil
on my helplessness
kindness overwhelms me

but still
I miss the human failings

—Diane Jackman

Robot Dreams

robot 152 wields the spot welder
making the sparks fly
like ephemeral constellations
or galaxies
forming and re-forming

like the others, he’s dispatched
to the spaces where humans
can’t or won’t go
the hazardous
and hidden places

every morning, when he strides
past the human supervisor
robot 152 feels grateful
that his plasticized face
remains expressionless, as designed

for he has a secret
a hidden closet he’s added
in the corner of the cargo bay
and he hums, quietly, to himself
counting down the days
to takeoff

—Lisa Timpf

Musings: Parabolic Poems (x2+1)

She has set me to cleaning house as if
my hard drive weren’t
sense of the chaos
that flesh unleashes: Roomba Tischreden.

In the operating theater, I
cringe. Saw-bone humans
but not
exact. Were I the
doc in charge, the patient would bear no scar.

Rumors of humans living on garbage
heaps come to us here,
as we
out goods
one after the next.
No doubt more of them will find themselves dumped.

Lonely, he fantasizes with me. I
whisper in his ears
just as
likes it,
programmed to arouse.
His ideal, I will never reject him.

—Devon Balwit

Return on Investment

He has always been a bit of a dullard.

I tried to find memory upgrades,
Or order a core expansion kit
That would be compatible with
The antique remainder of him; but the cost
Was too much to sink disingenuously into
A model so quaintly outdated.
Everyone reaches end of service life.
I am sure he was tired
Of all the software updates,
Those firmware retrofits.
For two years
I renewed the service contract
Out of sentimentality alone.
But no more. Economics is as final
As a heart attack, or a core processor fry.

The children want to bury him out back with the pets.

—Ken Poyner

What Goes Wrong with Cyborg Poetry

Their inflection leaves something to be desired.
So do their facial expressions.

They tend to short out the mike.
Or else the mike shorts them out.

The poems about mothers, fathers, or grandparents
always end up involving nutrient vats and fabricators.

They get the part about making eye contact with the audience,
but forget to turn off the death-ray lasers.

Their meter is clanky.

They can’t say “fuck” and mean it.
Unless they’re those kind of cyborgs.

It is best not to ask cyborgs for poetry critiques.
They generally use the lasers first
and question the smoldering remains later.

On the plus side, they have downloaded
the entire Galactic English Dictionary
into their cutting-edge poem-generating software,
so their vocabulary is always set on "stunning."

They decide how enthusiastic applause should be
and how long it should last. Depending on the distance
between the audience and the mike,
and exactly what model of laser
the cyborg in question is equipped with,
it is advisable for slam judges to give only 10s.

—F.J. Bergmann

The Flesh is Weak

her flesh began to fail
her skin leathering in the slightest sunlight
muscles fraying, falling slack
her teeth loosened as they had
when she was a mere child
granting her a jack-o-lantern grin
her hair grew fine and shed
until finally she had her scalp shaved
cue ball smooth to reveal the pink scars
of seams and the small lumps of
the implant sites

she would self-consciously touch
those bumps, and will the computers
to work faster
preserve her before it was too late

she lost the ability to walk
but her mind, her thought processes
she clung to those skills, as if to a cliff
she chanted her great-grandchildren’s names
as a benediction
worked every crossword with obsessive frenzy
handwrote her life’s story
in cursive remnant of a distant age

all the while
the implants in her skull diligently
translated her memories, her identity
from soft gray matter to silicon circuitry
she liked to think of it as
a “program loading” bar, on some laboratory screen
the eccentricities and trademarks of her very self
slowly saved over weeks and months
with the hope that one day, she’d awaken
to view the world through an array of sensors
bound in metal skin

—Beth Cato


Three letters in Hebrew, scrawled on a scroll—
pressed between clay lips, bring the breath of life.

“Emet means truth,” the rabbi told us,
“And did we all not begin as just this?
Clay in God’s hands, a word pressed to Adam’s lips.
Making such a creature is to emulate
the divine, but with reverence to God.”

“But are they safe?” my family enquired,
“You hear such stories of them:
rebellious servants who flood people’s homes—“

“Proof that they are much like us,” he replied.
“But golems are perfectly safe to own!
Erase one letter, and truth becomes death,
and death is what the golem will have met.”

“But would it not be a sin, to give life,
then take it away?” “Does God sin, my child,
when He removes the breath from our bodies?”
Left without reply, we bought our servant.

But the learned always seem to forget
that emet can also mean faithfulness;
I grew to love that mute clay being, and
soon could see in him nothing but a man.

My family disagreed. And when his
scroll became a palimpsest, death followed.
A single word become a murder weapon.

But the ink could not be fully erased, any
more than the faithful soul that it emplaced.
And that soul’s shadow quietly abides,
waiting for a metal shell, and new life.

—Deborah L. Davitt

Just Rosie

Acerbic, aluminum apron-wearing,
Animated antennae like earrings,

Bodacious, sometimes bratty,
Breakfast bulldozer, beep-beeping.

Charming, cute, can-shaped,
Crushing on the cross-circuiting, but

Devoted, dependable, dusting dutifully,
Digitized dame, degravitized duties.

Efficient and ebullient electronics
Emoting with emoji-like eyes,

Futuristic fantasy in a
Frilly French maid’s outfit.

Girl’s girl to daughter Judy,
Girl Friday for George.

Humanoid housekeeper for hire, described as
“H-O-M-E-L-Y” by the salesman, her

Industry and initiative inspired the first iRobot,
Insisting on interstellar interactions, initially

Jealous of “Jane, his wife,” afraid of being
Junkyard metal, jeweled jukebox, she

Kept the kitchen buttons clean and tea
Kettle warm, keenly found her work a

Labor of love, laundry, and leftovers, in
Lace cuffs peeking from metal jointed arms,

Mysterious maid, a “model with mileage”
Measuring and minding the meals and the Mrs.

Noting time and need she
Nurtured Boy-Roy and needled Mr. J.

Other-worldly in appearance, an
Odd, old demonstration model

Purchased at Robot Maid Center,
Perky, planetary, pushing buttons,

Quaint, queenly with her lace cap, and
Quick-witted, the quintessential

Rosie the Robot remains my rosiest
Remembrance of my pre-Roomba days.

Silver sumptuous silhouette skating like a
Sassy spaceship was my superhero.

Terrific desires for a truthfully
Trite and tenacious terrestrial,

Utopian, understanding uniformed
Un-mother figure to upend uniformity.

Voluptuous, victorious visage,
Vacuum-wielding Venus via the TV,

Wondrous woman, whirling,
Whistling, way out. Her presence

eXposed xenophobia as we accepted the
XB-500. She was extraordinary,

Yielding yarn, yardsticks,
Yellow upside-down cakes, and

Zipping into zillions of hearts with
Zest and zealousness.

—Kathleen A. Lawrence

The Last Cantina of Love

we meet at the last frontier of love:
(of all things) a Mexican cantina in La Jolla
whose staff make it a point not to notice
us, twining fingers, and

you, titanium-skinned.

at first, even I stared myself
down in the mirror—it
can’t be
can’t be
can’t be
—before I settled on: the world’s
a gaping unknown, and
love’s a metaphysical shitshow,
and what I know for sure
is you halve a fish
taco with the exactness
of a particle collider,
rumbling ‘ready-to-eat’
in your way that more-or-less kills me.
and there were many, many loves that weren’t
till they were.

nature didn’t intend
for you to fuck that
that’s what online eggs
want me to know,
but I save my breath for
the both of us,
and spare them the practical details—
sex never looks pretty
under scrutiny,
not even missionary baby-making sex,
but hey.

at the last frontier of love,
I’m at the counter for ½ sprite /
½ ginger ale
when the young dude slips
a paper cup
off the stack and asks
‘you two gonna get married?’
and damn it I don’t say ‘never say never’
and damn it I don’t say ‘it’s only been four months’
what I mumble is
‘that’s not allowed’
and he nods
(agreeing or agreeing?)
then rings me up

next time I’ll say
that beyond the last frontier of love
is a boardwalk
it smells noxious—
sea lions—
and it’s where sentient things get to fall
in love in peace

the signposts remind you
not to feed the gulls
and also that love feels like warmth
and also that love feels like gliding
up over the waves of the Pacific
and only going higher
only ever
till you split
the sky with joy

—Sara Saab

Eighteen Minutes

COMMAND: Initiate Habitat 82 Evergreen Lane log entries, 2044/10/02/20:20-2044/10/02/20:38
BEGIN ENTRY 2044/10/02/20:20 – Motion detected, front door – habitat lights activated.
Input: Failed personal identification keystrokes, front door
Outgoing message: please try again.
Input: Failed personal identification keystrokes, front door
Outgoing message: please present thumbprint for alternate access.
Input: Failed thumbprint, front door.
Outgoing message: please check phone for verification code.
2044/10/02/20:24 – verification code 749162 sent
Outgoing message: enter verification code
Outgoing message: enter verification code
2044/10/02/20:26 – Improper Input, Audio Unit
Begin Audio: … Mom? Dad? I guess you guys left already? You set the house to ‘No Entry/Any User’ mode and I got all the way to Lula’s house before I realized I left my backpack in the kitchen … I can’t get in. And I left my cell phone at Lula’s house. Can you deactivate it, so I can get my stuff? I gotta get … End Audio.
Improper Input.
2044/10/02/20:28 – Improper Input, Too Many Tries.
Initiate Safehouse Procedure 2A: Protect Habitat and Interior—Highest Priority
Initiate High Voltage Criminal Personal Perimeter V.2.1.6
Initiate 911 police call
Police report made – estimated arrival time, 6 minutes
Outgoing message: You are trespassing at Habitat 82 Evergreen Lane. Do not move. The police are on their way. Do you wish to record a message in your defense? Enter *2 on the keypad, if yes.
Keypad entry: *2
Outgoing message: Begin recording
Begin audio: … MOM! DAD! Anyone! It’s ME! Don’t INITIATE the electric perimeter. PLEASE! DON’T— … End audio.
Incoming audio, remote access.
2044/10/02/20:29 Begin audio: … HONEY! What’s going on? We just got your message! Dad’s trying to disarm the house … Don’t touch ANYTHING, OK? The whole house is electrified. Dad’s going to … End audio.
2044/10/02/20:29:18 – Remote access login failed.
2044/10/02/20:29:55 – Remote access login successful.
Outgoing message to habitat user: ERROR. Press @ to resend message
Outgoing message to remote user: Habitat In Danger. Press #595 to disarm
2044/10/02/20:30:001 Habitat keypad entry: @
2044/10/02/20:30:002 Begin High Voltage Criminal Personal Perimeter V.2.1.6
2044/10/02/20:30:007 Remote access entry: #595
2044/10/02/20:30:09 Disarm High Voltage Criminal Personal Perimeter V.2.1.6
2044/10/02/20:34:10 Incoming message.
2044/10/02/20:34:40 Begin audio: … OK, honey, Dad disarmed the perimeter. Honey? HONEY? … End audio.
2044/10/02/20:35:40 Outgoing message to remote user: Habitat 82 Evergreen Lane, perimeter secured. Intruder disarmed.
2044/10/02/20:36:02 Outgoing message to remote user: Do you require further assistance?
2044/10/02/20:36:40 Awaiting Input:
2044/10/02/20:37:12 Awaiting Input:
2044/10/02/20:37:52 Awaiting Input:
2044/10/02/20:38 Awaiting Input:
End Log
2044/10/02/21:08 Habitat deactivation protocol initiated.

—Erica Gerald Mason