<Recap: Watchtower and Fingers are two operatives who are using an exiled spy’s robotic companion to constantly monitor him. Unfortunately, the robot is built on a missile guidance system which is incredibly lethal and adaptive.>
Bishop sat in the cozy chair he had once made for himself several years ago, and felt his withered fingers outline the scratches and marks he had made in the walls of his cabin. Solitary exile was not a thing for the weak. The incessant silence had a way of making memories come larger to life, of making random voices in his head sound louder than reality. It had come to a point when Bishop had realized that he was screaming and screaming to himself until his voice was hoarse and yet, the memories returned with a vengeance.
“Do you want a drink?” asked Friend’s smooth, calming voice. Miles away, Watchtower and Fingers stared at Bishop through Friend’s poorly pieced-together visualizer. Watchtower gripped his companion’s chair strongly as the pixels tried to gather themselves into the face of one of the most wanted fugitives of the last generation.
“Thank you, Friend,” said Bishop, accepting one from the Robot’s extended arm, blissfully unaware of two humans watching him via Friend’s visual scanners.
He watched reflectively as the machine bustled around the makeshift kitchen that he had put together. His entire residence was a tribute to the accumulated strength of several years of survival skills in the wild. Yet, the comfort of having another mobile presence in this void was so fulfilling. There was that one day when Friend’s vocal transmitters failed. Bishop remembered the dread he had felt during the night Friend was silent. That terrifying sense of being flung into the unfathomable depths of some inconceivable darkness, the sense of being lost in the void. The absolute, complete, and invulnerable sense of nihilism had driven Bishop to suicide many times over. For a man who was trained in self-survival, the task of trying to kill himself was a very rebellion against the essence of his being, and his physical conditioning forced those ventures to be a failure.
Terrible. Terrible. The silence had been screaming at his ears for long enough now. How many years had it been? His senile brain lost count.
Until he had found a Friend.
“You’re very quiet today,” said Friend, staying faithful to its programming and breaking the lull.
Bishop smiled paternally at the hideous conglomeration of metal and scrap goods that formed Friend’s face. He wondered why, of all things, had he fashioned a powerful guidance system into a humanoid robot that was nothing more than a talking, functional toy. He knew why.
In that pitch black silence, in the height of his depravity, in the misery of his pain and terror, there had been a voice that had saved him.
“Warning: Central core disengaged”, it had said.
Bishop could have cried hearing another voice. It was a guidance missile, true. It could have been lethal, true. It could have been set on targeting him, true. But, for that one moment, Bishop had heard a humanoid voice that spoke a language he understood after a decade. He was not giving up on that. He was not letting go. And running away, was very possibly the last thought he had in his mind.
Exile wasn’t going to be so bad once he had a friend.
“Is everything all right?” asked the same voice that occupied his thoughts. Once the voice of a killer, now the voice of a friend.
“I’m fine,” said the usually garrulous old man.
“Do you want to record the events of today?”
Bishop laughed until his lungs gave up and he wheezed a bit. Recordings. He had stopped entering his logs and recording his memories a long time ago. Granted, the contents of his thoughts would have cost a human soul in the last generation. And in fact, they did. They cost many human souls. Those that lay on the cemetery. Those that manned the weapons. Those that mounted guidance systems on automated missiles. He had once known some of the most terrible scandals ever, some of the most closely guarded secrets of states and dignitaries and weapon systems.
But the silence had taken them all away. The primal human need for a person, just someone to hold, to regard, to speak to was more stronger than integrity.
It was after making several video logs and several diary entries that Bishop learned a new flavor of exile. Beyond the occasional tree he used to climb, or the random bird that he hunted or some mundane activity that he could manage besides daily housekeeping, he had nothing else to say. Now that he was too old to do or be anything, he felt reluctant to record. What possible content would it have?
One of the first things that Friend had learned to do was repeat the logs back to him. Bishop heard himself for a while, and then realized that the ennui was as terrible as the silence itself.
Where was death where you needed it? Had he truly spent all his life avoiding death so skillfully that he had escaped it forever?
Of course not! Bishop, you’re impatient even in your senility, he told himself and smiled at nothing in particular.
“I am unable to engage you in conversation, or keep you entertained. My repository of stories is limited and I cannot access any more amusement for you. You refuse to enter new content into me. Am I not functioning satisfactorily enough?” asked Friend.
Bishop avoided choking on his drink. Since when was Friend suffering an existential dilemma?
“Friend, you’re fine.” he said, clasping one of the hand-shaped appendages, all five fingers. Such a comfort to hold. The joy of feeling a presence through actual tactile response was a privilege that Bishop had been long-denied.
“Are you sure everything is okay?” repeated Friend, its eyes peering into Bishop’s closer than before.
“Yes, Friend. I’m just tired. An old man like me needs some of his quiet moments, no?”
Friend turned away and performed a superb imitation of sipping its own drink. Avoiding silent moments was the sole purpose of Friend’s existence. Yet, Friend had adapted to the increasing frequency of these needs as well. The adaptive system was genius, pure genius. Especially how it seemed to intuitively guess human wants.
Bishop regarded the robot with his weary eyes. He felt a rush of paternal affection. It was his own creation. His child. His caretaker. His companion. His Friend.
“Help me get to bed please, friend?” The robot obliged almost instantly. It’s flexible arms helped the old man out of his makeshift chair and provided him with the structural support he needed as he hobbled to his bed. Then, Friend covered him with a blanket and without a prompt, began to play a soft humming melody from it’s data reserves. It was a tune that Bishop himself had recorded several years ago, and then played it to himself every night. The audio file was labeled “Mother’s lullaby”.
</to be continued/>