KASMA MAGAZINE

What Do Bots Know About Hope?

By JC Piech

SHARE


Artwork by Jose Baetas.


Dear Mother,

One of the nurses (you know, the nice one with the long brown hair) told me I should write to you. She said that because you're so far away, and because the internet keeps going down, writing old-fashioned letters will make it feel like you're closer, even if they don't always get to you. When I thought about that for a while it seemed like it was probably true, so I told her I'd give it a try. She knows a lot about feelings, for a bot.

Anyway, I still can't taste anything. The nurses say that's because I can't smell anything. They say it'll all go back to normal after my neuron replacement surgery, but I'm not so sure. I don't know if they're just being nice and trying to make me feel better. I've heard them do that to other kids here. They say it's important not to lose hope – especially in ‘these difficult times'. But I do know that it could all go wrong, and that they don't want to tell me about what that might be like. I hear them talking sometimes when they think I'm asleep or not listening. They keep saying I need to stay hopeful. But what do bots really know about hope anyway?

I wonder if this letter will reach you, or whether the postal service will get disrupted again.

Over and out.

Kala x

*****

Mother,

Today was the nice nurse's birthday. To celebrate, she changed the colour of her hair by turning a tiny dial in the back of her neck. It just went whoosh from brown to red! And as a treat she made a birthday cake to share with everyone on the ward. It looked delicious. I watched everyone eating it, and my new friend, Isi, tried to describe to me how it tasted, but he couldn't think of the right words. He kept saying things like, "It tastes of chocolate." But I wanted to know more exactly what it was like, because not all chocolate tastes the same, does it? He said he wished his taste buds could talk so they could explain it.

It was a human recipe – with thick chocolate fudge icing all over. And in the middle was whipped cream and cherry jam. Well, none of it was real of course, because of the food rationing. But for lab-grown stuff it looked pretty good to me! I suppose I can imagine what the chocolate sponge and fudge topping tasted like, because it looked a bit like the cake we had for Grandmother's birthday last year. But I've never tried cherries, have I? So I can't imagine that bit. I asked Isi if it was like strawberry jam, but he said it wasn't, so I have no idea.

Anyway, how are you? And how is Pebbles? Is he being a good boy? I wish you could bring him with you next time you visit. But maybe he'd bark too loud for some of the kids here. Some of the little ones are jumpy. ‘Cause of the bombs and stuff. Every time there's a loud noise, like when a nurse drops something or when the doctors push open a door too hard, the jumpy ones start crying. That's why the nurses stopped playing the radio in reception; if there wasn't someone there to turn the volume down during the news announcements, the jumpy kids would start freaking out. It doesn't bother me though. I'm not scared of the war.

Anyway, please give Pebbles a huge cuddle from me.

Kala x

*****

Mother,

Thank you so much for visiting me yesterday. I know it's a long way to come. After you left, Isi, my new friend, said your dress was pretty. I thought so too. It made the ward look brighter. I felt sorry for the kids who can't see anymore. I know it's not fair to ask you to visit more often; I know it's dangerous to travel in ‘these difficult times'. But I do wish I could get hugs more often. Real ones I mean. They're better than hugs from bots.

Please tell Grandmother thank you for the box of sweets. I know she must've paid a lot to get them. But the thing is... I can't enjoy them! I've told her plenty of times. Hasn't she been on this planet long enough to understand English?!

Sorry... that's mean. I know she's only trying to be nice. I take it back. It's just... looking at them reminds me how much I'm forgetting how things taste. I can see now why Isi couldn't describe the birthday cake. You can't explain a taste in words – not in a way that could make you taste it for real. Just like you can't explain to a nurse bot what pain feels like. Not in a way that would make them actually feel it. It always annoys me when the bots say things like, "This won't hurt" or "There, that wasn't so bad" because they don't even know what they're talking about.

I miss smelling things, Mother! I wouldn't even mind smelling one of Pebble's poops! Please tell him I was wrong about his poops smelling bad. At least they smell of something. Anything's better than nothing.

Kala x

*****

Mother,

Today was a good day! The pisiotherapist bots (I can't spell that word, but I know it starts with a P and not an F!) came and they helped me get out of bed. It was really difficult because my legs felt like jelly. The bots explained that because I've been in bed so long, my muscles have wasted, and it's going to take time to make them strong again. As soon as I stood up I understood what they meant; I had to lean so hard on the bot's arms to pull myself up. But I still did it anyway! The pisiotherapists said I did really well, and that I should be proud. I am proud, Mother. I asked the pisiotherapists when my nose neuron operation would be, and whether they think it will work, but they said they didn't know about that kind of thing. They help people's bodies move better, that's all.

My legs ache now. But it's a good ache, because the pisiotherapists told me it means my legs are getting strong again. So I don't mind.

Kala x

*****

Mother,

I learnt how to spell physiotherapist today! Isi taught it to me. He says he's read that word a thousand times. They helped him learn how to use his legs again too.

Grandmother visited today. She probably told you. You won't believe this, but she brought more sweets! I just gave them to Isi. They were Turkish Delights, which used to be my favourite human sweets, but they might as well have been liquorice, which was my worst favourite.

Anyway, when she visited me, the human kids looked at her funny. I don't think they're used to seeing elders of our kind that are so... ancient. She's getting forgetful, isn't she? Sometimes she forgot to speak English, and started speaking in our mother-tongue. I could only understand little bits of what she was saying. After she'd left, Isi came to my bed and filled me in--he knows more of our language than me. He said she spoke of how this war reminds her of the war that happened when she was young and first came to Earth. He told me she'd said she'd always hoped that her daughters and daughter's daughters would never have to see such things. And then she said a prayer for me. After he told me all this I felt bad for giving my sweets to him, and I asked if I could have them back. I've put them on my side table, just to look them at when I need to.

Kala x

*****

Mama,

I miss you a lot today. I mean, I miss you every day, but today especially, because my legs ache a lot and I wish you were here to rub them like you used to when I was little. I know the physiotherapists say it's a good thing, but they ache so much it doesn't feel good anymore.

I walked to the toilet and back again. The nurses clapped. That did make me feel good, and proud like the physiotherapists told me to, but I don't know... I just feel fed up. I just want to be able to walk without it hurting. And I'm fed up of watching the other kids eat their meals and knowing they can taste and smell all kinds of lovely things. And I'm eating my mashed potato and beef stew and it all tastes of nothing. The only thing that's different is how it feels in my mouth. The mash potato is soft and dry at first, then it turns wet in your mouth. And the beef is chewy, and the vegetables are mush. It makes me feel like there's not any point in eating at all.

Bye.

*****

Mother!

There was a power cut! It was mayhem here (I heard one of the doctors use that word as he rushed down the corridor past my ward). When the power went out, all the lights switched off, and the nurses stopped moving. They just powered down where they were standing. Something to do with the servers or the main hub or something like that. One nurse was checking the temperature of the girl in the bed next to me when she just froze. The girl is only little and she got scared, started screaming, pulled the thermometer out of her ear and tried to press her buzzer for help. But that didn't work, obviously–-all the nurses at reception looked like they were playing musical statues in the dark; their bodies made strange silhouettes in the moonlight. Anyway, I helped the little girl calm down. But even I was creeped out by seeing the nurses all so lifeless. I think we all forget sometimes that they're not real people, and seeing them like that made me feel sort of sad. It was like they'd all died for a while.

Isi said the power cut was because of the war. He said human terrorists must have attacked the hospital or the power grid or something like that, because they know there are children of our kind here. He didn't know for sure, but he was making an ‘educated guess', is what he called it. I asked him if it was the same terrorists that broke my nose neurons with their gas, and he said yes, definitely... or probably, at least. He said they like breaking things, that they have no respect for the planet or other beings. He said that's what his dad always says, anyway.

Kala x

*****

Mother,

I feel fed up with everything again today. I even felt fed up with the nice nurse, and I think I was a bit mean to her, even though I didn't want to be, I just couldn't help it. Everything has been making me feel cross. Good job she's a bot and doesn't have feelings, otherwise I'd have to draw her an ‘I'm sorry' card or something.

To make it all worse, Isi went home today. No wait, that sounds mean, doesn't it? I'm glad he got to go home, because he was missing his family like I'm missing mine. So I'm happy he isn't here anymore. But he was my best hospital friend. I have other friends that are nice, but they're not as good as him. But I don't want you to think he was my boyfriend! He is not my boyfriend! I just liked how he talked about interesting things. He knows all about the news and stuff, even though the nurses say we shouldn't worry about what's happening on the outside. Even when I reminded them that I'm ten now and not a baby, they still told me not to think about it. Anyway, he's one year older than me, so he couldn't even be my boyfriend anyway, just in case you don't believe me. 

Kala x

*****

Mother,

I saw a doctor today, a human one. One who knows about noses--haha! He said he thinks we've waited long enough, and that the poison has had enough time to get out of my system, so they can go ahead with the operation! Isn't that great? Plus! I've been walking to the toilet and back much more often. It's getting easier. At least my legs ache a bit less anyway.

And I have a new best friend too! Her name is Rosa and she's a German human. Her father is stationed here in England, for the war. She arrived at the hospital only yesterday. I can tell already that she's my best friend. She was a bit scared at first. She was crying a lot, so I walked over to her bed and started talking to her. Her English isn't great, but we managed to have a conversation. Some of the other children of our kind looked at me as if I'd gone crazy. But why shouldn't I talk to her, Mother? She might be a human, but she certainly hasn't ever dropped any bombs on anyone, just like I haven't.

First I wanted to tell her not to be scared, but then I remembered how scared I was at first, so I could understand why she felt that way. Instead of telling her not to be scared, I just told her nice things, like how good the desserts looked here, and how the nurse's do that neat trick with their hair. She asked me why I walk funny, so I told her it's because of being in bed so long. I told her about how I can't taste anything, and she said she was sorry to hear about my accident. I said I was sorry to hear about her accident too. She has a big burnt patch on her face and neck, from a chemical bomb that exploded when she and her dad were shopping. Her skin looks strange, like it's liquefied. But I told her she's still really pretty anyway and that she shouldn't worry. After a while she stopped crying, and we read comics together. When I get home I want to buy Rosa something that'll make her feel pretty, like a hair clip or something.

Kala x

*****

Mother,

Me and Rosa are having so much fun. Sometimes I forget I'm in hospital, and I even forget sometimes that I can't taste anything.

Rosa is good with words. Her English is improving day by day, and she's teaching me German words too. It's interesting because some of them don't have an English translation. And she said even though she can't describe what an apple pie tastes like, she said she was sure there must be a word for it. We just haven't found it yet. She said she was going to ask one of her relatives to download a thesaurus to her e-reader (that's a book that tells you different words for things, by the way), so that we can hunt for it./p>

I saw the doctors today and they said it shouldn't be too long until I can come home. They'll do my operation this afternoon, and people recover really quick from it, they say. That made me happy. Rosa has to stay here for a little bit longer, but I said I'll come and visit her when I get out, and that I'll Skype her every day. Me and Rosa are going to be friends forever, I can tell.

Kala x

*****

Mother,

Someone died today.

The ward was so quiet, like no one knew what to say. Even the nurse bots didn't talk as much as they normally do. Sometimes I wonder if they really can't feel anything, or whether I've got that wrong. The nice nurse looked sad. Is that just part of their programming, or is it real?

Anyway, even though it's been two days since my operation, I still can't taste or smell anything. Rosa tried cheering me up, but it was no good. What with the little boy dying this morning and my nose still not working, I just want to come home now, Mama. I hate it here./p>

Kala x

*****

Mother,

Did you see the news? The nurses were watching it on the TV at their station, and even though they had the volume down really low I could make out what it was about. Humans have attacked another one of our colonies, haven't they? I guess they really do love breaking things, like Isi's dad always says. But I heard something else too, something about the attack being a ‘retaliation'? I had to ask Rosa what that meant, and she looked it up – it means something like revenge. Did we attack the humans too? If we did, then everything seems to make more sense. The war, and all the kids on this ward, and all the broken things.

I heard that their bombs hit a school, and some shops. I suppose that must mean there are now kids of our kind like Rosa, with strange skin on their faces? There's probably lots more human kids with the same burnt faces too. If we all just got burnt we'd all look the same, then maybe all of this would finally stop.

After a while the nurses turned the TV off, and the nice nurse came into my ward and looked at Rosa. Then she looked all around, at each kid, and then at me. I looked right back at her. And something made me ask her, "Do you ever wish you could cry?"

She nodded. And then she left.

Kala x

*****

Mama!

The best thing has happened! Today I ate some treacle pudding, and I tasted it! The treacle was sweet on my tongue, and it was the most beautiful thing I've ever eaten in my whole life. All the nurses were happy for me. At least, they all smiled and cheered anyway. But after seeing the nurse yesterday, and how heartbroken she looked... maybe they really can feel happy for us too?

Rosa smiled when I told her my good news, and even though her skin looks funny and melted, and even though her smile stretched the skin in a weird way, she looked like an angel because the smile went up all the way to her eyes, which is a trick the nurses definitely can't do.

The doctor and nurses agree that I can come home! So I will see you very soon. Be careful travelling here.

And by the way, Isi was wrong about not being able to describe a taste in words. My treacle pudding tasted like magic.

Lots of love from,

Kala xxx


Go Back

WANT TO SUPPORT FREE SCIENCE FICTION?

Three Ways You Can Show Your Support

Patreon

Monthly Support Via Patreon

$2.99

Kasma's fuel is coffee.

ENROLL TODAY

Paypal

Via Donation

$?.??

Use PayPal to make a donation.

DONATE TODAY